Self-Regulation – Homeostasis


Tony Crisp

The Secret Power – the Force that heals

If the self-regulatory processes of your being ceased its action you would be dead in a very short time. Even a brisk walk causes such enormous changes in the body it would kill you without the action of self-regulation. The production of lactic acid, unchecked, would destroy the system. Also the drop in blood sugar, unless balanced by the release of glucose from the storage in tissues and liver, would result in collapse.

The level after level of safety factors built into our system are nothing short of incredible. For adequate functioning our blood pressure needs to be at about 110 to 120 (i.e. it displaces 110 millimeters of mercury). It can drop to 70-80 before a critical situation arises in which tissue may die because blood is not reaching it. If we lose a lot of blood, even as much as 30 or 40 percent, the self-regulatory process maintains adequate blood pressure by constricting the blood vessels. This action is controlled by a part of the brain. If that brain area is injured or destroyed, other centres take control. If they arc eliminated, ganglia in the sympathetic nervous system direct the action. If they too are eliminated the walls of the arteries and veins themselves regulate their own activity.

Keeping balance during change – dealing with stress

Such functions are usually listed under the heading ‘homeostasis’. The word means to ‘keep level or balanced during change’. The ball cock in a toilet is an excellent example of mechanical homeostasis. As soon as we flush the toilet the ball-cock descends allowing water to pour into the cistern. When the water reaches a certain height the water entering is stopped, thus a level is maintained despite change. To quote from Anthony’s Textbook of Anatomy and Physiology (Mosby):

The principle of homeostasis is one of the most fun­damental of all physiological principles. It may be stated in this way: the body must maintain relative constancy of its chemicals and processes in order to survive. Or stated even more briefly: health ad survival depend upon the body’s maintaining or quickly restoring homeostasis.

In 1885 the Belgian physiologist Leon Fredericq described it this way:

The living being is an agency of such sort that each disturbing influence induces by itself the calling forth of compensatory activity to neutralise or repair the disturbance. The higher in the scale of living beings, the more numerous, the more perfect and the more complicated do these regulatory activities become. They tend to free the organism completely from the unfavourable influences and changes occurring in the environment.

In 1900 Charles Richet a French physiologist went further by saying:

The living being is stable. It must be so in order not to be destroyed, dissolved or disintegrated by the colossal forces, often adverse, which surround it. By an appar­ent contradiction it maintains its stability only if it is excitable and capable of modifying itself according to external stimuli and adjusting its responses to the stimu­lation. In a sense it is stable because it is modifiable – the slight instability is the necessary condition for the true stability of the organism.

The wisdom of the body

In 1933 Walter B. Cannon published his remarkable book The Wisdom of The Body (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd.). Through his years of research and experiment he added enormously to the understanding of physiological homeostasis. He points out that the self- regulatory process not only has to adapt the body to outer influences, “There is also resistances to disturbance from within. For example, the heat produced in maximal mus­cular effort, continued for twenty minutes, would be so great that, if it were not properly dissipated, it would cause some of the albuminous substances of the body to become stiff, like a hard-boiled egg”. He points out that such pro­cesses are not originally given naturally but are slowly developed by organisms as they evolve. Thus, the frog cannot prevent free evaporation of water from its body, so cannot be long free of its home pond. Nor can it effective­ly regulate its temperature, so becomes torpid and sluggish in cold weather.

This helps in understanding what Fredericq meant in saying the “regulatory agencies. . . free the organism com­pletely from the unfavourable influences and changes occur­ring in the environment.”

Obviously this is only partly true, and humans have much greater freedom from envi­ronment than the frog. Nevertheless, we cannot survive in anything except small changes of temperature, outside or inside, but must use special equipment in, what is for us extreme heat and cold. Also, in the airlessness of space, and while submerged in water, we must again use special ‘clothing’. These things we create by our mental ingenuity. Therefore, we can say that self-regulation is not a fixed ability, and our conscious use of intelligence and experi­ence are also aspects of the homeostatic process. Through expanding our ability to adapt to outer and inner environ­ments we have expanding freedom. If our ability to adapt lessens, then our freedom lessens also.

Learning to keep balance in a changing world

This learning process even takes place in such major homeostatic features as heat control and regulation of blood sugar level. During this century it was found that for quite a long period after birth babies have little control of temperature regulation. When exposed to cold their temperature drops with hardly any reaction to prevent it, rather like a frog. There are also much greater swings in a baby’s blood sugar level than in an adult. The baby only gradually ‘learns’ to respond to these new features of inner and outer change after the steady temperature and blood sugar of its prenatal life in the internal sea of its mother. We could perhaps say the baby learned such regulation unconsciously, or without conscious deliberation. In order to gain greater ‘freedom’ even the baby is faced by the need to learn. The unconscious wisdom that enables it to learn complicated bodily adaptations also operates in adults and in other ways. Walter Cannon describes this as follows:

Many years ago, Murphy and I observed with X rays a curious phenomena after the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum) had been cut across and sewed together again. Although peristaltic waves were passing routinely over the stomach, the sphincter at the outlet (the pyloric sphincter) held tight against them, and only after about five hours did it relax and permit the gastric contents to enter the injured gut. The interest here lies in the relation of the delay to the process of healing; accord­ing to surgical observation, about four hours are required after an intestinal suture for a plastic exudate to form and make a tight joint. It was after the proper time had elapsed for that process to come to completion, there­fore, that the chyme from the stomach was allowed to advance. Similar results were obtained when the section and suture were made further along the alimentary canal.

Such unconscious though purposeful activities are ex­pressions of this inner wisdom our being has, and are all part of our self-regulatory process. The urge to eat and drink, to work, play and learn, the longing to hold some­one and be held, to make love, to sleep and wake, are all ways we keep balance. If any of these are severely curtailed our nature may become unbalanced and even crippled in its ability to freely extend itself in reason­able freedom.

The enormous drive to grow

Caron Kent adds to the usually mentioned instincts what he sees as one of the most fundamental – the urge to grow. From conception onwards this urge is powerfully manifest. From conception until birth the growing or­ganism increases its weight alone up to 27 million times. So, growth is an energetic urge producing enormous change, but also one which brings de­tailed control over the miracle of forming a living human body. This comes about by stage after stage of formative forces acting in the construction of our being. As an egg and sperm, we are tiny single celled creatures. The next two stages of development as the cells increase in size and number resemble the activities found in many simple living things such as plants. The twenty-day old embryo develops four brachial grooves, which in the embryo of a fish grow into gills. At this point the formative forces which produce a fish are active, as were the formative forces of a plant at an earlier stage. These are then sup­planted by forces which bring about features of the mammalian upright animal we are. As one textbook states, “A human is not constructed like a modern office building, as cheaply and efficiently as possible. . .but rather like an ancient historic edifice to which wings and sections were added at different times and which was not modernised until it was almost completed.”

If we recall Richet’s statement that instability is the necessary condition for true stability and consider how this works in the realm of the personality, we have some idea of psychological as well as physiological homeostasis. In a very simplistic sense, if we are overcome by fear and feel unable to move, unless we are capable of releasing confidence we will remain paralysed. If our psyche is not ‘unstable’ or mobile enough, this compensatory shift cannot take place. These shifts, between the dynamic op­posites of our nature – tension and relaxation; pain and pleasure; spontaneity and control, are vital for our healthy psychological survival. Factors preventing such mobility are causes of illness and even death. Locked feelings of guilt, shock or stress are recognised as productive of major illness. So, part of the healthy homeostatic action is to actually be ‘mobile’ enough to deeply grieve or release emotion, instead of being rigidly controlled or coping. The ‘control’ and the ‘out of control’ balance each other. If we are so controlled that we become ill through sup­pressed anger or grief, we are less in control of our life and well being than someone who can let themselves cry un­controllably for a while.

It is partly this ability to have a wide range of choices or opposites available to us that makes human survival and self-regulation more efficient than in other animals. In Africa for instance, herds of deer are being driven from the open grasslands because of human use of the land. The instincts of the deer lead them to always seek survival on the open plains, because this has always been their habitat. It is ‘natural’ for them to hide from enemies on the plain. But on the plains they are killed, and it would be better for their survival to hide in the forested areas. To manage that, however, they would have to be capable of suppressing their instinctive ‘natural’ drive and acting in a new way.

New areas of the brain had to be developed

Perhaps human beings faced a similar conflict in the past. When forests dwindled their only chance of survival was in open country which was an ‘unnatural’ habitat for them. So, to survive they had to deny their instinctive inner urge. Perhaps this is where the idea of original sin arose, when humans denied the voice of God/instinct within them. However, it happened, humans can now question their own drives and evaluate them against survival and achievement. They thereby have extended their homeo­static functions. Ling and Buckman, in their book Lysergic Acid and Ritalin in The Treatment of Neurosis, say:

“New areas of the brain had to be developed not only to integrate, but also to inhibit primitive survival oriented impulses and to enable them to store stimuli to act on them later. It is this ability to defer action and to act in a purposeful and objective rather than instinctive way that distinguishes the well integrated adult from the child, the primitive from the neurotic.”

Ron Hubbard looked at human beings as if they were an engineering problem. Although this gives a different view from someone like Jung, it does have a lot of helpful in­formation. Writing about the human computer (problem solving function or self-regulatory process), which he calls the Analyser, Hubbard describes it as capable of com­puting on any problem and arriving at a correct conclusion if the information it has is sound. It can work extremely quickly and can handle large numbers of problems simultaneously, as occurs when we drive a car. It can re-evaluate its past memories and conclusions and come to new con­clusions. It has a nearly infinite memory bank. It is self-determining and does not need an outside operator. It is also self-regulating and avoids, through estimating prob­able outcomes, future damage. Through the senses it contacts the objective world and has a sense of self. Its memories are stored in time sequence, with full colour, movement, sound, smell, feeling, and self-awareness. It has the faculty of imagination to enable it to compute on probabilities or create new survival aids. It is also portable.

Hubbard recognised that anyone with a healthy body who did not have brain damage through injury or surgery, had all the above abilities. Nevertheless, despite the fact the human computer is self-regulating, Hubbard had to admit that with all its faculties, the computer was frequently ill or malfunctioning. Experimenting with hypnosis on a patient who was colour blind and could not remember sounds or images, Hubbard found the person could be relaxed to a point where the problems disappeared. At this level the person could think clearly, had no colour blind­ness, had consideration for his wife, all of which were usually missing, but were again absent on the patient’s return to ‘normal’ consciousness. So, Hubbard’s conclu­sion from this and other experiments was that underneath the functional aberrations was a whole and healthy person. This left the question though as to how the aberrations got into the computer.

Further experiment showed that any sort of aberration such as stuttering, hallucinations, phobias, compulsions, schizophrenia, fears, hysterical blindness, paralysis, depression, anxiety, could all be brought about in healthy hypnotic subjects simply by suggesting it. Such suggestions as: “When you awake you will not be able to hear/feel anything in your arm/ remember who you are. You will be sick every time you eat an apple/frightened when you get near women/etc,” brought about the aberration it described. With hypnosis however, the suggested deafness or fear faded fairly quick­ly, simply because the ‘human computer’ is self-regulating. So, what causes the aberrations that haunt people for years to stay in place?

Do you have a held down 7?

Hubbard’s work led him to see that the non-hypnotic aberrations get in from the outside world. The only rea­sons aberrations could stay in place in the human com­puter would be if, unlike general experience, their causa­tive experience had got past the Analyser, could not be recalled, and so could not be re-evaluated. He gives the example of a calculator that works perfectly unless we hold down the number seven. When the seven is held down all future calculations are wrong. The machine then seems insane. Allow the seven up and sanity returns, just as it does when the hypnotic suggestion is removed.

In his book ‘Dianetics-The Evolution of A Science’, Hubbard explains what he discovered to be the cause of the ‘held down seven’. It was PAIN. During a painful life experience such as an accident or frightening surgical operation in childhood, our analyser is knocked out of operation. A lump of experience enters us unassessed. It is not our analyser that operates when we put our hand on a hot stove, crash in a car, fall under a blow from dad, or feel the agony of mum apparently having deserted us. It is the reactive or instinctive mind.

Our memory is a full experience of sound, sight, emotions and pain! Once we have felt the pain of being burnt, next time our hand gets even near such heat an automatic action pulls our body away. The same happens with emotional pain. To pull away is reactive and seems necessary for survival. So, we automatically pull away not only from painful and frightening things in the outer world, but also from any part of our inner memory and feelings that are painful or frightening. Pulling our con­sciousness away from a memory means we cannot recall or evaluate and integrate it. We may remember the event, but when it comes to recalling the painful emotions and fears we pull back. Therefore, many areas of vitally im­portant experience, decisions and thoughts connected with it, wisdom learned from it, are HELD DOWN SEVENS. Recalling Richet’s formula of mobility, this means we have lost the mobility to maintain balance and freedom.

Also, suggestions may have entered the memory at the same time. If a man is involved in a car accident, and during it someone shouts – “DON’T MOVE!”, this is just as active as any hypnotic suggestion. Because it is held back from the self-regulating activity of remembrance and evaluation it can remain active. Therefore, the man may liter­ally not move, not take chances in life, always be worried something is going to hurt him.

Hubbard called these moments of painful unevaluated experience ‘engrams’. These not only caused aberrations in the person but were also contagious. They lead to an acting out of our pain on our children or others. A mother loses a baby and nearly dies. Her pain and fear are now engrams. This leads her to irrational behaviour. So, when her daugh­ter shows affection for boyfriend’s mother hits or threatens her because of her own fear of pregnancy. Her daughter grows up with a fear of sex. Some such reactive behaviour is passed on for generation after generation unless it is re-evaluated. Wilhelm Reich called it THE EMOTIONAL PLAGUE. War, political murder, religious carnage, social discrimination, go on through the centuries despite human ability to reason and see them as evils. As Reich says, “If you live in a cellar too long, you will hate the sunshine.” There can be no real change in individual and social conditions at an emotional and feeling level unless individuals agree to re­-evaluate their own unconscious pains, longings and values. 

In Europe and the U.S.A. today so many babies are battered to death that infants have a high probability of being battered rather than being sick from normal causes. Also, parents who have not re-evaluated the pains of several wars have passed their aberrations to children who now are themselves raising families. This means more individual and social sickness, which in turn means more broken homes, which produces more children who will pass on their own pain.

It goes on and on. To stop it we need, as adults with self-awareness, to learn how to extend our self-regulatory process. We need to do this with awareness of our natural avoid­ance of pain and fear. As Von Franz says in Man and His Symbols, we “must get rid of purposive and wishful aims. The ego must be able to listen.”

What will happen then? The pieces of experience that have been ‘held down’ can be released for integration and understanding. This can only occur if we let ourselves ‘experience’ what is released. During reactive behaviour we are seldom coolly intellectual. Most of what occurs is deeply emotional or physical. Therefore, to calmly have an intellectual view of the experience is not enough. To experience it is to feel its deeply emotional or physical quality.

Homeostasis Dreams and the Unconscious

It is easy for us to understand many of the physiological processes of self-regulation, but our culture is sadly lacking in understanding how deeply self-regulation penetrates our psychology and the processes of the mind and how we unconsciously resist it.

For instance, doctors and therapists who supervised LSD sessions in the 1960’s, noted the conflict between the two reactions of defence or surrender. They felt this conflict may be the source of the severe anxiety experienced by some people as they face their own internal traumas. The conflict is sometimes resolved by a collapse of the ego defences, and the subject then feels a terrible sense of disintegration. This is usually experienced as a distortion of the body image (the physical awareness of self), so that the patient feels his flesh is falling away from his bones, that time and space have disintegrated, that he is nothing but a sound or a colour or an emotion. This is called ‘depersonalisation,’ and it may seem to the patient that he has gone completely mad or even died. This demonstrates the enormous defences placed around painful areas.

However, somewhere within the total personality there appears to be a continuing integrative force (self-regulation); though an individual may be overwhelmed by the LSD experience, some part of his mind still seems to observe, evaluate, comment, and even attempt to integrate this otherwise hidden material with the knowledge of conscious life. This may disappear for brief periods, when the fear of insanity or death supervenes, but for most of the time it is clearly at work. No one knows what type of ‘thinking’ this may be. It appears to be different both from ‘reality thinking’ and ‘autistic thinking,’ from the patterns of conscious thought and the imagery of fantasy, a kind of bridge between two types of mental process. Lawrence Lessing, in a Fortune article on recent sleep research, has written: ‘At the same time recent evidence shows that there may well be a second, lower level of dreaming extending down even into deep sleep, consisting largely of abstract thoughts or isolated symbols, much harder to recall than the generally vivid, active imagery of rapid-eye-movement dreaming.’ (Abstracted from Dreams and Dreaming by Mackenzie.)

Jung, Hadfield and several other dream researchers believe the dream process is one of the main self-regulatory processes in the psyche. See Man and His Symbols, Jung – Dreams and Nightmares, Hadfield – Mind and Movement, Liberating The Body; Crisp. This means that the process underlying dream production helps keep psychological balance just as physiological homeostasis keeps body functions balanced by producing perspiration when hot, shivering when cold, and the almost miraculous minutiae of internal changes. This means that the dream process is part of the overall self-regulatory processes.

Despite self-regulation or homeostasis being an obvious and fundamental process in the body, in nature and the cosmos as a whole, it still appears difficult for many people investigating the mind to accept a similar function psychologically. Dr. J. A. Hadfield, in his book Dreams and Nightmares (Penguin) describes this process as follows:

“There is in the psyche an automatic movement toward readjustment, towards an equilibrium, towards a restor­ation of the balance of our personality. This automatic adaptation of the organism is one of the main functions of the dream as indeed it is of bodily functions and of the personality as a whole. This idea need not unnecessarily concern us, for this automatic self-regulating process is a well known phenomenon in Physics and Physiology. The function of compensation which Jung so emphasised appears to be one of the many by which this automatic adaptation takes place, for the expression of repressed tendencies has the effect of getting rid of conflict in the personality. For the time being, it is true, the release (of insecurity, fear, rage) may make the conflict more acute as the repressed emotions emerge, and we have violent dreams from which we wake with a start. But by this means, the balance of our personality is restored.”

Freud showed modern man that apart from their everyday waking life, they also had an obscure or hidden inner life taking place unconsciously. He showed that people had tendencies or desires they would not admit even to themselves. These desires or impulses were held back or repressed from conscious recognition and expression, and dreams portrayed some of these hidden longings or traumas. These longings were mostly childhood urges that were natural at the time, and expressive of the stage of development the child was going through. They had never been fulfilled because the child had gained the impression from adults that such things were either wrong, would cause people to withdraw love or support, or were very injurious. As an example, a mother might withdraw love every time the child sucked its thumb or be terribly shocked on finding the child masturbating. Thus, the drives to gain pleasure in the thumb, or to fulfil the need to release a sexual tension, would be repressed. As further growth can only arise out of the fulfilled activity of early growth processes, and as such drives are parts of physical and psychological growth, further growth is thereby blocked. Dreams would show, by the energy drive – to masturbate – and the factor that blocked it – the fear of disapproval or being unwhole. The self-regulatory process of energy release is thereby stopped, and degrees of illness in body and soul would be experienced.

Freud and Jung join the Discussion

Freud also brought to light that the emotions of an earlier injury, such as being nearly drowned, or bitten by a dog, or being beaten or unloved by a parent, could be repressed and cause present illness or neurotic behaviour. But Freud never seemed to clearly express the self-regulatory aspect of the unconscious processes such as dreams. As Caron Kent says:

In Freudian analysis the emphasis is still placed on the ego and its conflicts. It is held that the ego is in conflict with its instincts or some other obscure forces. That the unconscious itself was a spontaneous source from which the ego as well as the organism unfolded, was not conceived. Freud did not see that before man can say “I am” – “I will” – “I think” – he has to grow, to breath, to digest and to metabolise. The mysterious force in our being is the growth force.

In modern times, Jung has been the great explorer of this side of human nature in regard to the unconscious, and Wilhelm Reich in regard to the body. Through long years of study, Jung showed that dreams do not simply express the conflict between our conscious self and our instincts. They are also an expression, capable of being recognised by consciousness, of the wisdom underlying our existence. The wisdom that forms a baby, that holds the stomach sphincter closed while the intestine heals, that unfolds human personality, pre-exists our ego. This wisdom, expressing as it does in the growth forces, and the self-regulatory process of everyday life, lies deeper than our personal awareness, existed before it, and communicates with it. It is from this source the compensatory and growth forces of our being emerge, and if we have cut them off, our ability to meet our inner and outer life, our freedom, is diminished.

This deep centre, this core of our being, from which our body, its structure, its functioning and our conscious ego or soul arise, Jung named the ‘Self’. In past ages it has been called Spirit or Atman. Writing of this, and the way dreams express it, Von Franz says in Man and His Symbols, (Aldus)

Thus our dream life creates a meandering pattern in which, individual strands or tendencies become visible, then vanish, then return again. If one watches this meandering design over a long period of time, one can observe a sort of hidden regulating or directing tendency at work, creating a slow, imperceptible process of psychic growth – the process of individuation.

Gradually a wider and more mature personality emerges and, by degrees becomes effective and even visible to others. Since this psychic growth cannot be brought about by conscious effort of will power, but happens involuntarily and naturally, it is in dreams frequently symbolised by the tree whose slow, powerful, involuntary growth fulfils a definite pattern.

But this creative nucleus of the psychic growth – the Self – can only come into play when the ego gets rid of purposive and wishful aims, and tries to go to a deeper, more basic form of existence. The ego must be able to listen attentively and to give itself, without any desire or purpose, to that inner urge toward growth.

Von Franz, here explaining the Jungian attitude, expresses one polarity of our relationship with our own source – that of surrender to it.  Other schools express the other polarity of making the ego so strong and defended it can dominate its source and instincts.

There is a middle way, but before commenting on this, what has been said of body and soul is brought into clear relief by recent research into sleep and dreams.  It was found that “every normal adult and child over a certain, as yet undetermined, but very tender, age, have hallucinatory experiences of dreaming, as a regular, repetitive concomitant of natural sleep.”[1]

That is, every person tested, dreams, and dreams in cycles throughout sleep. “This nightly pattern is as universal as sleep – and as regular as the motions of the planetary bodies. At first one falls into a deep dreamless sleep.   After about sixty or seventy minutes there is a rising up toward waking consciousness and one dreams for about nine minute.  Down into dreamless sleep again, but not as deep.  After ninety minutes, up toward waking consciousness again, and about nineteen minutes of dreaming. Now a shallower trough of dreamless sleep for another ninety minutes, up, and this time twenty four minutes dreaming.  Down, and up after ninety minutes for twenty-eight minutes.  The fifth period of dreaming then continues until fully waking. People who were woken as dreams began, and thus were prevented from dreaming, after a few days showed signs of mental and physical breakdown.

Exploring the Deep Unconscious

There are several important points regarding these findings about the psychological process of self-regulation or homeostasis.  For instance, Freud made it quite plain that many contents of the unconscious cannot, or do not, easily rise into awareness.  Therefore such things as sexual urges were symbolised in dreams instead of being directly felt.  This means that even while asleep and dreaming the process of repression or control continues.  So although there is an attempt, on the part of one’s unconscious processes to deal with conflicts, to release and integrate past trauma, there is an opposition to this through repression and the avoidance of pain.  As Ron Hubbard puts it, we have a held down 7.

Because of this, the conscious decision to face our own internal contents has to be made.  This decision must include being ready to meet pain, disorientation, and the distorted feelings that arise from past trauma.  Even with such a decision the journey is still not an easy one, for the release does not then occur spontaneously.  We still have to persist, because at each step we are, as Freud puts it, resisting our own move toward health.

Dr. Oliver Sacks worked with the drug L. Dopa with patients who had lain in a coma-like state for years. This led them to wake and once more consciously face the world of objective and subjective experience. He says of these ‘awakenings’ –

All the operations in coming to terms with oneself and the world, in face of continual changes in both, are subsumed in Claud Bernard’s fundamental concept of ‘homeostasis’. We have to recognise homeostatic endeavours at all levels of being, from molecular and cellular to social and cultural, all in infinite relation to each other.

His patients, often severely diseased physically and emotionally, sometimes managed, he says, to become astute and expert navigators, steering themselves through seas of trouble which would have caused less expert patients to founder on the spot. “Thus, some patients with severe illnesses got well and remained so, and some less ill never managed. They had obviously learned or not learned to work with their own nature.”

He goes on to say that we must concede the possibility that nature, and therefore, human nature, has an almost limitless ability to reorganise itself at chemical, cellular and hormonal levels. This is seen in action where, with the ‘will to get well’ patients inexplicably recover from the most serious of illnesses. “One must allow,” he writes “with surprise, with delight, that such things happen. Health goes deeper than any disease.”

You can sail the seas of a stormy life

So far it has been pointed out that the self-regulatory process is fundamental in body and mind. It has also been shown that we may unconsciously resist the action of that because of the pain or disorientation it might temporarily cause in its healing action. Dreams have been described as one of the main processes of self-regulation in the psyche, but once again, their action of healing can be resisted. Physiologically the process of vomiting is a self-regulatory process, ridding the body of poisons or harmful bacteria. Psychologically, powerful spontaneous body movements and emotions are also ways the self-regulatory process deals with harmful experience. Because this is so important, it is helpful to understand something of its action.

As almost anybody can observe, sometimes during sleep and dreaming, we call out, or our body moves expressive of what is happening in the dream. Adrian Morrison at the University of Pennsylvania uncovered some interesting information in connection with this. Usually, in animals and humans, a small area of the pons in the brain prevents our muscular system from responding to signals from the brain while we are dreaming. If this were not so we would make full body movements while asleep as we do in the dream. As it happens, only a tiny fraction of these movements break through, except for the rapid eye movement of dreaming. But Morrison noticed that in mammals in which the pons is damaged, full body movements are made during REM sleep.

Although this has already been described elsewhere in this book, because of its importance I repeat that this shows not only can the dream process create a spontaneous fantasy or experience we call a dream, not only can it invest the dream with deeply felt emotions or creative ideas, it also expresses as full body movement. Such body activities are prevented by the pons from being expressed except perhaps in small jerks or movements. Nevertheless, speech, walking, dancing, fighting and making love, are all frequent dream subjects and at times break through to conscious expression.

So human beings have at least two centres that can direct body processes. We are used to making conscious decisions about walking or moving our hands, but few of us suspect that another part of our being outside our conscious volition is capable and practised in making full body movements and expressing in complex speech.

I believe that by letting things happen without criticism or interference, we can actually allow the dream process to break through into waking life and express in full body movements, speech, a dramatic theme, and deeply felt emotions. We begin to be aware of things that usually happen to our psyche only while we sleep. Our consciousness is expanded to the point where it includes a realm of experience that is in many ways different from our waking world. In quite a real sense we begin to ‘wake up’ in what was sleep. We start to become explorers of the unconscious. As exciting as that is, it might not have much point, apart from a novelty, if it were not for the many possibilities the awakening holds.

Many therapeutic approaches completely overlook this fundamental process of self-healing through physical movement. Neither Freud nor Jung really dealt with this. Only Reich and the approaches emerging from him appreciated it. Yet many traumatic experiences, from birth through to medical operations, are deeply physical. Tensions in our body do not simply melt away. Often the desires, anger and movements that are linked with the original episode need to be expressed and released in some way. Apart from that, body and mind are not separate. They are intimately meshed, and what needs to be felt with one is expressed with the other.

Ancient cultures all recognised this, and many of them developed techniques in which an environment in which this could occur were developed. We are not simply a body, nor simply a mind. We are not simply a creature of time and death, but also a creature of those aspects of the universe that lie beyond time and space. So when a therapist only talks and debates with us, they are only dealing with thinking. You need an acknowledgement of your body and your spirit to become whole. Accept nothing less.


  • Self-regulation is fundamental to all cosmic activities and life forms.
  • In humans it acts both at a physical and a psychological level.
  • It assures survival.
  • It is partly a spontaneous process and is partly learned.
  • Most self-regulation occurs unconsciously, and learning to cooperate with its action is a learnt skill.
  • Such skill enlarges ones possibilities.
  • Vomiting and digestion are functions of physical self- regulation.
  • The rising into consciousness of emotions and ex­perience for integration and re-evaluation are functions of psychological self-regulation.
  • Pain and such feelings as fear and guilt frequently cause us to prevent experience and emotions from emerging into consciousness.
  • Freud showed that if a person is afraid of sexual feelings their sexuality is repressed even in their dreams.
  • Such deeply repressed feelings cause psychological and physical tension and illness.
  • Allowing spontaneous body movements and feeling fantasy allows the emotions and experience held in the unconscious to be released, evaluated and integrated.
  • At points where fear or pain usually block the process one can decisively allow the self-regulatory process to continue.
  • Because this allows previously unrealised experience to be known, an enlargement of our personal self aware­ness occurs.

[1] More recently it has been shown that babies dream in the womb and do so almost continuously. See Many Ways to a New Life

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved