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The Trauma of Birth
Otto Rank

Published by Robert Brunner, NY, in 1952
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©1999


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Rank lays out his goal for this book in the Preface thus:

[page xiii] In attempting to reconstruct for the first time from analytic experiences the to all appearances purely physical birth trauma with its prodigious psychical consequences for the whole development of mankind, we are led to recognize in the birth trauma the ultimate biological basis of the psychical.

In my review of Rank's work of over fifty years ago, I will attempt to show how the nascent science of doyletics simplifies our understanding of birth trauma and bypasses the tortuous path of psychoanalysis on the road to achieving an ecology of the psyche. The fundamental tenet of doyletics is that before five years old all novel physical body states (called doyles) are stored for later retrieval. They are stored as memories that are non-cognitive or pre-thought. Once the human brain reaches full-size at three years old, it begins to store cognitive memories for the first time and by five years old cognitive storage has replaced doylic storage of memories. Later tracing of doyles can result in the converting of the doylic memory into cognitive memory with the net effect that upon the presentation of a stimulus that previously triggered a change of physical body state (a doyle), instead of the doyle arising, a cognitive memory is presented to the mind.

The Unconscious of Freud's was a way he constructed of talking about the doyles that were stored in an individual during the birth trauma. One can be said to be unconscious of what happened during one's birth, since one has no recall of images, sounds, smells, tastes or feelings consciously. (The few exceptions are very interesting cases of precocious cognitive memory capability that will dealt with elsewhere.) But the doyles are conscious when they are triggered in us, we have only lost their referent, the experience to which they refer, the original event of their storage. We have only the physical body state, the doyle, and we are unconscious of the rest of the event. All the aspects that we as adults past the age of five call memory are missing! We have neither visual recall, nor auditory, nor smell, nor taste components of a memory from that time, but instead, when the doyle is triggered, we experience the doyle directly as a change in the state of our physical body: some muscle tension, some autonomic nervous system change (e.g., respiration or heart rate change), or some proprioceptive sensation of a change of position that corresponds exactly to the original event.

Given our natural propensity to create meaning to an event that happens to us, when these doyles arise in us, we attempt to search our memory banks and from those conscious memory banks we create plausible explanations and act on those symbolic replacements for those seemingly un-retrievable original events. Joseph Breuer in his treatment of Anna O. in 1881 originated what his patient referred to as the talking cure or jokingly as chimney sweeping. Sigmund Freud picked up Breuer's method and extended it to what came to be called "psycho-analysis". By the use of free association patients are led over many sessions to eventually be free of their disturbing symptoms.

The symptoms are simply doyles from the time before five years old which can be effectively removed in about fifteen minutes by a person doing a simple doyle trace. Before the technology of recognizing and tracing doyles became available, in Freud and Rank's time, the only alternative was extensive psychoanalysis and the fifteen minutes could easily become fifteen years in psychoanalysis, since the analysis part required many sessions before the analyst could accidentally lead the patient down a particular path that would produce a doyle trace, that is, the person would be holding the doyle as they placed their mind back before the storage of the doyle took place. As soon as that happened the offending doyle would be replaced with a cognitive memory, perhaps consciously, perhaps not, and the doyle would never be triggered again. The patient would be considered healed of that problem by the analyst.

The ultimate solution is the separation from the analyst wherein the male patient repeats with better success his separation from his mother.

[page 5] But this is by no means to be taken metaphorically in any way - not even in the psychological sense. For in the analytic situation the patient repeats, biologically, as it were, the period of pregnancy, and at the conclusion of the analysis i. e., the re-separation from the substitute object he repeats his own birth for the most part quite faithfully in all its details. The analysis finally turns out to be a belated accomplishment of the incompleted mastery of the birth trauma.

When the doyles associated with his birth are traced during the analysis, the separation from his substitute mother is achievable without creating the very onerous feelings and affect that led him originally to come into analysis. Given that during birth one is confronted with a myriad of novel doyles, it not surprising that following Freud, Rank would take the birth trauma as the font of all anxiety.

[page 11] We shall take as our guiding principle Freud's statement that all anxiety goes back originally to the anxiety at birth.

Thus, when we leave a child alone in a dark room, the stimulus is similar to being back in the womb and the doyles stored during birth are triggered, and the child, if it experienced doyles of anxiety at birth, will re-experience those same doyles. Extend the metaphor of the dark room to other aspects of birth and you find a similar anxiety present in small rooms, tunnels, traveling, etc. The sitting in a small cabin in a car or train and being carried along has all the stimuli associated with being in one's mother's womb as she walked or rode along. If during a walk, e.g., one's mother slipped to the ground and her heart started pounding in fear that she had hurt her baby in her womb, later when one experiences a similar fall during turbulence in an airplane, one will experience that same heart-pounding anxiety and call it a fear of flying.

One's time in the womb can be considered to be pleasure-laden until the onset of the birth process during which any doyles of anxiety felt by the mother will be acquired by the child and associated with its birth.

[page 13] As the analysis of childish phobias has clearly shown, the size or fatness (circumference of the body) of the animals causing fear refers to the state of pregnancy of which the child, as we can show, has more than a vague memory.

To translate this passage into doylic terms: the stimulus from seeing a large animal such as a horse or a cow triggers doyles of the latter stages of pregnancy which are most apt to be anxiety-laden. Large animals trigger doyles of the later stages of pregnancy and small animals, ones that can disappear completely into holes, to the earlier stages of pregnancy. Rank acknowledges the presence of doyles or physical body states by saying the child has "more than a vague memory" what the child has is stored doyles that may be triggered by appropriate stimuli. If the triggering is done during a dream, such as a doyle stored during the later anxiety-laden portion of pregnancy, a dream image of a large animal will be created in the dream. The same image that would create anxiety during the day, such as seeing a large animal, will be created during the dream of the same person if the anxiety is experienced during a dream.

If a person is dreaming and some memory triggers a doyle of fright, they experience the fright in real-time, awake, and call it a nightmare. But what if a doyle appears during sleep and the mind creates the image that goes with the doyle by way of justifying the sleeping one's experience? Doyles in sleep lead to images in dreams, just as images in dreams lead to doyles during sleep, in fact they all happen at the same time.

One Saturday morning I awoke from a dream in which I ate and enjoyed sauerkraut! Not a remarkable dream for most people, but for someone who had never eaten sauerkraut because they couldn't stand the taste, it was amazing! I told Del that we were going to Bailey's in the Fairmont Hotel that night to have a Reuben sandwich with lots of sauerkraut. I knew that if I could enjoy eating sauerkraut in a dream, then my doyles previously associated with eating sauerkraut were gone, probably erased during an earlier doyle trace. I was right. I ate my first Reuben sandwich and have enjoyed them ever since! I took a trip to Germany later and ate sauerkraut. I've started buying cans of it from the A&P and now eat it regularly all because I paid attention to a change that took place apparently only within a dream.

In his chapter on sexual gratification, Rank talks about the child wanting to recover its memory of being in its mother's womb, and he attributes the child's inability to do this to repression, all the while the only memories that the child could store at the time were doyles and their presence in the child and adult's life may be rampant and pervasive. The Freudians insist that memories can only be in cognitive or conceptual form and label as "repression" the lack of success of retrieving such a cognitive memory. In searching for the purloined letter in all the hidden places of the libido and psyche they miss its presentation in full view in the doylic responses of the child and the adult patients.

[page 30] This can express itself in the child's manifold ways and peculiarities (always asking questions), proving that it seeks in itself for the lost memory of its earlier place of abode, which, in consequence of an extremely intense repression, it cannot find.

This always asking questions by children is similar to the events that occur in an adult's life where life seems ever to create circumstances that trigger doyles until we learn from them, i.e., trace and erase the unwanted doyles. Then the events of life seem to change, and one receives the impression that these events existed solely to allow one to recover some doylic memory and place it into conceptual memory so as to remove the unwanted doyles. Rank in his chapter on Heroic Compensation states it quite well:

[page 107] As we recognized in the neurotic a human being who cannot, without harm, overcome the primal affect of anxiety arising in the birth trauma, so the hero represents the type who, being free from anxiety, seeks to overcome an apparently specially severe birth trauma by a compensatory repetition of it in his deeds.

Restating this in doyletic terms, the neurotic has a long, painful birth process during which a myriad of negative and painful doyles are stored in the one who is later to be confronted by these doyles as an adult in a myriad of everyday situations that will trigger these doyles. On the other hand the hero has the opposite kind of birth torn or excised out of the mother's womb, the hero's trauma is removal from the paradisiacal state in the womb without a transition, with the result that the hero feels covered with a permanent uterus and thus invulnerable. MacDuff in MacBeth was one such hero, and the eponymous example is Julius Caesar, who was cut out of his mother's womb in an operation that now bears his name, Caesarian. The hero strives in the world to feel the very pain in the physical world without that the neurotic strives to avoid feeling from the psychical world within.

[page 51] Further, all neurotic disturbances in breathing (asthma), which repeat the feeling of suffocation, relate directly to the physical reproductions of the birth trauma. The extensive use of the neurotic headache (migraine) goes back to the specially painful part allotted to the head in parturition . . .

In several cases of asthma that I've encountered the asthmatic person as a child was subjected to severe restriction of breathing by a well-meaning medical person. In one case it occurred during a tonsillectomy and another case the dentist was holding his hands over the child's nose to get it to open its mouth. In these two cases the child was under five and suffered with severe asthma attacks as an adult. Rank shows his understanding of the etiology of asthma in breathing restrictions, but assumes it must be related to parturition, that is, a birth trauma, whereas from the science of doyletics we can show that any breathing restriction event up to age five may lead to asthma. A similar case can be made for migraine headaches since I know personally of two cases in which migraines were traced to traumas occurring at the ages of three and four years old.

There are a few examples where the neurotic disease parallels the organic disease, such as narcolepsy and encephalitis, in both of which the symptom is that of a return to embryonal sleep. Rank points out how the presence of the neurotic disease may prevent the development of the real disease.

[page 59] And one actually has the impression, from very many purely organic sufferings, that they save the individual if one may so express it from the luxury of a neurosis formation. But it would be more correct to say that the neurosis is a more pretentious substitute for a banal organic suffering. One is not frequently astonished to see how it is precisely a neurosis, with its 'counterfeit' physical symptoms, that prevents the development of any real disease of the same organ, just because it is a substitute for it.

In Rudolf Steiner's works he often directs our attention to the two sides of the Devil that he calls Lucifer and Ahriman. Luciferian influences tend to make one into a moral automaton, and Ahrimanic influences encourage one to become free, but amoral. Can it be that the neurotic disease is due to the Luciferian influences? Does Lucifer save man from clutches of a real disease by providing a "pretentious substitute" for it, i.e., a neurosis?

Think of an old-fashioned balance scale. Put too much Luciferian influences into one side and you get a person with a neurosis, the counterfeit of illness. Neurosis is an old-fashioned word, but no other one works so well to describe the pervasive counterfeit of illnesses that plague so many people today.

Put too much Ahrimanic influence into the other side of the scale and you get this prosperous materialist who is too busy to attend to their family, their spouse, their soul, and their only hope is to acquire a real disease a scary or painful one that will get their attention and make it difficult for them to continue their break-neck schedule, a schedule that would, unhindered, result in a loss of soul but not a disease that would prematurely terminate their karmic working-out of matters during this lifetime on Earth. The result is that they will get better, and usually will have to continue taking medicine, which has the salubrious effect of constantly reminding them of the disease and hopefully, to slow down.

The mood changes that are currently called bipolar disorder, that were earlier called manic-depressive, and in Rank's time were called circular insanity (cyclothymia) can be seen as flip-flop doyles, that is, doyles that are teamed together so that a manic doyle leads to a depressive doyle which leads back to a manic doyle. One obvious source of such doyles is in the pre-birth pleasure state that was followed by the parturition trauma. Any doyle stored after birth that resembles the pre-birth state could become a trigger for the pre-birth doyle to arise.

[page 62] The manic stage frequently following the depressive is physically distinguished, on the other hand, by the post-natal liveliness and movement, whilst the feeling of extreme happiness and blessedness conforms to the pre-natal libido gratification.

In the cosmology of Rudolf Steiner, one finds that cosmogenesis parallels ontogenesis. That the progressive stages of the embryo in the womb maps the progress of the evolution of the cosmos. The first stage of existing in warmth, followed by warmth and light, then floating in water, and finally at birth, existing in the mineral physicality of a human body mirrors the evolution of the cosmos from the Old Saturn, Old Sun, Old Moon, and Earth stages. [See ARJ: Spiritual Hierarchies and the Physical World .] Note in the passage below how Rank treats the truths of cosmology and cosmogenesis as if they were "nothing but" misinterpretations of the events of one's birth. This a powerful example of how reductionist thinking can create the very processes it claims to find in nature.

[page 73] When analytically adjusted psychiatrists have recognized that the content of the psychosis is "cosmologic," we need not avoid the next step, that of analysis of cosmology itself, for then we shall find that it is nothing other than the infantile recollection of one's own birth projected on to Nature.

In this next passage Rank says that postures occurring during analysis cannot have been known by the analysands. What he means by known is knowing via conscious, cognitive memory - but doyles are known only by their affect and are not cognitive memories. Doyles can be demonstrated to be valid, non-cognitive memories triggered by reminiscences, especially the type that occur during analysis.

[page 83, 84] But in reality, as opposed to phantasy, in dream formation there occur during analysis many definite but quite unconscious reminiscences or reproductions of the individual intrauterine posture, or peculiarities relating to one's own birth. These could arise from no conscious memory or phantasy formation, because they could not be known previously by anyone.

If anyone has spent much time around inventors, especially inventors of free energy machines as I have, the following words of Rank will certainly ring true. No one else but the inventor is ever good enough to manufacture the energy machine, and one suspects that there is some hidden and therefore neurotic agenda such as Rank suggests.

[page 100] This is shown from the analysis of the mania to invent, which Kielholz has attempted in an interesting work. In some of his cases it is obvious that the patient who wishes to discover perpetuum mobile or squaring of the circle wants in this way to solve the problem of permanently dwelling in and fitting into the mother's womb. In other cases of electrical inventions (apparatus though which run warm unseen currents), etc., a detailed study of the patients' delusions ought to show clearly their importance as a reaction to the birth trauma.

In the chapter Religious Sublimation, Rank attempts to reduce all spiritual symbolism to "nothing-but" attempts to return to the womb. In a footnote on page 117 he attempts to ridicule astrology by calling it the "first doctrine of the birth trauma" and stating further that the "entire being and fate of man is determined by what occurs (in heaven) at the moment of his birth." Any astrologer will tell you that what occurs in the heavens at every moment of a person's life is interconnected with the person. Not understanding the spiritual relationship of the heavens and Earth makes it possible to treat the two as unconnected realities brought together by chance. Rank offers an example of a materialistic cosmology that is actually no cosmology at all.

In mystery schools over the ages, initiates undergo a death-like trance for three to four days and when they return from this state, they are changed able to see spiritual realities for the first time. On page 120, he describes a Hindu initiation in which the initiate is covered first with a robe representing the amnion and then covered with a black antelope skin representing the womb. For three days he is curled up into an embryonal position with his fists clenched until finally he is reborn. From a doyletics perspective this can be seen to represent an intense doyle trace in which all or most of the doyles that a person acquired during the birth trauma are erased. These birth doyles are what anchor us to the physical world, releasing them allows the initiate to see again into the spiritual world.

In his penultimate chapter Psychoanalytical Knowledge, Rank lays out his case for having solved all the riddles of humanity thus:

[page 183] We believe we have shown, in a bird's-eye view of the essential achievements and developments of civilization, that not only all socially valuable, even over-valued, creations of man but even the fact of becoming man, arise from a specific reaction to the birth trauma, and, finally, that recognition of this through the psychoanalytic method is due to the most complete removal as yet achieved of the primal repression, through the overcoming of the primal resistance, anxiety.

It is not for me, an innocent in the area of psychoanalysis, to criticize or cast aspersions on the merits of this field of endeavor its accomplishments speak for itself well enough, both in its successes and in its failures. It was certainly a pioneer in providing relief to people who were troubled and to its credit provided that relief without the use of drugs and medications. In many ways psychoanalysis is similar to the selective propagation of plants and breeding of animals that existed for hundreds of years before Gregor Johann Mendel laid the foundation for the science of genetics in his landmark article in 1866. Mendel's work, when it was finally recognized thirty-four years later, gave the mathematical precision to genetics that led to our understanding of the genetic code and eventually to the ingenious genetic engineering feats of today. One example is the new technique of splicing genes to reduce angiogenesis, the formation of blood vessels in tumors, thus killing the tumors without harmful radiation, poisonous drugs, or invasive surgery.

Rank acknowledges that the decisive point in the history of psychoanalysis was Breuer's discovery. The material in quotes below is taken from Freud writing in The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement, page 289.

[page 185] Breuer's starting-point was "the fundamental fact that the symptoms of hysterical patients depend on impressive but forgotten scenes of their life (traumata), the therapy based on it causing them to remember and to reproduce these experiences under hypnosis (catharsis), and the consequent fragment of theory, that these symptoms correspond to an abnormal use of undischarged quantities of excitation (conversion)."

This understanding of Breuer's has so infiltrated the psychology of the present day that it formed the background for Doyle Henderson's thinking in the early days when he puzzled over how he might remove the unwanted emotions of fear and anxiety from his life and others. As an instrument engineer he knew about sensors, and was startled when he came across the statement that there are no pain sensors in the human brain! "How is it possible that I can, by thinking about a memory, feel pain?" he thought. One day in a cafeteria with some friends, he suddenly got a flash and exclaimed that he knew how it happened. He said, "I know how people remember feelings. The brain recreates the body state." In other words, the settings of the sensors, which originally registered the pain, were stored somewhere in the brain system and later, upon the appropriate trigger, the brain system sent those settings to the senors so that the body would experience the pain re-created as if it were happening in real-time. This explains why when a woman says, "Your words hurt me," what she really means, in doyletics terms, is that what you did caused her brain system to re-create the painful body state that she had stored a long time ago.

As Henderson struggled to utilize this insight of his, he tried using Breuer's techniques of hypnosis, age regression, and such. What he found was that the so-called symptoms that Freud talked of above were simply re-created, re-evoked memories, not cognitive or conceptual memories, but physical body states that were re-evoked by the brain system sending these previously stored sensor settings out to the body as the only way it has to recover and present the memory to the body, at the time it presents it. Henderson found that once the original event was accessed during a trace [an age regression technique], if you went back in time before the original event, the physical body state was gone. Not only that, but for ever afterward, the symptom had disappeared as if by magic. What he and I have hypothesized is that the physical body state memory is replaced by a cognitive or conceptual memory, either of the original event or the tracing event itself, and thereafter when the appropriate trigger is fired off, the cognitive memory is served up rather than the physical body state, and thus the so-called symptom disappears permanently.

There was no repression that was merely a way that psychoanalysts had of talking about these magically stored and re-created memories that human beings have as a natural capability by virtue of their phylogeny and ontogeny.

[page 185] What lies in between is the psychology of the Unconscious created by Freud alone, namely, the first psychology which at all deserves this independent name, since the academic psychology originating from philosophical speculation gradually encroached more and more on to medical ground (philosophy of the senses, neurology, anatomy of the brain.)

It should be clear to the reader by now that the nascent science of doyletics as I've sketched it for you in this review will certainly encroach on the medical ground, dealing as it does with the sensory receptors as well as the neural anatomy and structure of the brain system. From the neurological research of Joseph LeDoux [See ARJ: The Emotional Brain .] we catch a strong hint that the portion of the brain known as the limbic system, in particular the two almond-shaped amygdalas, provides the pattern recognition, storage, and retrieval capabilities required for handling those primitive components of feelings and emotions that we have labeled doyles for convenience. It seems much more natural to consider that doyles are primitive memories stored and retrieved by a primitive portion of the brain, the limbic system, rather than to describe them as being due to the "abnormal use of undischarged quantities of excitation" as in the first page 185 quote above.

To my mind, psychoanalysis makes the ultimate use of the fallacy of "followed by, therefore caused by" in ascribing, as Otto Rank does in this book, all the faith, the foibles, and the creativity of humankind that must naturally follow one's birth to the birth act itself. Doyles are stored from as early as two months after conception until the human reaches the age of five years old, an age referred to as the Memory Transition Age [MTA] in doyletics because it represents the age beyond which no novel doyles are ever stored again. If a child doesn't store a particular component doyle of joy or sadness by age five, it never will. Obviously there are very strong doyles that are stored during parturition because the process of birth is strenuous for both mother and the child. But to focus one's analysis only upon the birth trauma itself is limit one's usefulness to the analysand and extend the process of analysis and its cost without a concomitant benefit.

This analysis of psychoanalysis in the light of the new science of doyletics, I hope, will allow the reader to look with new eyes at the many facets of human life that the proffered explanations by psychoanalysts obfuscate more than they enlighten. For example, to the extent that one's death or dying process mimics one's birth, to that extent the birth doyles will be evoked. Plus the reader will be able to view aspects of human life that psychoanalysis cannot touch so far as I know such as providing understanding of the autistic person. To the extent that a child before the age of five stores memories of events as cognitive-type memories instead of doyles, which autistic children can apparently do, that child will not have access to the physical body states associated with that event: they will not be able to respond with smooth speech (speech is a doyle), nor to modulate their voice (doyles modulate speech by creating feeling tone), nor to feel joy or happiness appropriately (having no doyles for the components of those emotions stored). From doyletics we receive the insight that autistic children are not retarded, but rather advanced human beings being raised by normal people who don't recognize the special care that autistic children require at a very early age. One cannot wait until five to recognize autism it will be too late for all practical purposes for the child.

Best of all doyletics provides the benefits of the removal of unwanted physical body states (neurotic symptoms) during a period of time measured in seconds instead of the years required by psychoanalysis. Who would choose a process that requires an analyst and years when offered an option that requires no one else and can be done in minutes and seconds? Read this description of the removal of doyles from neurotics it describes that something must exist, and that something we can henceforth understand in a far simpler way than ever before, that something is doyles.

[page 200] On the other hand, analytic experience shows that something must exist which makes it possible to an extensive degree to free highly neurotic human beings from the excessive dominance of their Unconscious and put them in a position to live as those do who are not neurotic.

By means of a conscious doyle trace, one is able to convert an unwanted doyle into a cognitive memory and be free of the unpleasant neurotic symptom. Plus by operating alone, one is free of the danger of having the analyst confuse her understanding and knowledge with the knowledge and understanding of the analysand, with all the chances for disaster that such confusion entails. Understanding and knowledge is not enough for the removal of an unwanted doyle, the understanding and knowledge must be arrived at during the process of a trace so that the doyle is being accessed while trace proceeds to before a pre-MTA original event. If and only if this process is utilized, whether during the course of psychoanalysis, hot seat therapy in Gestalt work, a Neuro-Linguistic Programming technique, or any other therapeutic analysis or process, will the doyle be permanently removed from all contexts in which it may later otherwise appear.

A few words seem appropriate here about transference and its crucial role in creating and confirming the "cure" of the analysand.

[page 213, 214] Thus it is a matter of allowing the patient, who in his neurosis has fled back to the mother fixation, to repeat and to understand the birth trauma and its solution during the analysis in the transference, without allowing him the unconscious reproduction of the same in the severance from the therapist.

Simply put, unless the analysand is able to leave the analyst without firing off the doyles it formerly had fired off by its mother, which have by the end of the analysis been transferred to the analyst (i.e., by transference), the analysis is by definition not over. Back to the drawing board to attempt to remove those doyles once more. No wonder analysis, without a systematic doyle removal mechanism that works quickly and easily, can continue for years and sometimes terminates without a cure of even the simplest of neurotic symptoms.

[page 214] All this results by means of the technique of association and of interpretation, developed by Freud, whereby we use our own Unconscious as the main way leading to the patient's Unconscious. This is the only means by which we can operate on his libido.

What doyletics provides is a means by which one can remove one's own consciously recognized and traced doyles to achieve permanent removal of neurotic symptoms without requiring analysis and interpretation by someone else. Thus one may avoid completely the danger-fraught path of having someone else analyze and operate on one's libido.

[page 216] Though consciousness is but a feeble weapon, it is the only one accessible to us in the fight against neurosis.

That is excellent advice and applies equally well to doyletics. One needs a teacher, not a midwife or analyst, to help one learn to recognize the arising of a doyle, to show one how to do an unassisted doyle trace on the doyles once one recognizes them.

This is an excellent book that holds up well fifty years after it was written. We know a lot more about psychotherapy today than was known in Rank's day, but his insights into the processes of psychoanalysis are as valuable today as when they were first written. His creating the birth trauma of parturition as the centerpiece or focal point for beginning one's path from neurosis into normality is appropriate and valuable and lucidly written. This book should be part of the armamentarium of any person who wishes to learn more about the subtlest of subjects one can study, the human psyche.

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