“Bill,” a 64-year-old client I’d worked with several times but hadn’t seen in nine months, arrived for an emergency appointment. Without preamble, he jumped to his feet and yanked his shirt up, displaying an ugly patchwork of fiery red, oozing sores on his back.
“Look at this psoriasis!” he demanded. “It started on my legs again now it’s all over my body! I’ve been to two dermatologists, an allergy specialist, an acupuncturist, and a shrink. I’ve had shots and creams and nothing helps. This itching is driving me crazy! I’m telling you, Sue, if you can’t help me get out of this, I’m just gonna kill myself!”
He sat, arms folded, jaw set, and we stared at each other for a long moment. I glanced down at the medical intuitive scan from our first appointment the previous spring. The detailed blueprint overflowed with childhood trauma and dissociation interwoven with themes of insecurity, regret, self-blame, and a subconscious need to self-punish. It also revealed deep grief, guilt, and anxiety.
I knew Bill trusted and respected me, so I decided to give him a dose of tough love.
I leaned forward. “Listen to me. Those look like angry… weeping… sores. Your body is telling you symbolically what you refuse to acknowledge literally– your emotional storage vault is on overflow.”
I waved the file at him. “Sixty years of toxicity is literally seeping out of you– helplessness, rage, fear, sadness, grief, regret, it’s all here in the scan and in your history. Here’s a note from our first session, “I’ve never felt comfortable in my own SKIN!” Connect the dots Bill: the problem is not what’s wrong with you, it’s what they did to you!”
He was silent for a moment, eyes downcast. Then he met my gaze. “You’re right,” he said quietly. “I didn’t want to go there. I thought if I ignored it, it would go away. I guess now I don’t have any choice.”
A Lifetime of Trauma
Bill’s wry smile and penetrating blue eyes belied a terrible childhood of cruel beatings at the hands of his battered alcoholic mother and emotional abuse plus the occasional beating by his blackout-drunk father.
His face and body bore the scars from dozens of vicious fist-fights fueled by the blue-hot rage that defined his teens and twenties and permeated his entire life. He recalled a hair-trigger rage so consuming that when a 6’5” drunken soldier bullied a shorter soldier in a bar during WWII, he attacked the bully and nearly beat him to death with his bare hands.
His affable Irish manner concealed an extensive trauma history that was now a case of somatization, which is when emotional trauma migrates into the body and triggers physical dysfunction or illness.
He was referred by his long-time therapist, one of my energy psychology students. Old suicide demons were beginning to re-surface that she was unable to dislodge, so she sent him to a psychiatrist for medication and then to me.
In our first session in 2005, we used EFT, the Emotional Freedom Technique, to neutralize the horror and grief of the day Bill pulled his murdered brother’s body from the ocean, a trauma that had haunted him for over 15 years. We had six 90-minute sessions in 2005 and when he left the patches of psoriasis on his shins had nearly vanished.
Nine months later the psoriasis was back with a vengeance and the suicidal ideation was in the danger zone. I called his psychiatrist who said that he had stabilized Bill on medications, and to go ahead and treat him. We agreed to keep each other posted on any new developments.
Bill’s psoriasis appeared to be a textbook somatization disorder. The root was hidden in dissociated consciousness that held Bill’s traumatized seven-year-old ego state/self in a sort of suspended animation, caught in a dissociation time warp one dimension away.
If a client can remember a traumatic incident clearly but can’t feel any emotional charge on it, the emotional charge (affect) is dissociated or repressed, aka “emotional numbing.” In Bill’s case, his traumatic emotions were not repressed, (the rage explosions) but that toxic load of traumatic emotional energy was funneled into the body and expressed in somatization. The psoriasis was his body’s way to metaphorically reveal his sadness, grief, and anger. “I’ve never felt safe in my own skin.”
The Healing: Metaphors for the Pain
Mastering metaphor interpretation and symbolic vision are critical self-assessment skills everyone needs. “Tracing the energetic signature of trauma,” means discerning the common denominators that connect two or more seemingly unrelated patterns or events. This skill of reading energy yields a wealth of information that might otherwise take months or years to dig up or that might never surface.
We reviewed the trauma blueprint in my intuitive scan again. When Bill realized the psoriasis was a metaphor for his repressed anger and sadness and his alcoholism was the anesthesia for intense emotional pain, he was finally ready to “go to the mat” with it. He saw that the life-long pattern of bar fights was driven by a subconscious need to protect small or weaker people (like his childhood selves,) from being beaten up by bigger bullies, (like his violent parents.)
We traced Bill’s earliest and most traumatic memory of this pattern; the time at age seven, when his mother burst into the bedroom he shared with his 11-year-old brother Jack, screaming “I’m gonna kill you goddam kids” and swinging the dreaded strap.
We engaged guided imagery to send the adult Bill back in time, to that bedroom, to rescue his seven-year-old self that was still trapped in the terror, sadness, and helplessness. Bill closed his eyes, took some deep, slow, breaths, and visualized the scene. He recounted how he and Jack had been put to bed, and in typical fashion, were talking, laughing, and throwing pillows. Suddenly the door burst open and their mother charged into the room and began beating Jack with the strap as he cowered in the lower bunk bed.
Tears flowed in the present moment as Bill begged over and over, “Mom, don’t hit him! Don’t hit him Mom, hit me instead, I did it.”
At that point, I guided him to walk into that bedroom as his adult self today, take the belt away from his mother and say firmly, “NO MORE HITTING. You’re never doing this to him again.” Then I guided him to rescue his seven-year-old self—“Come here buddy,” lead him by the hand out of the bedroom, down the hall, out of that house, and back to my office where they’d be safe.
Bill said, “I want to bring Jack too.”
I said “Good. Save them both.” Adult Bill left “seven” in my care, went back to the bedroom, retrieved Jack, and came back with him to present time in my office.
Bill gave an audible sigh of relief and his body relaxed, slumping back into the couch. He said, “They’re here with me, they’re finally safe.”
I asked if it would be okay with the boys if I talked to them. He paused, then said, “They say yes.”
I said something like this:
“Little Bill and Jack, I know you’ve suffered a lot. I’m so sorry you kids had to go through that. You guys didn’t deserve the beatings, no kid deserves that. Even though you might be thinking you were bad like Mom said and you’re thinking you deserved it, you didn’t. It wasn’t fair. The truth is, Mom had a lot of problems from when she was a little girl that you’re too young to understand, and Dad was mean to her when he drank too much. She was just so mad inside she didn’t know what do to with the anger so she took it out on you and the other kids. I’m sure she did love you and didn’t mean to ever hurt you. She just couldn’t help it. Bill is big now and he can protect you. When he leaves my office today, you can go home with him if you want, and stay with him. Nobody hits kids at his house. He told me he’d buy you ice cream and hot dogs and whatever else you guys want. He loves you little guys, and he needs your help for this healing today. Will you help us?”
Eyes still closed, Bill began to smile through the silent tears.
“They like the part about the ice cream and hot dogs. They’re hungry.”
Once the adult Bill had the sense of re-attachment to his seven-year-old self, we proceeded with the healing. He indicated the fear and sadness about Mom’s abuse, “all the times and all the ways it wasn’t safe to be” at a “10” on the 0-10 affect measurement scale. I asked, “Where do you feel ‘it wasn’t safe to be’ is stored in your body?” His hand moved to the solar plexus. During the process, memories of other times ‘it wasn’t safe to be’ surfaced and cleared.
In this case, adult Bill did the healing for himself, seven, and Jack. In other cases, the rescued/recovered parts are asked to help, and the adult shows and tells them how to do EFT (“tap along with me like this”) or any other modality we choose and they do it as “we” instead of just the adult client. “Even though mom beat us with the belt…”
Twelve hours later, Bill called to report the itching was gone and the sores had improved by about 50%. Within two weeks, they were gone.
A few months later, Bill came to talk at a workshop I taught for a group of therapists and nurses. He told the class there was no trace of either psoriasis or the scarring on his skin as he pulled up his shirt and turned his back to them. He feels whole, and he’s happy and at peace for the first time in his life. According to his psychiatrist, he’s had no further suicidal ideations.