When I was growing up in the 60’s, my best friend was in a blended family; a regular occurrence today but very rare back then. Further, his dad had converted to Catholicism to marry his first wife, and then his second wife and her child converted before their marriage! Their family was very Catholic, the oldest son eventually becoming a priest, and I remember my mother saying folks that convert to Catholicism usually are more devout than those of us raised Roman Catholic.
Since then, I have found this to be true of most people in most things. When my mother stopped smoking, she did her best to convert every smoker into quitting. When she began to smoke again, she may not have tried to convert anyone, but she was scathing with anyone that said something to her about her smoking. Most folks that make life-changing decisions, addicts, religious, political, etc., are passionate in their conversion; one of mine is the subconscious. I chuckle now when remembering in my late twenties/early thirties saying to my ex, “If you think my actions are controlled by some hidden part of my brain, you are crazy!” Now, I would postulate that there is very little we do every day that is NOT influenced by our subconscious. Studies show that when meeting someone for the first time, subconsciously our minds have already taken in their posture, shape of their body, and evaluated the position of each of the 43 muscles in their face to pre-judge how we think they will act!
Likewise, in every situation we find ourselves, the subconscious immediately references past circumstances that were similar, influencing how we will react today, including when most memories, both conscious and subconscious, are formed, before we are seven years old. One psychologist I know describes this as, “Every five year old knows the unspoken rules in a house, most of which deal with not pissing off their parents!” And the memories just keep on coming, by 21, we have stored more information than is in most encyclopedias; like an iceberg, the conscious memories are only the tip!
Those “unspoken rules” are implicit memories, those that are subconscious. Most all think of memories as held in the mind; conscious memories are called explicit, mental, or declarative with implicit memories being deemed unconscious. Somatic psychotherapists differentiate implicit memories as not only mentally subconscious but somatic, meaning held in the body; these implicit memories somatically reveal themselves in what we call “character structures” or an “adaptive self.” In her book, Body Psychotherapy, Tree Staunton stated, “We have to remember that character structure is a defense—a defense against contact and relationship now as much as a defense against experiencing a past injury.”
As I have noted in other blogs, I attend a quarterly relational somatic workshop; initially, it included both somatic psychology instruction for a couple of days and then deep therapeutic sessions for each participant. After ten years, it has evolved into primarily the deep work, including the two facilitators, with the teaching piece coming from all of us after a therapeutic session. This past workshop, I started with my wanting to be more disciplined in my commitments, both physical like exercise and yoga, but also mental, like getting these blogs out more timely!
We found the cause behind the symptom of being undisciplined to be a very early implicit memory, which I will call, “What’s the use?” My early life until three years old was basically safe because we lived with my grandparents, but I did not feel safe around just my mother. As a raging co-dependent, I tried hard to please her, but nothing worked; so along with my consciously trying even harder, I subconsciously knew nothing would ever work, so why even try? In my deep process work, we found a dead area surrounding my heart.
Somatic memories are formed in a relationship, so it takes a relational somatic effort to access them and release them. Since the way out of an issue is through the issue, the other participants worked on my body while talking to me and then I had the inspiration to have one of my fellow somatic therapist pound on my chest, to the point of almost bruising it. Just as pushing on the chest can restart a physical heart, my emotional heart reawakened with his pounding!
The following morning, I had a dream where I saw someone dressed as law enforcement. When I asked him who he was, he replied, “I’m the new sheriff!” At first, I felt sad as I have had too many authoritarians in my life and told him I did not want another. He replied, he was “Sheriff Alive!” Wow, what a confirmation of the work I/we had done!
As in most deep therapeutic healing, the old personality has been fighting this new change; after all, it kept me safe for 60 years and has no frame of reference in how to live with this new aliveness. Slowly, however, my old defenses are succumbing to a new paradigm, and I am exploring the new freedom of living as I was meant to live, being fully alive. Indeed, there is a new sheriff in town!