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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Monday, December 9, 2013

The "Primal Wound" versus "The Wound": Same Basic Idea?

I happened to be reading The great derangement by Matt Taibbi, the Rolling Stone contributing editor, with an eye to seeing his comments about how Congressional rules have changed--  when I saw that he also included an account of being an “undercover atheist” in a weekend encounter group/retreat run by the Texas Cornerstone Church. As I mentioned in my last post about a German therapy weekend, these things all follow a predictable pattern, even though details about family constellations or speaking in tongues may be different. But Taibbi interested me by speaking of a concept put forward by the minister leading this weekend, one Philip Fortenberry.

I’m about to say how Taibbi described this concept, but I must note that I have only his description to go on. The Cornerstone Church website alludes to it slightly, but my search of the Internet has not revealed any other information about it. The basic idea, however, is identified in this way by Taibbi: “The program revolved around a theory that Fortenberry quickly introduced us to called ‘the wound’.  The wound theory was a piece of schlock Biblical Freudianism in which everyone had one traumatic event from their childhood that had left a wound. The wound necessarily had been inflicted by another person, and bitterness toward that person had corrupted our spirits and alienated us from God. Here at the retreat we would identify this wound and learn to confront and forgive our transgressors, a process that would leave us cleansed of bitterness and hatred and free to receive the full benefits of Christ” (pp. 70-71). Identification of the wound was apparently carried out by recounting personal stories in small groups, and cleansing proceeded on the final day through a service in which people spoke in tongues and vomited up demons.

The connection between being wounded and filled with hate and having to get rid of indwelling demons may not be obvious to non-charismatics, but there is a logic when the omissions are filled in. Cruel actions and hatred or pain attract demons, who in turn prevent the afflicted person from being filled with the Holy Ghost (I am referring here not to Taibbi’s account, but to various materials about charismatic thinking.)  Being cleansed of the demons, it seems, causes one to be cleansed of the aftereffects of the ‘wound’, including the hatred and bitterness that attracted the demons to begin with. (I am not sure where forgiveness comes into the picture, but in the “family constellation therapy”  I mentioned in the previous post, hurt people are asked to beg the forgiveness of those who have hurt them; this includes sexually-abused children, who are to beg the forgiveness of the abusing adult, and, no, I don’t have this backward.)

The parallel with Nancy Verrier’s “Primal Wound” is easy to see. For Verrier, the important “wound” is the one she believes to take place when an infant is separated from its birth mother, to whom (according to Verrier) the child has already established a prenatal bond. Adoption by another family is accompanied by the ill effects of the separation wound and makes it impossible for adopted individuals to be truly happy. Verrier recommends that all the details of the separation and adoption be discussed in order to have a good developmental outcome, but does not suggest any therapeutic approaches that could support this (and indeed she has been criticized by otherwise-accepting authors for her failure to offer guidance on this point).

How does the PW compare to “the wound”? It’s a specialized form of wound, occurring under specific circumstances, and not to be found in most of the population. However, it otherwise parallels the “wounds” posited by Fortenberry. It occurs in early life and hangs on, accumulating ill feelings, and interfering with ordinary happy life. According to advertisements for Verrier’s other book, Coming home to self, people with childhood traumas feel they are living “unauthentic” (sic)  lives, just as those with Fortenberry’s “wounds” feel they need to “know the truth” and “be set free”. If Verrier did not base the PW on the “wound”, or vice-versa, the two must be descendants of the same belief system. And of course they both resemble closely the Scientological practice of “clearing engrams” acquired before birth and in early postnatal life.

One more interesting point about the PW: charismatics too give adoption a privileged position as a cause of emotional distress. For them, the circumstances behind adoption--  lust, unwanted pregnancy, accident or illness, infertility, or death of a parent--  all attract demons to the adopted person as well as to those around him. There may even be generational curses at work, so the actual adoption, lust, death, etc. may have occurred many decades ago (coming full circle back to Bert Hellinger, it seems), but affecting someone living today.

Who started this, I’d like to know? Whoever it was, it’s clear that all these stories are versions of religious beliefs. That’s why it’s so repugnant to the believers to attempt to argue in terms of observable events--- even when their stated beliefs are presented as if they come from the observable.  

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