Listening Inside to the Pain of Life: A Session Excerpt

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Michael Eigen, PhD

Psyche Singing

M.E: “Wondering what you hear when you listen inside.”

A.G: “When I listen inside? When I listen – I hear screaming.”

M.E: “Does it ever stop?”

A.G: “Right now I’m thinking I don’t listen to it all the time so I don’t always hear it. But maybe it goes on all the time. I’m not sure if it stops or I just don’t listen. It might go on all the time, a scream that never stops. But I stop listening. I do other things. Do you think I should spend my whole life listening to myself screaming? What good would that do?”

M.E: “Do you listen to it sometimes?”

A.G: “I’m afraid to. I hadn’t thought of it before, but I try not to. I try not to hear it. It’s like a ringing inside.”

M.E: “Where? Does it have a place?”

A.G: “It changes. It could be in my head or ears. But I think it’s mainly in my chest.”

M.E.: “Where your heart is?”

A.G: “My heart and maybe lungs.”

M.E: “Breath and pulse?”

A.G: “My heart is screaming. My breath is screaming.  I close my mind. Now I think I close my soul.  My soul doesn’t want to hear its own screaming, but it wants me to hear it.”

M.E: “And what will you do with it?  What does your soul want?”

A.G: “It wants me to feel it. Maybe greet it, say hello, spend time with it, be with it.”

M.E: “Get to know your deep scream?”

A.G: “Yes, get to know it.

M.E: “Can you say what it’s screaming about?”

A.G: “Maybe just the pain of life. How painful life can be. How painful it is to be alive.”

M.E: “Is the pain unbearable?”

A.G: “It can be, yes. But not always. Now I feel it comes and goes. Now more, now less. Maybe it is not always the same. Maybe it is not always unbearable but sometimes it is. Often is.”

M.E: “So there is room to feel other things besides pain.”

A.G: “Many other things.  But now I am thinking that my fear of pain stops me.”

M.E.: “Stops you from breathing? Being?”

A.G: “I didn’t think before how painful breathing might be.  Now I’m feeling afraid to breathe.”

M.E: “It’s a very real fear. Can you breathe with the pain, into it? Breath with the fear?”

A,G: “I can try. It’s scary but I want to. I want to be able to breathe. And as I say that I feel the pain spreading, thinning out, turning into something else – I’m not sure what.”

M.E: “What’s on the other side of pain?”

A.G: “Tears.”  [A.G. weeps, quietly at first, then sobs, chest heaving.]  “I feel I’m trying to stay alive.”

M.E: “I get the thought that at some point in your life pain kept you alive, made you feel alive.”

A.G: “But at some point, it got stale, dull or worse, stopped me from living. Right now, it’s dissipating, turning into a different sensation.  I’m not sure what it is.  Something between tears and pleasure but not quite either. A quiet something, just there. A sensation you get when you squeeze your muscles from the inside. A squeezy kind of sensation.”

M.E: “I think I know what you mean, at least a little bit of it.  A kind of inner squeeze that makes your insides feel better.”

A.G: “Yes. I can squeeze myself from the inside, a soul squeeze.  It’s not just a matter of doing away with pain and tears but something else.”

M.E: “Are you saying there’s room for all of them?”

A.G: “Yes, there’s room for all of them.”

Michael Eigen, PhD is author of twenty-seven books and many papers. He teaches and supervises at New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis and the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis. He has been Editor of The Psychoanalytic Review, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis and Hans Loewald Award from International Forum of Psychoanalytic Education. He gives a private seminar on Winnicott, Bion, Lacan and his own work ongoing forty-five years.