Protogenic Healing Through Relationship
Answering Chironic Requests with Compassionate Accountability
Chiron is the wounded healer, whose own injury is the only one beyond his power. He seeks relief from his pain by healing others. In mythology, the centaur Chiron was the son of child-devouring Titan Cronus, who raped his mother, Philyra, a water nymph. She could not bear the sight of Chiron and left him to be raised by Apollo. Despite his traumatic conception, he was wise and compassionate, a revered mentor to Achilles, Asclepius, Heracles, Perseus, et al. Though immortal, he was incurably poisoned and, rather than suffer eternally, chose to become mortal and die. In astrology, the minor planet which bears his name is the planet of shamanism, perceived weaknesses, and self-inflicted pain. Chiron represents the healing which occurs when we let go of self-imposed negative boundaries we place on our own power, defined by fear and doubt. He reminds us to kill the Buddha we meet on the road, to evolve past the self-deception we call ego, and accept our flaws as part of an ineffable, dynamic, perfect whole. Located between Saturn and Uranus, Chiron bridges the gap between social and transpersonal, he represents the collective unconscious struggle of humanity to rise above personal motivations and align as a single family of beings in common interest and origin with nature and the Universe.
“I and all beings deserve to be happy and free from suffering.”
Lama Rod Owens, speaking at Naropa University in 2018
There is an intrinsic suffering of all living beings, now disconnected from the Oneness from which we all rose and will eventually return. Just as our material form must individuate from our mother’s, a spiritual severance from the rest of existence occurs as we develop our independence. To manifest as a singular consciousness requires us to embrace our aloneness in each passing moment, which can feel unbearable at times. Should we choose to allow and accept it, our pain grants lessons of meaning and purpose, both individually and in relationship with others. We sew emotional threads in our daily interactions, tying our individual repressed pain to the universal woundedness. In these moments, our primal separation is brought viscerally to our attention as we examine what differentiates ourselves from the other, or ideal versus perceived self. Honesty, humility, patience, self-control, and reason are relative concepts by which we measure our self-worth against that of others.
The illusion of separation makes interpersonal struggles feel like a battle of opposing forces. The ego is developed through a lifetime of will challenges and making good agreements requires strong self-advocacy. But, in the pursuit of desire, the cunning ego often compels us to take responsibility for someone else’s feelings or to neglect our own. When we accept that all external conflict is projection of internal pain, every altercation between individuals can then enable mutual soul growth. Negotiating through conflict with a trusted and trusting partner allows us to identify and remove our own judgements and bias, not for the purpose of removing disagreement or difficulty but in order to be more attuned to the ultimate source of the conflict: the unprocessed feelings of a lifetime spent separated from the divine. The perspective that disagreement is an expression of our opposing strengths and weaknesses allows us to see the process as a reflective matter of not only achieving a result which benefits everyone, but of creating a more authentic, essential Self.
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
I define Protogenic Healing as the process of consciously realizing our own emotional experience as the driver of our actions and accepting that a bid for connection exists between this drive and all interpersonal conflict. It is the desire of the subconscious to be healed, and we will continue to recreate the conditions which evoke these activation signals within us in every relationship until the healing process is complete. It is not necessary to understand, at least in the beginning, why we are being emotionally triggered, only that the activation of our nervous system is an intuitive signal from our subconscious that an opportunity for healing has appeared. This awareness alone allows us to create a safe space for our reactive state, time to chemically process the endorphins, and the self-compassion to allow any associated feelings or thoughts move through without judging them. If we are severely activated, the phenomenon of state-dependent memory will make accessing positive memories difficult during this time. The nature of a repressed trauma will only become conscious if explored emotionally, but we can only mentally process these experiences after returning to centered mindfulness. Patience and humility are key. We are intensely complex, multifaceted beings, existing as a collection of contradictions. We operate in multiple modalities of experience, simultaneously exploring the present, past, and future with our heart, body, mind, and spirit.
In 1951, Carl Jung spoke of his personal impression of his role as the wounded healer archetype, “A good half of every treatment that probes at all deeply consists in the doctor’s examining himself…it is his own hurt that gives a measure of his power to heal. This, and nothing else, is the meaning of the Greek myth of the wounded physician.”1 And his colleague, Marie Louise Von Franz, further explains his interpretation, “The process of individuation or the conscious coming to terms with one’s own inner center (psychic nucleus) or Self, generally begins with a wounding of the personality and the suffering that accompanies it. This initial shock amounts to a sort of ‘call,’ although it is not often recognized as such.”2 Acknowledging our Chironic energy lights the path towards our divine emergence. The ego death which must accompany a willing descent into our deepest fears is the ultimate transformational process, while the denial of our transcendent dynamism allows us to continue half-asleep, as the victims of external forces, the whims of fate or a machiavellian manipulation.
“The wounded healer archetype can be schematized by a variation of the diagram used by Jung to illustrate the lines of communication in a relationship.”3
The image above, adapted from Jung’s work, originally described communication between the therapist and the patient. This model forms the basis of what is now called countertransference, the activation of unconscious triggers in the therapist by the patient in the therapeutic setting. Framing it this way shows clearly how the healer’s own wounds operate as an inseparable agent of therapy. It describes a therapeutic relationship, however, as one-directional. A relationship unbounded by the Analyst/Analysand structure allows the free flow of intimacy and power, enabling a more dynamic and complex arrangement.
Daryl Sharpe, in Jung Lexicon, shows us another interpretation of the same communication model existing between men and women, and their unconscious desires to control one another through their primal archetypes of anima (male femininity) and animus (female masculinity). In this form, Daryl Sharpe replaces the shadow (the id, or animalistic nature) archetype with the archetypes of anima/animus and describes twelve ways by which influence can pass between two partners.
When we combine Jung’s original concept of communication between Analyst and Analysand, and Sharpe’s interpretations for less rigid interpersonal relationships, we can explore how holding space for each other to become triggered can allow us to access our own unconscious unprocessed emotional memory. The way we expect communication to proceed is along the top, from consciousness to consciousness. This example gives us an idea of how this might look.
I might say to my partner, “I’m hungry. I feel like Italian food tonight.”
To which they might respond, “I think that place we like closed last week. I have a bad feeling about finding someplace new we both like. Let’s just have leftovers.”
At this point, we have enough information being exchanged to possibly activate some unconscious triggers. This shows us how communication might move along the bottom of the chart. I might feel upset. I might still be mad about that fight we had last week about where to eat and this interaction is reminding me of those feelings (bottom left to top left).
If I don’t want to access these emotions I might rationalize my feelings as having an external cause, telling myself, (top left to bottom left) “They alway find some reason to stay home because they never want to go out.”
If I act on this projection of my own unconscious triggers, I will either respond unintentionally to their conscious self, (bottom left to top right) “You never want to do anything!”
Or worse yet, I can react intuitively to evoke an unconscious response, (bottom left to bottom right) saying something passive-aggressive and judgemental like, “If you’re ok with that bland lasagna and another boring night on the couch, I guess I am, too.”
My partner, hearing the judgement and being sensitive about their cooking may react unconsciously as well, (from the bottom right) and we both turn away a chance for intimacy. We warm our lasagna and eat in silence, repressing our emotions. If, however, my partner is confident, allows the influence of my criticism in, and realizes the lasagna is actually really good, and our life together is far from boring, they may choose to move their emotions right there in front of me. From their consciousness, to their shadow, back up, and across to my consciousness, “My forehead is tensing up and starting to hurt. I’m upset by what you said and I’m telling myself it’s because you are still mad from the last time we tried to pick a new restaurant.”
This unarguable statement of feelings and internal dialogue leaves me with little room to do anything but apologize for my tantrum and enjoy a quiet night in with my favorite person.
If they have the presence of mind to move their emotions, but not speak unarguably from their own experience, they may directly challenge my unconscious expression of negativity with a judgement of their own, moving communication from the top right to the bottom left, “You’re just mad because you like to go out and we had that fight last time we tried to pick a restaurant.”
At this point, the ball is back in my court, and I can choose to become defensive and shift the blame back, or I can allow the influence of their judgement in, test it against my inner feelings and realize I was still mad. I can then own and move those emotions.
The ideal process is to allow information travel down and back up again, testing our unconscious reactions to our own conscious thoughts, then reporting across, to our partner’s conscious self. They then test against their unconscious, back up again, then mindfully across to the other partner’s conscious self. This allows us to express who we are to each other in our own words. If we make a judgement, criticism, or blame the other person, this is a sure sign we are attempting to communicate from or to the unconscious self. This can be interrupted by our partner mindfully allowing the projection to influence them, checking it against their internal senses, and either reject it or accept it with an unarguable response. Any disagreement which goes unresolved back and forth is a sign that unconscious triggers are in play on both sides and space is needed for BOTH partners to reflect.
We all seek love, which is fundamentally a reconnection to the divine, to ourselves, and to others. When we are made to feel safe and loved, we learn how to make others feel safe and loved and connection increases, but even maladaptive behavior such as defensiveness, withdrawal, and negative attention seeking are fear-based, unskillful bids for connection. Anger, too, seeks safety by attempting to overpower an obstruction or intrusion which we judge as harmful to us. Before we can intentionally hurt anyone else, we must learn from our own experience how pain feels and what causes it. To become a perpetrator of abuse, we must first identify as a victim. Once we have identified as victim, we strive to isolate ourselves from the source of our pain by any means necessary.
Forgiveness is often described as letting go, and beneficial to a victim as a way to move away from obsessive reflection on the injury. To truly forgive someone requires, I believe, a full cycle of compassionate accountability for both the self and the perpetrator. First, compassion for self and accountability for the other. The victim must realize they were never at fault or to be blamed for the violence committed against them. A victim is never wrong for taking every step necessary to feel safe again. Forgiving ourselves first is crucial to creating physical and emotional safety in our lives after an abusive experience. This requires defining exactly how the perpetrator acted to create harm, and how the victim must now isolate themselves to prevent future harm. Next, to complete recovery, the victim must find compassion for the other and accountability to self. Taking responsibility as the owner, conductor, and executor of our own life frees us from the role of victim. Looking inside for what part of ourselves operates to create these situations, we can ask ourselves without blame: Do our experiences form a pattern? What common themes, character types, or events reappear in our lives? What were our mistakes and what can we learn from them? Did we, intentionally or not, provoke harm? Were there warning signs we did not or could not see? A subconscious function may have desired this hurtful relationship to illuminate an underlying misconception of Self. If we can accept the agency of ourself and our abuser, if we are willing listen to the pain as a conversation between shadows, we will rise from our oppression stronger and wiser. We can transform our injury into a greater self-awareness.
Equipped with a mammalian limbic system that regulates our physiological, psychological, and emotional states in concert with the other mammals around us, we depend on the nonverbal feedback provided to us through relationship. In A General Theory of Love, the authors define this interdependence as, “…a symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other’s inner states… just as two mirrors placed in opposition create a shimmering ricochet of reflections whose depths recede into infinity. Eye contact… is not a metaphor… limbic resonance is the door to communal connection… a world governed by forces that were old before humanity began.”4 When something upsets us about another’s behavior, the story we tell ourselves is that this other person has acted badly, in a way that we ourselves would have avoided. The truth, however, is that this other person’s actions are right and justified by their experience, and that our judgement of them is really our mind attempting to resolve our emotional discomfort. Further exploring these feelings of disapproval will reveal an area where we would benefit from self-examination. Pema Chödrön elucidates this quite well, “Seeing when you justify yourself and when you blame others is not a reason to criticize yourself, but actually an opportunity to recognize what all people do and how it imprisons us in a very limited perspective of this world. It’s a chance to see that you’re holding on to your interpretation of reality; it allows you to reflect that that’s all it is–nothing more, nothing less: just your interpretation of reality.”5 When we own and express our emotions, we take responsibility for our reactions, and allow others to see themselves in their reactions to us.
“Crawl inside this body, find me where I am most wounded–love me there.”
The human body has an amazing capacity to compensate. We can effectively ignore or distract ourselves from all the signals our body sends us, allowing physical, mental, or emotional wounds to remain hidden inside us until the damage threatens our lives. We can even cause our patterns to deepen the wounds through recursive avoidance strategies. In emergency medicine, shock, or inadequate oxygen delivery, a body compensates to maintain equilibrium, often disguising the life-threatening condition and delaying treatment. In physical therapy, Kinesiophobia prevents patients’ rehabilitation for fear of the pain involved. They may develop alternate movement patterns which not only allow the injured part of the body to atrophy, but can have harmful effects on the surrounding body tissues as well. Psychological avoidance patterns can also cause more damage than the original trauma. Initial attempts at coping with unmanageable stress or pain may be thwarted or reinforced by peers or figures of authority. Without accessing and accepting the original cause, internalizing and recreating these negative reactions repetitively then adds layers of psychological defense behaviors to a increasingly complicated script. The most intransigent of these scripts rely on projective identification, or making others uncomfortable or triggered themselves so that cognitive recognition of the avoidance behavior becomes nearly impossible. The dismantling of these complex defensive strategies can only be achieved by the individual who so painstakingly crafted them.
Julia B Colwell, PhD., “If you imagine all the feelings you haven’t felt and moved through you since birth, you can see how there could be hundreds, maybe thousands of layers of energy that have accumulated in your body. It is these layers of energy that get triggered… with less intimate relationships, we can behave pretty consistently and mostly in a fairly civilized way, [whereas] close relationships seem to provide the perfect medium… for healing if the experience of being triggered is one of feeling old feelings and letting them pass through the body.”6 When we see and hold a healthy reflective space for a loved one, their patterns may be easier understood, unravelled and the underlying trauma resolved. Reflecting these behaviors is not enough, though. Some behavior is too harmful to be accepted. In order to compassionately challenge harmful behavior, the emotional influence must be accepted, allowed to enter, processed, and returned in an unarguable statement of feeling. Even if practiced flawlessly, the harmful behavior may continue. Often, the last word will be from the triggered partner. Removing oneself from an interaction, or from the relationship altogether may be necessary for a healthy resolution.
“Love comes into the body like lightning-
without fear. The spirit opens laughing.
Love comes without hesitation. It comes
with roses and knives. Love does not
knock on the door, it burns it and
throws all your walls into the fire.”
-Rune Lazuli, Venus and Fire
We can sense when either we or our partner is operating outside of the usual relational process. Things begin to unhinge from logic and before long either or both of us are falling apart. Deciding which partner is being defensive or reactive is a battle both partners lose. Since we all have access to the intrinsic existential suffering of the collective unconscious, none of us truly wants to witness someone else suffer. We often find ourselves suddenly an unexpected partner in another person’s neurosis. Less often, we might become aware midstream of our own projections or transference. Armed with the knowledge that complete self-love allows the love of all others, we can take delight in difficulty within relationships. In an article on meta-emotion, Stacy Hubbard, LMFT writes, “Someone who is comfortable with emotion will be able to support and validate their partner’s feelings, while also freely expressing their own sadness, fear, disappointment, and joy.”7 A challenge can be accepted as a gift to be reciprocated. An opportunity for healing arises when we realize the pain we are experiencing is not only our own internal struggle, but also a manifestation of the shared experiences of the people surrounding us. My belief is that there lies a path of shamanic healing in mindful presence, between allowing someone to abuse you and allowing them to victimize themselves. With abundant love and careful determination we can interrupt psychological violence rather than fight, freeze, or flee from it. Of course, this is not a path to be attempted lightly. Remaining present amid someone else’s violence is a dangerous affair. Whether they are assaulting themselves or you, with words or actions, staying in that situation can be an act of foolishness, or unconditional love.
In the practice of Protogenic Healing, we accept pain’s value as a guide. We recognize answering the call of our own emotional triggers means taking responsibility for our feelings and creating the space that allows us to heal. We ruthlessly confront our own emotions while allowing our partners unbounded space to do their work. Trusting in empathic connection, your partner’s ability to share your pain, makes judgement or blame irrelevant. We share equally the discomfort and want equally to resolve it. However, our only responsibility is to our own experience. Being fully present with each other is our work. For example, let’s imagine I am using a current situation as a placeholder to relive past trauma. My partner is uncomfortable, too, but only because I am upset, seemingly out of proportion to the situation. It is my responsibility to allow my emotions to manifest in my body and share them as nonjudgmentally as I am able. My partner cannot do this work for me, being present with their own reaction is their work. My partner must access what effect being in that space is having on them, and share nonjudgmentally their sensations with me. In our desire to escape the difficult feelings, we will both be tempted by our egos to find fault outside our bodies, in the partner or in the situation itself. Either one of us may feel overwhelmed and break away at any time, hopefully with a statement of personal truth and timeframe of return, but the most important thing is finding safety and self-compassion.
Being fully present with each other is our work.
If we are unaware of the other’s heightened state of distress because we are identifying with their projections or becoming activated ourselves, we are ill-equipped to serve in a compassionate role. If we realize this, the best option is usually to move away from the subject and to both give each other the space to calm down. However, if through introspective analysis, we determine our reaction is nonjudgmental, we may choose to create a positive space or intervention. We must still recognize, however, we are still acting in self-interest. We may want our partner to be a more healthy partner. We may want to build intimacy, to feel useful, gain appreciation, knowledge, temporary distraction, or to increase connection to our own Chironic wound. Possible unhealthy explanations for sticking around longer than would another reasonable person include: being blinded by the euphoric, runaway chemistry of a nascent connection, enjoying a welcome distraction from the difficult, continuous work of self-care, denial, Stockholm syndrome, all the warm, narcissistic comforts of codependency, martyrdom, savior complex, or masochism. These all could be factors in the desire to stay enmeshed in a painful relationship. We should reassess our motives often. A loving relationship can only exist on the agreement of mutual personal growth. The only useful intent behind triggering buried negative feelings is an unwillingness to accept anything less than a partner’s best self. By paying meticulous attention to your own reactions, maintaining impeccable boundaries, and enforcing unyielding consequences, holding space for traumatic reenactments to enable your partner’s growth is possible within committed relationships.
“This is what I insist upon: human actions can only be understood by their root in love. All kinds of actions might appear good without proceeding from the root of love. Remember, thorns also have flowers: some actions seem truly savage, but are done for the sake of discipline motivated by love. Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and do what you will. If you hold your peace, hold your peace out of love. If you cry out, cry out in love. If you correct someone, correct them out of love. If you spare them, spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good.”
-St. Augustine, Sermon on the First Epistle of John 4:4-12
Once we mindfully eliminate any false illusions of our own desire to continue, we can then move with pure intent to interrupt the violence occurring. Whether this violence is self-inflicted or outwardly directed, our movements will be resisted by the underlying trauma, as well as the defense pattern developed to prevent the trauma’s revelation and resolution. Perhaps the strangest and most unnerving aspect of this process is the lack of direct consent between the two healing partners. First let me say, consent can be withdrawn at any time and must be respected. In a conscious sense, the subject may want these feelings to surface but still feel guilt and shame about expressing them. When diving deep to reveal and destroy what was once unconscious, then negotiate and recreate conscious boundaries, there may not be a clear signal when to stop and surface for air. The partner may be blocked from speaking to the subject’s rational, conscious self, and the reactions can be intense, confusing, erratic, even involuntary. Just remaining in contact may provoke the subject to experience increasingly intense feelings. Their reactionary self will lash out and attempt to drive their partner away, though they still have a deep love and desire to continue. Entering the role of shaman, we must follow the extrasensory knowledge of the heart and not be drawn into a battle of wit, logic, or victimization, as the subject will be practiced at continuing the struggle via these methods. Another common defense is to react as though the intervention were violent as well. There is a self protective element to all abusive behavior. Those who hate the truth see the truth as hate. The part of us which seeks healing resists the healing as well. Interrupting this paradoxical delusion requires the healer to become subject to the nature of the original abuse or trauma in order to recreate the conditions which initiated it and allow a new resolution to the pattern and a new relationship between their abuser and their emotions.
This process creates a new configuration where the stuck emotional trauma is now projected from the state of bodily repression onto the present relationship. Only by offering up the relationship between healer and partner to serve as a proxy to communicate the difficult truth of the subject’s own internal victim/abuser relationship can the shaman free the subject to perceive this struggle as a reenactment of the original episode of trauma. This can only be achieved by allowing the subject to act out the role of abuser without allowing the subject to victimize the shaman or themselves by elicitation of a martyr or abusive response. The roleplaying of one’s own abuser without being shamed or having the abuse returned allows the victim then to identify with the person who hurt them. This allows the victim to see the humanity of their abuser, and interrupts the narrative that is keeping them from accessing forgiveness. Brujo Don Juan, “Whenever the internal dialogue stops, the world collapses, and extraordinary facets of ourselves surface, as though they had been kept heavily guarded by our words.”8 It is necessary, then, to enter this arrangement not only with compassion and knowledge but complete confidence as well, for the practitioner’s conviction to the process will be tested at every step. If the healer’s patience runs low, or the subject withdraws or expresses a clear desire to stop, space must be given. Only distance can create the conditions for forgiveness to occur and recharge the love and trust essential to continue.
Here we must exit our ordinary experience of self. To invoke a shamanic spiritual perspective we must hold both selfless, unbounded compassion and the awareness of our own ego fear. There is no compassion without wisdom. The following rules can help guide you in maintaining healthy boundaries, and assist in allowing the necessary ego death to occur through the process. If the ego is attempting to protect itself, or we are prioritizing the other’s comfort above our own, we must remove ourselves from the situation to regain balance.
Everyone is allowed to feel and express any feeling, at any time.
Everyone deserves to be treated how they want to be treated.
Everyone is allowed as much space and time as they need to heal.
Everyone has their own unique prior experience which informs their perspective.
All reactions are projections of subjective reality.
All subjective interpretations are valid.
Our work is rooted in our own body, our own prior experience, and our own reactions.
Our only responsibility is to know ourselves, move our emotions, and share our feelings unarguably.
We can only disrupt how we ourselves are agents of an abusive system.
We cannot control how others exercise their agency or take responsibility for how our basic truth will affect others.
The ultimate factor in determining whether one is able to practice successful Protogenic Healing with a partner is self-compassion. Defining and enforcing your own boundaries holds you and everyone around you compassionately accountable. This includes balancing the empathic patience to understand and create safe spaces for your partner with sympathetic, conscious, active responses that respect yourself. Being self-aware of one’s present emotional state and past patterns of triggered or defensive response is essential to navigate interpersonal conflict. There will be protest responses when confronting a power imbalance. The greater the imbalance, the more discomfort created adjusting to a new, healthy paradigm, the more you must be compassionate to yourself first. To quote poet Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Self-knowledge leads to a kind of patient humility which, when expressed in unarguable statements of feeling, acts like a mirror to reveal another’s unintentional violence, poor boundaries, or disconnection to self. Self-care fosters social revolution, self-respect brings violent revelation, and self-love is the greatest healing gift we can give ourselves, each other, and the world.
1. Anthony Stevens, Jung (Oxford, 1994), 110
2. C. G. Jung, Man and His Symbols (New York: Doubleday, 1964), 166.
3. Image and caption:
Adapted by Daryl Sharp in Jung Lexicon from C.G. Jung, The Psychology of the Transference, The Practice of Psychotherapy, CW 16, par. 422
4. Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D., A General Theory of Love, (New York, Random House, 2000), 63-65
5. Pema Chödrön, The Pema Chödron Collection: The Wisdom of No Escape, (New York, One Spirit, 2003) 37
6. Julia B. Colwell, PhD., The Relationship Skills Workbook, (Boulder, Sounds True, 2014) 89
8. Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power (New York, Washington Square Press, 1974)