Deepening the Healing Relationship, Part 2
Integrating human developmental issues into the massage practice
The World of the Infant
By Deborah Allen, Scott Bader, Dan Buffo and Timothy Marshall
In this article, the first of three, we are looking at the world of the infant and how it manifests in our healing rooms. Bodywork, with its reliance on touch, easily stimulates this baby world. Even the horizontal position of the client on a massage table can invoke helplessness and dependency. When clients move into the early world of the infant, they once again taste the boundary-less self, essentially undifferentiated from the mother (caregiver). The baby only knows itself as a stream of sensations. Our psychological strength is developed in direct relationship to the efforts of our caregiver to help us survive the torrential forces and feelings that flood our baby-body. The soothing effect of the mother’s body, her calmness, her joy at touching her infant – all of these translate directly into the psychological and physical well being of the infant. The more identified the client is with the dependent world of the baby, the more responsibility the therapist has to hold the powerful role of the “good enough” caregiver.
How can we notice when this nurturing containment is poorly developed? Remember that these are infant patterns, begun when babies cannot move or turn over by themselves. Waiting too long for Mommy can create a hyper-vigilant baby who strains the shoulders, neck and jaw with watchful hoping. For some babies, neglect turns into rigid musculature, as the baby unconsciously decides, “I have to take care of myself.” Others may find their bodies becoming flaccid as they give up, knowing “she’s never coming.” These physical traits can last well into adulthood, and are familiar in our healing rooms. Clients, who have had poor maternal attachment may also talk without ceasing, stay busy without taking breaks, or feed fear with an addiction. They will do anything to keep from the stillness that might trigger a return of the horrendous forces and feelings of infant helplessness and rage.
As body workers and massage therapists we too can get caught in our own infant needs. Any one of these descriptions might fit a massage therapist at different moments in time. It is important to develop an internal witness, to notice the signs we are losing touch with our adult coping mechanisms. After weeks of overworking, many therapists find themselves wishing clients would call and cancel, and often they do. Personal illness and accidents happen right when we need a break. Feeling out-of-sorts and impatient with clients judged as “whining” or “too needy” often signals the onset of our own infant need for comfort and care. Eating sugar and drinking coffee right before working, over-booking and then resenting it, staying up late and being tired at work: any of these behaviors may indicate that we need to notice if, indeed, our inner baby is asking for help. Difficult feelings, including anger, as we approach work or during a massage, often tell us that our own needs are trying to surface.
Sarah curls up into a ball as she usually does sometime during her massage. To the therapist’s surprise, he finds himself unexpectedly irritated. She is making his job harder. How can he really get to the deep muscles in her shoulders, work that would really help her feel better? He thinks to himself “I am really not helping her much. She’s starting to waste my time and her money coming here.” And then he catches himself. The witnessing part of him comes on board. (Enter the Egoic stage, more on that in part II.)He realizes that the “self” that is feeling these things is very young. He remembers that he has not been eating well for several days and that he is sad about the illness of a much-loved relative. He has not had a day off for too long, and his infant needs are making themselves known.