- 1. INTRODUCTION
- In a former study on archaic communication
(1949) the author found a relation between the
communicative act and a more general biological
adaptive phenomenon connected with separation
and individualization, both of which increase
the need to transfer inner occurrences and the
need to bridge the space between entities. If no
direct physiologic conduction of stimuli is
possible, alarm signals have to be used. In
therapy, the fact is experienced that a person
makes use of a varied combination of
communicative means, of innate, biological, and
archaic signs and of cultural, acquired ones:
symbols, myths, verbalizations, and so forth. On
special occasions, the hidden archaic signs and
responses come to the fore as, for instance, in
impending danger; in an increased mating urge;
after broken interhuman relationships; in a
difficult transference relationship; in the
re-establishment of broken contact.
- Eisenbud, Ehrenwald and others have proved
and particularly emphasized-following Freud's
suggestion-a direct unconscious exchange as
experienced in the phenomenon of telepathy. One
may look upon this as a part of a usually
repressed, archaic instinct of communication.
Everything that lives communicates, often along
mysterious pathways, unexplored as yet by
- This paper aims to call attention to another
group of archaic responses, an innate signal
code not so hidden and repressed, more directly
observable, yet related to the former
phenomenon. In psychotherapeutic sessions,
various movements and gestures come through,
part of which must be explained as originating
in an earlier-archaic or even
intrauterine-existence of man. Up to this time
not much clinical attention has been given to
these involuntary signals. Yet, knowledge of
fetal behavior and its adaptive responses is of
importance for the knowledge of later patterns
- This discussion will be clinical, surveying
the known symptoms. Further research will bring
deeper insight into these manifestations of
early human existence. Increased attention will
provoke better observation of phenomena that are
so easily overlooked.
- 2. FETAL BEHAVIOR
- The simple adaptive responses in fetal life
have been called to attention in particular
through the work of Minkowski, Christoffel and
collaborators. Fodor's intuition and
observations added psychological data to this
new field of exploration. Physiological
observations of abortions and prematurely born
babies, and study of the normal infant during
the first days of life have increased our
- In short, we may now say that, from the
eighth intrauterine week, the embryonal organism
lives in a total rhythmic behavior, and reactive
and protective movements are noted. The rhythmic
heartbeats of both mother and child dominate all
other motions with their rhythmic movements.
This may be of importance because some
schizophrenics in analysis or hypnosis
spontaneously show these forms of rhythmic
movements. Gradually however, other
non-co-ordinated movements, as responses to
external stimuli, come to the fore, such as
general mass action, a bending of the axis and a
folding together. In respect to this, one may
already speak of an early adaptive response and
a primitive intelligence.
- In the second half of intrauterine life, it
is possible to speak of spontaneous behavior,
there is active rotation, flexion, and
stretching. Every mother knows about this lively
life of her child within. There is skin
sensitivity, especially around the mouth and
nose, drinking of amniotic fluid, hunger and
thirst. Bowel movement and defecation of
meconium can take place before birth.
- Minkowski in particular indicated that
various sensory activities are going on before
birth. The skin is sensitive, there is a
localizing response to touch, the limbs move in
the direction of the cutaneous stimulus. There
is mnemic function and a primitive pain sense in
the fetus, a moving away of a limb after too
strong stimulation. There are labyrinthic
responses, the olfactory function is ready-very
vivid olfactory impressions are present early,
as is known from dream analysis. The fetus
reacts to loud noises and before birth there is
a well-developed auditory receptor (Carmichael,
1951). From analysis of dreams, it must also be
concluded that there are various intrauterine
sound reminiscences; this means that there have
been general auditory impressions without the
means of putting them in a verbal mnemic
pattern. Strictly speaking, man's daily return
to sleep and the fetal attitude belong to this
chapter on fetal behavior. However, that subject
would require a more elaborate neuropsychiatrie
- Another future subject for study is the
manner in which these archaic responses may be
used in the sum total of innate, acquired
adaptive behavior of the individual.
- Psychopathology has already taught that
these functions may be used variously by the
individual, depending on his personal history.
They may be causes of unconscious reminiscence,
as is often seen in psychotherapy. They may be
used as defense against maturation, they may be
displaced toward other functions,
physiologically and psychologically; they may be
employed to deny that a person is functioning
adequately. However, to keep the subject as
simple as possible, the present paper will
stress only the reminiscing and communicative
action of the regression to archaic
- 3. RHYTHMIC RESPONSES (...)
- 4. ARCHAIC ORAL BEHAVIOR
- Through postnatal psychology, we have become
familiar with the concept of the mouth as an
organ of reality testing. The outside world is
brought into the mouth to be tested and
swallowed. From the fourth intrauterine month, a
slow muscle contraction, comparable to those
found in mollusks, is going on. From time to
time, the fetus opens its mouth and swallows
amniotic fluid. This has been repeatedly
observed, through the abdominal wall of the
pregnant mother, as a slow-frequency, rhythmic
contraction of the oral end of the fetus. This
archaic process is not in the service of
accumulation of food; some explain it as a
primary wet inhalation, perhaps a reaction to
some discomfort. Remnants of this oral wet
inhalation, however, are found also in the
- Breathing in general is perhaps our most
archaic active contact with others-we all
breathe the same air. The child in utero
breathes in a fetal way; in the meantime, it is
yawning, stretching, drinking the amniotic
fluid, which means drinking the mother. In any
later form of contact, breathing, pneumatic
union, absorbing the other one, drinking from
the same air plays a role, especially in fantasy
life. Pathological variations of this pneumatic
contact are found in asthma where we may
sometimes speak of the fantasy of pneumatic
- Oral Incorporation
- Oral incorporation is mentioned here only
because its impact on the psyche is well known,
as described in an elaborate psychoanalytic
- Psychologically we know that yawning has to
do with reminiscences of sleep; but, beyond
that, it may indicate also hunger and boredom
and even pleasurable leisure. It is a very
contagious movement. One person is easily
induced by another's yawning to yawn himself.
Sometimes compulsive yawning is indulged in with
pleasure-orgastic pleasure. Some people yawn
when they glide in their rapidly speeding cars,
behind the wheel, through the landscape. The
word "yawning" is direct onomatopoeia; this
makes us aware that it is part of a
deeply-founded body function. Yawning pleasure
is seen in the infant, not only when he is
sleepy but also when he is satisfied.
- Yawning represents yearning for something
archaic; it is a remnant of a fetal response.
The reflex may last for many seconds, with deep
inspiration and expiration. It may be nearly
unexpressed behind the hand before the
- Clinically, the writer found yawning in one
patient to be an initial sign preceding an
epileptic fit. In the analysis it was associated
with a yearning for the breast, or for something
even more deeply nirvanic, and was then followed
by a furious epileptic attack because of the
- How deeply yawning and yearning are related
came to the fore in a manic-depressive patient
who went through twilight states in which he
experienced complete union with the prenatal
mother. Consciously, this was a frightening
experience for him. However, it always announced
itself by periods of compulsive yawning, making
it possible for him to go home and surrender
more freely to his reminiscences. In such a
twilight state, the patient had all kinds of
telepathic experiences, described in a former
publication (Meerloo, 1949).
- Yawning plays a greater role in the
therapeutic situation than is often realized.
The therapist also yawns. One cannot always
interpret this as a form of negative
transference, because the increased
communication in the therapeutic situation may
easily lead to a common archaic fantasy.
- Sighing Ordinary sighing and compulsive
sighing are reminiscences of early infantile
escape reactions in which birth panic plays a
role. Sighing in analysis means a reminiscence
of an. escape from fear.
- Thumbsucking Thumbsucking is found in fetal
life and compulsive sucking may, in its mnemic
roots, go back even earlier than the
breast-infant relation. The same is true for
- Smiling Smiling is generally recognized as
an automatic transmitter of an infantile mood.
It is related to the infant's satisfaction after
being fed, when it withdraws its lips from the
breast and falls asleep.
- Coughing and Defecating and "Breaking Wind"
Coughing, defecating and "breaking wind" are
observed as fetal rejection and evacuation of
intrusion into the body. We know that some
mothers describe such sounds as made by their
unborn babies. This is interpreted as fetal
crying. The simplest explanation is that it is
- A schizophrenic explained his compulsive
passing of flatus as an omnipotent destruction
of the outside world. For him it was a throwing
out and a soiling at the same time-and an
imitation of the omnipotent voice of
- In these matters, one finds again that the
archaic reminiscence has a tremendous power of
contagion. Listen, for instance, during the
intermission of a concert. One person coughs,
and this archaic sign starts others
- Christoffel traces the smoking compulsion
back, not only to reminiscence of infantile
smiling after oral satisfaction, but also to a
repetition of infantile wet-breathing.
- 5. ARCHAIC MOTORIC RESPONSE AND
- In the motoric field, there is tremendous
fetal activity. Massbehavior that is comparable
to tantrums and epileptic fits in postuterine
life has already been mentioned.
by the fetus is observed as early as the second
month of fetal life. It is generally interpreted
as an infantile joy, a being free of fear, a
pleasant reaction, a similar feeling to the one
we have when we stretch as adults.
- One of the writer's patients - a case of
anxiety hysteria-started to stretch himself
repeatedly during the analytic hour, exclaiming
with feelings of joy and pleasure. In the course
of the analysis this stretching was related to
feelings of liberation from the maternal
domination, to an experience of new activity, to
stretching and going out of the womb. Later on
he experienced spontaneous new associations in
which the stretched body represented the erect
- Peculiarly enough, the unconscious sexual
meaning of stretching, of this pleasant orgastic
manifestation of the body, is kept alive in
social taboos. The German word for it, "rekein,"
the Dutch word "rekel," and the English word
"rascal" are all derived from a similar origin
(Christoffel, 1951). Stretching, erection,
hypnotic catalepsy (as seen in Yogi), belong to
a common regressive womb-fantasy.
- Bending and huddling up represent the
opposite fetal reaction. A remnant of this
hiding position may be found in the background
of many a fright reaction, and it is seen in the
usual "fetal" hiding position under the blankets
in bed. In some catatonies, this attitude is
- One sees, on the couch, from time to time,
the same defensive, regressive attitude of
patients, especially in borderline cases.
- The stereotyping of movements, the
remembering of rhythmic archaic responses can
also be seen in frustrated animals, as one
observes them for example in the zoo.
- The sudden relief brought by laughter has to
do with the intrauterine defensive mass-reaction
already mentioned, and is psychologically
related to epileptic fits. It is an ambivalent
response to a stimulus in which something is
conquered (a traumatic experience) and in which
one originally let go of something-aggression,
urine, stools. In special neurologie conditions,
laughter comes to the fore as sham-mirth, as one
sees in cerebral paralysis or in narcolepsy when
hypothalamic centers are affected. This is an
example of the way disinhibition of mental
functions may simply provoke motoric outbursts
and fits of laughter.
- It may seem strange to consider unexpected
laughter (to be distinguished from laughter
expressing comedy and humor) as part of an
intrauterine defense reaction. However, in
pathology, one experiences this type of laughter
as a tremendously contagious bodily reaction.
Primitives, listening to a phonograph recording
of roaring laughter, begin to laugh themselves
and cannot stop. We all sometimes experience the
way in which sudden laughter causes a feeling of
paralysis-we are put "hors concours."
- In psychotherapeutic treatment, fits of
laughter play a peculiar role. One patient, a
manic-depressive, got laughing fits when he was
tired and warm. Once, as a result, he had an
epileptic fit, but mostly he laughed himself
into a paralytic state.
- A schizophrenic girl started to laugh purely
as a defense mechanism; her laughter was mocking
and hiding at the same time, although in her
movements it was also converted to more orgastic
- For the present purpose, it is sufficient to
know that part of the basis of laughter is a
regressive reminiscence, and it is this that
makes it so tremendously contagious. The joke
that calls forth an outburst of laughter
relieves deeply repressed feelings suddenly. One
of the writer's friends could not stop laughing
after a joke which concerned anthropophagie
- 6. ARCHAIC SKIN BEHAVIOR (...)
- 7. ARCHAIC REACTION OF THE SENSES
- 8. INTRAUTERINE ORGASM (...)
- 9. CONTAGIOUS COMMON REGRESSION AND THE
- The more a human expression partakes of an
undifferentiated infantile or archaic nature,
the more unconscious is the communicative value
which goes out from it. Laughter, crying,
yawning, stretching, shivering, may evoke in us
the same kind of archaic re-sponse. There is
something in the observation of an archaic
activity that pushes us back into our own pasts,
so do music and smells and colors, dancing and
artistic creation. The repetition of primary
archaic expressions provokes, as it were, a deep
resonance in everybody. The common regressive
fantasy leads to more intense communication and
direct identification. In a study of the
transference function, the writer pointed to
this communicative need as an important part of
the therapeutic situation (Meerloo, 1952).
- The clinical importance of all this is in
the elaboration of clinical observation. Not
always will one find out to what regressive
fantasies the communicative acts of the patient
are related; but the moment they are
discovered-through a peculiar muscle rhythm
during his silent resistance, for example, or
through a tendency to assume the fetal
position-the field of observation enlarges.
- Other phenomena, too, may be throwbacks to
archaic responses. For example, the echopraxy in
schizophrenics may be compared with the
imitative lattah symptoms in panicky primitives
(Meerloo, 1950). Just as all of us are
contagiously affected by yawning, these
patients have, in a more extended field, the
compulsion to imitate. As a reaction to danger
and fear, they lose the differentiative
distinction between the outside and the inside
world. They feel, as it were, equalized with the
therapist, as if living in a big womb. The same
phenomenon-described in the literature as
reactive depersonalization-is evident in people
after escape from tremendous danger (bombing,
concentration camp). If one observes them well,
it will be seen that they behave like the unborn
and that they show many fetal responses.
- As the best example, I can give my own
memories of such a day; they were repressed and
only came back to memory years later. After I
escaped from German imprisonment and certain
death and, in disguise, had passed the enemy
cordon safely, I roamed around in the Paris
subway all day long. I hovered in a corner,
jumped up sometimes, changed trains, yawned all
day, did not eat and, only when night came, did
I get out of this archaic hiding spell in Paris'
womb. Very symbolically, I went to a barbershop
and felt reborn after a shave and a
- A survey has been presented of some fetal
responses to stimuli and of how one may find
them revived in more differentiated, mature
behavior. The fetal response may be looked upon
as one of the initial adaptive acts which are
automatically transmitted to the unconscious. A
person's archaic response provokes intensified
communication through mutual identification with
- situation. As Bolk has explained, man in his
biological retardation and fetalization remains
dependent on his parents. That is the reason why
he sticks to his unconscious identification with
his Intrauterine existence. It is this common
hidden fantasy that makes the communicative
element so intensive. Mutual regression leads to
the unconscious fantasy of unification and
participation. The significance of these
phenomena for an elaboration of clinical
observation is emphasized.
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