I think a lot of what I have gotten out of the rolfing experience has come out of the particular interpersonal situation that is created almost necessarily between rolfer and rolfee. One aspect of this basic situation is that of a strong powerful authority figure responsible for evoking pain in the rolfee. This is a highly charged emotional situation which will obviously have many emotionally important parallels in the life of the person being rolfed. I suppose traditional psychoanalysts might consider it something of a recreation of an oedipal situation. (In the case of a woman rolfer, things might be much different; I cannot say.)
Is it really that much different from confrontations with antagonistic authorities that we experience all through our lives, e.g. with policemen, with teachers and school principals, with bosses, with relatives? In other words, what nukes this a laboratory situation with particular potential for insight? There are two salient aspects to this situation. One, the pain is very direct and physical. This is a very different kind of hurt than we are used to since physical force has been almost completely eliminated in our general social encounters. This may bring us into touch with earliest reaction patterns and memories, when our sense of physical integrity – which probably underlies our sense of psychological and social integrity – was formed. Also, being unmediated physical aggression, I suppose it is less easy to disguise to ourselves the fact of being attacked. At times we defuse antagonistic situations by blaming ourselves for being too sensitive, thus in part denying that an attack was made.
The second laboratory factor in the aggression of the rolfing situation is that it is freely chosen. A person thus creates a little laboratory in his life situation the same as he does with an encounter group. With a policeman, for example, he is completely pre-occupied with the real threats of his life plan that could result from many of his alternative reaction. With rolfing the freedom for different reactions is there.
This situation in rolfing of having to deal with a case of direct aggression from an authority may well give rise to what psychoanalysts call transference. In transference as well as in this situation in rolfing, the therapist takes on a role of some archetypal significance to the person, so that the person can become self conscious about his reactions to that situation. Psychoanalysts would probably argue that rolfers force a particular role on the patient whereas by passivity therapists allow patients more room for projection of a particularly salient role on to the therapists. This I think is probably bullshit, since the number of roles one could (realistically) project onto your run-of-the-mill intellectual, upper middle class therapist is limited indeed. It is also possible that different kinds of “screens” for projections are needed by different individuals.
In the rolfing situation, there are many things patients may be inclined to notice about their reactions to the situation of physical aggression; here arc some that occur to me off the top of my head. Do they feel free to show pain or do they need to be stoic? Do they try to evoke pity, or guilt in the rolfer? Do they resist? Do they get angry? Do they blame themselves or the rolfer for the hurt? Do they feel free to tell the roller what to do?
I can think of a couple of important developments for methat came out of confronting this particular situation of violence. Violence and physical pain have always had terrifying properties for me. When I was small, I used to beat my sister in a way that made me afraid of my own rage. I have always been afraid that I would be totally consumed by pain, that I would lose all control or be reduced to a situation of being broken, whimpering, pleading or destroyed. The case of Winston Smith in 1984 left a big impression on me. Now after some rolling sessions, I don’t think I feel so threatened by the prospect of pain; I can withstand concentrated doses, and I can even be energized and improved by the experience. I have also learned that I can show hurt without losing my sense of self. In large part, this has to do with the particular relationship.Notes On PainA Participant´s View