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The "Psycho" Alarm Clock

How Media Wounds






The Three Points to the Story

I tell this story for several reasons: one, to offer evidence that certain kinds of television programming and other related media can, indeed, wound children (and adults); two, because many people have similar wounds and after recognizing themselves in this story, may seek help; and three, to demonstrate yet again that the ordinary things which cause us to over or under react (our keys) have nothing to do with the inherent meaning of the things themselves; that these things simply have become a type of hypnotic cue to which we blindly respond like stage hypnotist's subjects to a post hypnotic suggestion. Case in point...

Laura's Lateness: The Search Begins

Laura never missed our sessions. But neither was she on time; ever. Try as she might, then, to arrive at the appointed hour, and despite our best efforts to resolve this problem, after several years of seeing me, she was still arriving late for most sessions.

Therapists often explain behaviors like Laura's with some variation of what I call, "The Hundred Year Old Myth;" they blame a mythical character they call the "unconscious." In fact, since the later part of the Nineteenth Century, therapists have been blaming all sorts of previously unexplainable faults on this secretive self which they insist, lives within us all. The more theoretically minded among them have even had vicious wars with each other about this character, each claiming they alone know the "real" truth about him (or her) and defaming all those who disagree. In fact, a good proportion of the drivel schools force down the throats of would be therapists focuses on what these various schools of thought purport to be the real truth about on this mythical character.

I, myself, was also taught this myth, and I believed it "religiously" for many years. However, I now know that this idea, that there is a "conscious unconscious," an inner self who directs our behaviors but never lets us in on these decisions, is an oxymoron; a ridiculous fable.

What I also now know is that whenever people hurt themselves or others, they do it while at least partially in the state of being known as "unconsciousness." In other words, they do these misdeeds while they are, to some degree, in the state of shock. Being in shock is what prevents them from making sane choices and from even knowing these choices exist. By this, I mean these peoples' misdeeds occur because they have, to some degree, entered the state of unconsciousness, rather than because some invisible character called "the unconscious" has directed them to do these deeds.

Further, because I see the problem here as peoples' unconsciousness, I see (and treat) only the "whole" person and not some made up subdivision of these people (like their unconscious, subconscious, ego, id, superego, etc.). In other words, I practice what I call, "wholistic" therapy; in any given moment, I try to treat the whole person, not just part of the person, as if I could do the parts separately and then sum them back together.

Actually, I see these theories about an "unconsciously conscious" inner self as mere anthropomorphic personifications of the state of shock, yet one more "god" men have created in their own likeness and image. Thus, to me, statements like "I unconsciously wanted to get him back" or "I unconsciously needed to run away" are merely simplistic attempts to divorce people from their actions. They are simply a more sophisticated way to say, "the devil made me do it."

Why am I so blatantly against the idea that there is an "unconscious" inside of us? Simply because this idea is one of the most insidious forms of blame ever devised. People who buy into this belief use it to blame others and themselves for behaviors they do not understand. At times, they also use this idea to excuse themselves and others from responsibility as well (innocent by reason of insanity.) The point is, this blaming and disowning of responsibility interferes with peoples' attempts to heal and with their abilities to love each other.

My rant about the "unconscious" aside, though, my point here is, most therapists and even many lay people would explain Laura's lateness by saying, "Laura was unconsciously trying to avoid something, like the therapy" or, "Laura was unconsciously mad at me but afraid to tell me." Admittedly, I, myself, believed these same kinds of lies for many years. And taught them to people. Talk about blaming the victim.

The truth is, though, a blind ninety year grandmother would have seen that Laura genuinely wanted to stop being late. Further, she was late not only for our sessions, she was also late for almost every appointment she made; with the vet, with her manicurist, with her friends and husband; with everyone. So, could Laura have been mad and trying to get back at all these people? Knowing Laura as the very caring and genuine person that she is, this idea seems highly unlikely.

More so, Laura was always embarrassed about her lateness, even though I had consistently told her, "I'm not mad at you, Laura, just disappointed we will miss some of our time together." I had, in fact, grown quite fond of her and sincerely felt frustrated we could not find the root of her problem. She, on the other hand, repeatedly blamed herself, a sure sign she was responding to a wound.

We Find the Key: Laura's Alarming Clock

During one session, as we again explored her lateness, Laura half jokingly announced to me that she hated her alarm clock; specifically, the sound of her alarm clock. At the time, I had yet to discover the idea of "wound markers" and so, did not recognize her "I hate" phrase for what it is; the direct evidence of a wound (see my article on finding wounds; specifically, the third category of wound markers.)

Then, while Laura continued to tell me how she hated her alarm clock, I recalled how she had already told me she hated getting up early and how this hatred interfered with her being able to get done what she planned to do each day; her daily long list of "things I need to do." In fact, despite these lists, Laura rarely finished what she put on her lists even if the list was short, and these failures always left her feeling angry and confused. "Why do I keep making the same mistakes when I know better?," she would say; yet one more evidence she was responding to a wound.

A minute later, it dawned on me; Laura was getting keyed by the sound of her alarm clock. When I then told her this and asked if she would be willing to bring the clock to the next session, she quickly replied, "of course."

The Healing Session

The next week, Laura arrived late as usual but as promised, she had her alarm clock in hand. Shortly thereafter, we had the clock connected with the alarm set to go off in one minute. As we waited for it to go off, I asked Laura to make herself as present as possible ("wiggle your toes, sense your breath, etc.") and to watch for any internal reactions.

Sure enough, the minute the alarm clock went off, I could see a fierce anger burst forth from Laura's eyes, and she immediately admitted to me that she felt like leaping out of her seat and "killing the f'ing thing!"

Now, while some may see this whole scene as comical, please take a moment to consider the true measure of the suffering Laura had experienced as a direct result of this wound.

Have you any idea of what it is like to wake up every morning in a bad mood? Have you any sense of how this bad mood had affected her relationship with her husband? How about how Laura's bad mood had affected her relationships with the people to whom she arrived late? And what about how Laura's self incriminations had affected her self worth? (what is wrong with me?); her desire to go back to school ("I'll never be able to get up."); her choice of jobs (I can't take a normal day job. I can't be certain I'll make it in on time."); and her ongoing depression (who wouldn't be depressed waking up like this every morning?)

At this point in the session, I asked Laura to again make herself present and if we could try it once more. Although somewhat reluctant, she agreed just the same, having already been through the emergence process in the course of healing several similar wounds.

We then repeated this same event a number of times. Each time, when the alarm went off, I watched Laura do "damage control" meaning, I watched her contain the obvious rage she felt toward the clock. Then, after waiting a few moments for her to regain her composure, I would again ask Laura once more to do her best once more to become present so we could try again.

As we proceeded, I could see that Laura was steadily gaining in her ability to stay conscious during the event and soon, she was even able to stay pretty well present during the ringing alarm.

Please note, I was not doing what is known as "behavioral" therapy with Laura. The goal of behavioral therapy is get the person to be able to endure the event with no painful reactions. Most times, this simply results in some variation of what I call, "damage control," an act of will in which the person is literally desensitized to the event; in other words, they become less aware of the event. This decreased awareness involves not only less awareness of the pain of the event, but also includes less awareness of the wound itself. The result? The wound becomes even more difficult for the person to heal.

With emergence, the goal is very different, though, and actually, the goal is the exact opposite of the goal of behavioral therapies. The goal of emergence is for the person to become able to remain conscious while they experience the event, pain or no pain. Why? Because when they can finally remain conscious during the event, they no longer suffer when they experience it, as the actual wound, the hypnotic bond between the ordinary event and the pain, has been healed.

Often, in the moments of healing, people literally experience a scene from their past. This type of "emergence" is exactly what happened to Laura next.

A Scene Emerges

Finally, after enduring the sound of her alarm clock yet once again, Laura excitedly reported that she had just seen a scene emerge; a scene from the movie "Psycho."

Still clueless as to how these events were connected, I asked to close her eyes, and to go into the scene and tell me what she saw. Sure enough, as she described what she was seeing, the famous "shower scene," when the stabbing began, she instantly went into shock.

What was the actual key, then, the cue to which Laura had been automatically responding to each time during the previous fifteen years?; the soundtrack which had been playing in the background; the "whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop." And the minute she told me, I recalled the scene myself and realized, Laura's alarm clock had been making the same exact sound as the one she had heard in the movie all those years before; "whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop."

So, how exactly had Laura been wounded? It seems that when Laura first saw the movie, that sometime during the famous shower scene, she abruptly went into shock. Her fuse blew. Very simply, what she had seen had been just too much for her to bear.

Moreover, in the instant just prior to when Laura went into shock, the violent nature of the events she was witnessing caused her to hypnotically associate the last thing she consciously experienced to the terrible experiences she was having. That last thing, of course, was the whooping sound she heard playing in the background as the woman was being stabbed.

The simple truth then is, that in that horrible instant, Laura had been programmed to painfully relive this experience each and every time she again heard the whooping sound, regardless of what context she heard it in. Hearing it while watching a movie? Hearing it when her alarm clock went off? No difference as far as how Laura would respond.

Why couldn't Laura remember being programmed? Because in the instant immediately following the one in which she had been programmed, her "internal fuse" had blown; meaning, she had abruptly transitioned from a state of hyperawareness, during which she heard the whooping sound and associated it to her then painful experience, into a state of shock, wherein she experienced the rest of the scene as if it was happening to someone else. This last part is actually the equivalent of the hypnotist's command, "now forget it ever happened."

This whooping sound, then, had, for Laura, become a kind of hypnotic trigger which, for years, had caused her (and God knows how many others) to relive the horror they experienced while watching that violent movie scene. Literally, Laura had suffered for years because she had witnessed this single moment of a movie fifteen years prior. Worse yet, she had suffered and had never known why she suffered. So she blamed herself each time.

After all, how could she have known what was causing her lateness? Even I had been struggling to understand why Laura was having this problem, and in lieu of identifying the key, there literally was no logical way to know the sound in the movie scene was what was causing her pain.

Did This Emergence Cure Laura's Lateness Problem?

Did consciously witnessing this scene then heal the wound which had been causing Laura's lateness problem? Yes. In fact, in the very next session, Laura told me her reaction to the clock was all but gone, and this with no further effort on her part, neither mental nor spiritual.

But did the emergence completely eliminate her late behaviors? For the most part, yes, but not completely. Why not completely? Because a wound and the habits a wound creates are two separate things.

In fact, the way wounds cause people to habitually respond in these situations prevents people from even realizing alternate ways to respond exist. These people respond in these situations as if they were robots. In fact, they actually do resemble robots in that they can genuinely wish to change and can make years of efforts to learn new behaviors and still, they will be unable to alter their responses to the key, even with years of effort. They literally have no choices.

In other words, because people repeatedly and automatically respond to these painful cues, they develop what most people call, "poor habits." How do you heal these habits? Most people, after they heal the actual wound, simply need time to adjust and to develop new and healthier ways to respond. In Laura's case, this was all it took.

Thus, within a few short months, Laura did indeed return to finish her master's degree. And although she did occasionally come to our sessions late (she never did completely resolve her habit of making excessively long "to do" lists,) she was almost always on time. More important, even when she was late, she was noticeably more loving towards herself without effort; the only true evidence of healing. Why without effort? Because it had become natural for Laura to be compassionate towards herself when she (or anyone else) was late.

The Last Part of the Story

I love telling this story because it is such a clear example of how keys affect people; also, of how powerfully affected people can be from experiencing both a single moment of a violent scene and a single moment of healing. Both experiences permanently change peoples' very natures.

Even so, my story doesn't end here, because the truth is, I, too, experienced an emergence during Laura's session. I, too, had been wounded by this very same scene, for me, at age seven or so.

Did I have trouble with the sound of Laura's clock? No, not at all. Why? Because my wound was entirely different, although it occurred only seconds apart from Laura's. My wound had occurred just prior to Laura's, in the instant right before the stabbing occurred. Thus, I had never even heard the whooping sound consciously. So what was my key? The shower curtain!

In my case, then, my fuse blew in the instant I witnessed the murder's shadow through the shower curtain. Thus, I never even experienced the stabbing consciously despite seeing it. In fact, I can instantly and vividly recall seeing the shadow through the shower curtain even as I write these words, even though I first witnessed that scene more than forty years ago. All my life I have been able to vividly recall this painful moment, in fact (here is yet another way to know someone was wounded.)

How did my wounded association with the shower curtain affect my life? Whenever I stood inside a shower curtain, I responded with terror, rage, and frozen fear. I experienced these things even if I imagined being inside a shower curtain. The result? I had never allowed my wife to ever have a shower curtain in our home and in fact, I had been extremely cruel to her if she even asked me if we could have a shower curtain. Finally, I understood why I had insisted, for our whole marriage, that we only have shower doors, not curtains!

Since my marriage had ended years prior, at this point, I had no easy way to apologize. Not that my former wife would have understood such an apology; nothing against her, but the concept of "keys" is an admittedly difficult one for even the most open of people to consider.

None the less, in that moment in which I emerged from this wound, my eyes immediately filled up with tears. Further, I instantly felt great regret for having hurt her so and realized how I had taken my  wound out on her all those years. I also felt a genuine desire to make amends and more, to forgive myself for what I had done to her.

Post Script

Helping Laura heal this wound literally enabled me to see how sounds, independently of their inherent meanings, can key people. The main point here, then, is that the literal meaning of these sounds actually has nothing at all to do with what people experience when they hear them. To a wounded person, these ordinary sounds become a kind of painful hypnotic cue which sends them instantly back into the worst moment of a wounding event.

Further, I can easily understand how many people would struggle to believe my story. After all, we have been taught that an invisible character inside each of us is the cause of these behaviors. Hopefully, though, even those who struggle to believe my story will allow for the possibility that such character might not exist.

Lastly, even though I now see the harm these beliefs can cause people, I personally feel a great respect for the teachers who devised this system. They genuinely believed they were helping people when they told us that the "bad guy" causing us to do these things was an "unconscious" character who hid inside us.

At the same time, I pray that we may quickly and with great gentleness and love, find the strength to allow this character, the "conscious unconscious" to quietly disappear forever, so we can get on with the business of genuinely healing our wounds. And learning to love each other.



Books by Steven Paglierani

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