Primal Feelings: Healing From Difficult Early Life Experiences

Primal feelings are unresolved patterns of emotion from childhood. Because these feelings lie in the depths beyond the conscious mind, we can’t control when they come out. Often they present themselves in moments when we least expect them: like unexpected rage at a partner, extreme anxiety before a job interview, or intense fear at times when there is no obvious threat.

When our needs aren’t met

Primal feelings are programmed into us from times in our childhood when our needs were not met. These traumatic feelings tend to fall into one of two categories – either they are ‘abandonment’ trauma or ‘invasion’ trauma.

Abandonment trauma occurs when we do not receive the love that we are genetically coded to expect from our caregivers. As a very small child, this can be devastating – we are crying out for attention and our parent is not there. We need to feel safe, held and protected and those needs are not met.

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This can be too much for such a small brain to process, so the defensive response of the human mind is to store these intense emotions of fear, anger and sadness in the muscle systems of the body. This means that when we are stable and developed enough as adults, we can healthily release them. We then subconsciously seek out situations that trigger or stimulate those emotions to come to the surface so that we can finally do the screaming, the crying, or any other form of release that we needed to do in the moment of initial trauma, but couldn’t.

Perhaps a child is left in the cot without any form of affection and would be punished if they cried out, so they learned not to express the pain of abandonment. Now that they are an adult, they do not reach out for affection from partners and friends, do not share how they are feeling and do not feel safe to cry. They feel numb, unloved and unable to get their emotional needs met. This is a situation of unresolved primal abandonment trauma.

The other general type of primal trauma is ‘invasion’. This is when a child is on the receiving end of treatment that violates their boundaries in some way. Invasion trauma can be physical or verbal. We do not want to be touched, and we are touched. Perhaps a child is physically abused by an angry parent, or experiences being sexually abused. Somebody who has suffered intense invasion trauma may grow up to expect to have their boundaries invaded. They were not able to express the anger as a child, so they have learned to suppress it as a way of life. Again, this person may subconsciously seek out situations that allow them to finally express the anger at being invaded, and access the grief and pain that inevitably lies underneath.

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What’s underneath?

Most human beings alive today had experiences as a child that fell somewhere on the spectrum of both abandonment and invasion. We all feel anger irrationally at times, or experience fear or sadness. Most people can relate to a feeling that they have lashed out at a friend unreasonably.

Underneath the surface feelings of anger and fear, there is always a deep well of pain. It is painful to experience a need not being met, whether that is a need for love or a need for safe boundaries. It is often our anger that protects us from feeling the grief underneath. But many of us cannot see this in the moment. Such is the power of the brain’s defense mechanism.

So far, this paints a fairly melancholy story – we have unresolved pain from childhood and this causes dysfunction in our adult lives. How can we move forward?

Expressing Safely

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This is where emotional release comes in.

You may have seen the way that animals shake their bodies out after the threat of attack has gone. This is because they have an inbuilt mechanism for releasing trauma.

Experienced group therapists set up safely held situations for people to do the same. There is an opportunity to shake the fear and pain out of the body, to learn to say ‘No!’, and to learn to ask for what we need. Here, we can access the anger, grief and sadness that we may have spent most of our lives running away from. In these situations, there is full permission to throw a tantrum or to cry.  No judgment, no punishment, just a solid container within which to shake, cry, scream, go mad and let the past go.

What our therapists have developed is a tried and tested way of moving through the intensity into joy and freedom. It’s important to feel supported in this process, to feel that we can share what we are experiencing, to ask questions, to feel the love of a group.

In this environment, we can feel physically held, embraced, and loved. Often, after the release of intense emotion, there is space for softness to enter. We receive permission to feel our grief without judgment. There is total acceptance of who we are as a vulnerable human being, affirmation of our beauty, and space to share our thoughts and fears about the process itself.

This is what we offer at Osho Leela. We have a passion for bringing human beings back to their most natural state of vitality. We support people to find self-love, to learn how to connect in healthy ways and to learn how to say YES to what we truly desire. Primal work underpins all that we do at Osho Leela and most, if not all, of our in-house workshops include Primal sessions. There are also specific workshops focusing solely on the topic of Primal feelings. At our festivals, you can experience tasters of our weekend workshops in the form of two-hour sessions.

For more information about our programme and to find a workshop that suits you, have a look at our Calendar here.

Written by Supriti Tidd. Supriti is a meditation facilitator and aspiring group therapist at Osho Leela. She leads women’s circles and explores her creativity through music, art and poetry.





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