The Mechanics of Trauma – Part II

The basic unit of our experience is the incident – a frame of time in which something significant happened to us. Hubbard’s notion of a continuous timeline which records all sensory input in sequence was more idealistic than realistic, especially if you consider his claims about this kind of recording taking phase in the early prenatal stages. I think that when experiences pass from the short term memory into long term memory they get processed and some information is discarded. It is quite reasonable to assume that significant incidents – ones that carry a higher emotional charge – will generate more detailed memories, more powerful imprints, whereas the day-to-day wold be a fuzzy, superficial, record, punctuated by minor landmarks, here and there.

I may be exaggerating, but this has not yet been researched, so I don’t know. It is possible that, whatever gets recorded in the prenatal stage, it does not get recorded until the 3rd trimester (the Dutch Hunger-Winter is the rationale). It is also possible that some stuff get recorded sooner, and how far back does it go? Let’s just leave this question open.

So, we have a timeline, along which incidents are strewn. The mind, whichever part thereof does the analyzing, scans them, arranges them in associative structures, and so they are able to interact with our thinking and effect our decision making mechanism. Which is the purpose of the exercise.

Why had Hubbard’s discovery, his method, had been abandoned, I often wondered. The obvious answer would be that is did not really work, that after the fashion was gone, people were left with nothing to show for it, so they quit. And then things started going really crazy, and Scientology was born. In Hubbard’s biography (Bare Faced Messiah, by Russell Miller) it is said that no one could administer the therapy to him, that he would just take over and preach, during his ‘sessions’.

I’d like to propose a different interpretation. Over the years, in scattered reports I’ve heard, here and there, people were telling of successes people had – a church term that means being able to deal with some problem that had been bothering a person – through the application of the therapy proposed in Dianetics. I’ve witnessed some myself, though these, and the ones reported, were usually moderate in nature.

But it does seem to be the only existing way to change a person, something that’s been so far deemed to be impossible, not on any serious scale. The problem is, you need to deal with human emotions from a completely new perspective, contrary to the one you’ve been raised on, and this is no small thing. Another problem is that a certain level of IQ is required to be a therapist, an effective therapist. The people whom I’ve seem practicing it did not posses anything approaching this level of intellect; such people are few, unique, and they still need good training to help them overcome the first – cultural – hurdle, to cross the barrier between our culture and our animal selves, and then you still need to go a little further.

Hubbard pretty quickly alienated anyone with significant intellect and cast them out of his organization, and I guess they lost interest in the therapy as they had in the man. Be the case as it may….

The basic mechanic of the ‘Self’ is avoid pain, seek pleasure. When recorded trauma gets triggered it inflicts pain on the Self. The pain – or the distress – is derived directly from the underlying traumatic incidents that are causing it, from the sensations they contain: if you had been in a car accident, triggering that memory/imprint might cause you to feel distress, remote sensations from the incident might start floating into sight. The emotion that the Second Brain is sending to the ‘Self’ is get away from the source of the distress. The ‘Self’ must react, it generates a secondary emotion that orders an action.

If this action is not carried out, or if the impulses triggering the event (or events) intensify, level of stress will increase and the pain of the injury might begin to manifest itself, all urging the subject to get away from the perceived source of danger.

Such imprints would usually generate phobias, panic attacks, and similar things, though they also have the potential to cause illness, all depending on how much emotional pressure is applied to the traumatic reaction pattern. The issue becomes more complicated when the various personae that were present around a person when he was being traumatized come into play. Hubbard called them Valances….


The reactive mind (or Second Brain) keeps trying to analyze his traumatic imprints in his own primitive way. Actors in our neurotic drama – parents, relatives, people who were around when we were growing up – are first evaluated on the basis of are they friend or foe, then according to their social status. The things a friend says, in a traumatic imprint, are weighed differently from what an antagonist says – or does. If a person is particularly helpful – in words or in deeds – then they may become an ally, with the power to cause serious psychosomatic illness.

The higher their social status, the more likely we are to imitate them in our hour of need – stress, or a direct triggering of the incident, which usually involved stress. The more we are in need of the comfort and of the (false) security of an ally’s words, the more we will tend to get sick in order to restore their favors.

This does not really work, of course, but then again, this is insane behavior. The reactive mind evolved before there was speech, or language, these problems did not exist, back then. Assuming it would have made a difference.

To give an example – a person who had an abusive father, as a child, might turn one of 2 ways: they might grow up to become an abuser themselves, or they may become completely averse to violence. This choice depends on several factors: the personality of the mother, of other people who were present when the child was growing up and being abused, are key amongst those.

Depending on the level of necessity, the reactive mind might ‘choose’ to keep ones own personal valance, but this will require acknowledging the fact of having being abused, which might be painful. A more common choice is the father’s – the abuser’s – valance, since he was the one in control in this situations, in those traumatic memories, the most successful in surviving (achieving his goal), so we wanna be like him.

It is also possible to choose the role of the mother, or of an ally – a grandparent or an aunt/uncle who, say, had been around when the child was sick, helping out. One of these factors is emotional loss.

The Role of Emotional Loss

This happens when we perceive that we have lost something essential to our goal (procreation and survival). The trauma does not involve physical pain, but, rather, psychological pain.

Like I’ve described before, memories, in general, and traumatic memories, in particular, associate themselves in clusters, or in chains, of related events. When one in such a cluster is triggered all are triggered to some extent, contributing their mutual input to determine the response.

Such clusters (or chains) might be all events of being abused by dad in a person’s repository of traumatic memories. Or being humiliated for breaking social taboos, in long forgotten toddler years (maybe we forget them because we need to repress the pain of the socialization process, which is at its height at that period). Their imprints act together when they are triggered.

Events of emotional loss can also accumulate in clusters, and these associate themselves with events of physical injury or illness incidents, which are much more common, in childhood, than you may think.

Hubbard claimed that the prenatal environment was so delicate, so fragile, that the slightest disturbance – the mother’s blood pressure rising, or she bumping her belly against an object – could cause the embryo ‘unconsciousness’ and, consequentially, trauma. This is possible, we are definitely effected by our prenatal environment. Also, birth itself has a lot of potential for trauma, sometimes serious trauma, and the condition we are in after birth, our helplessness and our extreme dependency on our caregivers, makes us, again, very susceptible to it.

But most events of unconsciousness that created the foundation for our neuroses occurred, according to Hubbard, in the prenatal phase. Janov (the developer of Primal Therapy, a pretty famous regression therapy), as much as he spoke of events, focused on birth and on early infancy (though he does stress the importance of the prenatal phase in one of his books, in one short passage) – on the trauma of being denied certain things we needed, like love and nourishment, etc. I’m assuming each of them was right in their own way, and, also, maybe there is not always a clear line separating physical trauma from emotional trauma, especially if you consider the fact that every incident of physical injury also carries an emotional value.

The more emotional loss you have that is associated with a certain cluster of traumatic events, the more powerful the reaction imprints in this cluster will be, in forcing you to alter your behavior or in getting you ill, when they get activated.

In a sense, you could say that loss teaches us to be more cautious, less adventurous, the more bad experiences we’ve had. It also takes away a lot of our capacity for happiness, makes us less alive, in a sense – but evolution does not care about our feelings – and eventually also makes us ill.

So, this has been a general, and quite superficial, review of the theory presented in Hubbard’s ‘model of the mind’ – his Dianetics. In my next article I will begin discussing regression therapies – of which Dianetics was one.


(Next: Introduction to Regression Therapy; Previous: The Mechanics of Trauma – An Introduction)

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