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Unconscious Guilt

Unconscious Guilt as Impediment to Recovery

Forces of conscience, guilt, and assumed need for punishment function very strongly in all traumatic situations, and become of increasing importance whenever disease tends to continue in spite of therapy or to recur after temporary relief. It is of utmost importance that we recognize passive submission to illness occurring at an unconscious level while our patient is telling us, at a conscious level, how much she wants to get well.

The patient who was told by her aunt that lifting a heavy laundry basket an hour before a placental separation must have caused the death of her unborn child may seem consciously to have accepted a less traumatic explanation from her physician, while her unconscious mind may be feeling she is now unworthy of another pregnancy.

A 26-year-old patient with intractable pain from local recurrence of a naso-pharyngeal cancer during her third pregnancy told me, in conscious-level conversation, how much she wanted to live for her husband and child. A few minutes later, in a deep trance, she demonstrated great agitation and unwillingness to consider the possibility of recovery. With the help of video-motor questioning, she was able to verbalize thoughts that had never occurred to her at a conscious level. She had had intercourse with her husband before marriage, which she had been able to rationalize until she miscarried a much wanted pregnancy.

When she developed lumps in her neck in the sixth month of her second pregnancy, she "knew" that God was punishing her for her sin. She refused diagnostic biopsy and surgery until six months following delivery. The reason she had given her consultants for this delay was that she did not want to risk harm to her unborn baby by undergoing surgery. Her fingers indicated another reason. She felt that, if it were God's will to take one baby and to strike her with a malignancy during her second pregnancy, He probably wanted her to die. By asking her to pretend that she was God - a kind and forgiving one that she had been taught to revere - it was possible for her to recognize that premarital intercourse would not merit such punishment.

She began to wonder whether her exaggerated sense of guilt might have caused the abortion, or even to have had something to do with the disturbed tissue reactions leading to the cancer. She lost most of the edema of her face and pain for a brief span of time until her dominating mother, who disapproved of hypnosis, cast doubt upon the legitimacy of her experience. She fluctuated once again between hope and abject submission to the will of that cruel, personal God. She survived the birth of her surprisingly healthy infant by a few weeks only.

- ref. Mind-Body Therapy: Ideodynamic Healing in Hypnosis by E. Rossi