Warning message

This content is filtered. APPPAH membership is required for full access to journal articles.
-A +A
Publication Date: 
October, 1986
Page Count: 
Starting Page: 

A brief description is given of the development of Frank Lake's theory of the origin of certain fundamental disorders of personality in the emotional distress transmitted by the mother to the fetus. The theory can be stated as follows: "The behavioral reactions of a pregnant mother affect her fetus in ways which contribute to its perceptions of itself and of its environment in the womb; and these perceptions persist into adult life".Some evidence for the particular importance of what occurs in the first trimester of pregnancy is presented. Preliminary analysis of results from a survey of 170 participants in six-day primal integration workshops at Nottingham, England, is given, together with a description of the principal elements of therapeutic change employed. The role of Christian belief in the milieu of these workshops is discussed.It is concluded that the theory provides a useful basis for some new approaches to the etiology, therapy, and prevention of the functional psychoses and neuroses, psychosomatic, and personality disorders, and this merits further research.


1. Lake, Frank. Privately circulated Research report, Clinical Theology Association, 1980.

2. Hyland, Michael. "Introduction to Theoretical Psychology," Macmillan Press, 1981; referring to Kuhn TS. "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", University of Chicago Press, 1962.

3. Lake, Frank. "Clinical Theology", Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 1966.

4. Grov, Stanislav. "Realms of the Human Unconscious", The Viking Press, New York, 1975.

5. Lake, Frank. "Clinical Theology", op. cit. page 580.

6.Lake, Frank. "Tight Corners in Pastoral Counselling", Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 1981.

7. Janov, Arthur. "The Primal Scream", Sphere Books, London, 1973.

8. Orr, Leonard; and Ray, Sondra. "Rebirthing in the New Age", Celestial Arts, California, 1977.

9. Rank, Otto. "The Trauma of Birth", Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1929. Reprinted 1973, Harper and Row, New York.

10. Jones, Ernest. "The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud", Basic Books, New York, Vol. III, p. 59.

11. Lake, Frank. "With Respect. A Doctor's Response to a Healing Pope", Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 1982.

12. Lake, Frank. "Tight Corners in Pastoral Counselling", 1981, op. cit. page 27.

13. Lake, Frank, 1981, Op. Cit. pages 26-28.

14. Pavlov, I. V. "Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes, Volume 2. Conditioned Reflexes and Psychiatry", translated by W. H. Gantt. Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1941.

Dr. Roger C. S. Moss

Consultant Psychiatrist, Exeter, Devon, England and researcher, Clinical Theology Association

Appendix: Some Selected Scripts

Re-Living Conception

Let us look at some of the things people say when they are invited to re-live, to be a part of, their own conception. When they are in a deeply relaxed state, the essential truth of their parents' personalities may be much clearer to them. So their grasp of the nature of the act of sexual intercourse that conceived them may be quite valid. Add to this some awareness of the circumstances-especially when the act was traumatic or when conceiving was not intended-and surprisingly deep feeling may be uncovered.

One person laughed joyfully as the sperm entered the ovum. "Great!" he said. "Togetherness . . . comfort. . . wonderful! . . . it's me!" was his shout of glee. Another man burrowed his head into the mattress, saying "Good-getting in! Feels safe, good, and right. Nice. Triumph!"

For others, conception is a very different story. A women came to one of the workshops with a problem of insecurity. Her father drank heavily. That was how all his eight children came to be conceived. This lady was the seventh, and, as with most of the others, her mother did things to try and get rid of her. As she worked on her conception she was sobbing. "The smell of beer," she cried. "Don't let it happen! I don't want it. No! No! No! I don't want it to happen. No! No! I don't want to go!" A few moments later there were loud cries. "She doesn't want me. Let me out! Don't shut me in! Let me out," she yelled. Then as development proceeded, she started retching. "She wants to get rid of me ... Oh! Oh!" She started rubbing her stomach. "Stomach pain. She wants to get rid of me! She doesn't want a baby . . . Oh! Oh!" she wailed. "It's horrible this stuff, horrible and bitter! I don't want to live. I don't want to be born. She shouldn't have done that to me. I'm frightened. Don't shut me in!"

In her introductory history, this lady had talked about trying to commit suicide. She was inclined to suffer from 'terrific pains in the stomach' and she had a dread of being shut in a coffin alive. It is not difficult to sense the opposition her primative self brought to bear on the factors that kept her alive.

Re-Living Blastocystic Bliss

You may recall that in the first week after conception, the fertilized egg divides again and again until it forms a hollow ball of cells, known as the blastocyst. The microscopic hairs that line the Fallopian tube waft the blastocyst slowly down towards the womb. Time and again, this stage elicits responses which are remarkable and beautiful. As he reached this stage of being a perfect sphere, one man said, "Feel good. Feel good. Suspended. Yellow. Luminous. Floating. Shining. Power-potential." At this point his body began to move for the first time, having been still till then.

Another man felt like singing. "Space, power, freedom," he said. "Spinning and turning. I'm not afraid to be-to dance, to sing, to be! Colours are exploding." His hand wafted toward his face. He breathed deeply. "It's so big. It's red, yellow, orange-fire. It's burning, it's beautiful, and I'm one with it." This man had a mother who was capable of giving enormous love, but she was also subject to outbursts of screaming, throwing things, and sulking. Later in the session, he visualized her pain in the form of a green dragon, which sent him into terrors of anguish and made him scream and struggle. Yet at the beginning, he had been strengthened by something very good.

Frank Lake noted that this sense of being, of awareness and joy, was often spontaneously associated by his subjects with having God and the universe within their being. He felt that this experience of'blastocystic bliss' made good sense of the language of mysticism about regaining contact with a long-lost unity with God who is at the ground of our being. For some it is a "peak experience". He reckoned that there could be great therapeutic gain for those who could discover so blissful an experience, especially when-as in the example just quoted-there was later to be deprivation and injury. Not that people should be tempted to try and stay in this state of mind, but that they should take up their tasks of being-in-the-world with the knowledge they have discovered within themselves a strength that will not be defeated whatever is to follow.

The blastocystic stage is not joyous for everyone. Even this may reflect the mother's mood. One man who had a clear sense that, as a fourth child, his mother wanted to be shed of him, experienced the floating feeling, but said, "It's lonely, Grey, grey, grey. Lonely, bloody lonely."

Re-Living Implantation

Two weeks after conception the blastocyst sinks into the lining of the uterus, and a hormone prevents the lining being shed during menstruation. This is the next important incident-for some a crisis-that of implantation. For some it is good. "Oh yes," said one fellow. "Get stuck in. Yes, it's nice. It's nice. Yes, I can grow here. Yes, I can grow. Splendid! Oh, lovely! Mm. Warm, cosy, cosy, cosy. Oh yes!"

But for the following woman, who was conceived by accident when her mother was forty and the marriage was already in disarray, the prospect of implantation was daunting. Her mother didn't like pregnancy and tried to abort this baby. The script runs: "Don't want to do that. Don't know where to go. Must go somewhere. It's all started. I can't turn back. Go wherever I happen to land-it's all bad, there's no good place to be. Oh dear!" Her body tensed and shivered. "I don't want it. I don't want to be part of this person." She went on to suffer from digestive troubles, severe anorexia nervosa, and suicidal depression when she ate compulsively.

There was another man whose mother was bedridden throughout the pregnancy. She had lost a previous baby, and her grief was unresolved. She had a breakdown after this birth and suffered from a widespread psoriasis until she died. The fetus was pushed beyond the limit of endurance into trans-marginal stress. At implantation he simply said, "Couldn't care less if menstruation swept me away."

Re-Living Life in the Womb

For a final set of examples, we move on to feelings picked up later in the pregnancy, not necessarily in the first three months. First, let us select someone for whom his mother's pregnancy was perfect. "Yes, she knows I'm here," he is saying. "She's pleased." Talking about the umbilical cord, he says, "It's giving to me. She wants to give to me. Yes, it's nice. It's lovely. She likes to feel me move inside her. She's pleased about it." So he moves around a lot. Then after a while, he notices: "There's extra food. Something orange, fruit and apples. She feels a little bit guilty because she can have the orange. Ther are peoplle who can't. It's good for her to have it because it's good for me."

We notice that a quite common phenomenon is the sense that the fetus is receiving nothing from its mother emotionally. Here is a man who even in his fifties still acknowledges that he has a lot of self-doubt and is self-effacing. His mother had no sense of her own worth as a woman. In the womb, he is saying: "She doesn't know I'm here. She doesn't feel anything. Perhaps she's working hard, and that's all. It's so silent and lonely. It's comfortable enough. It's well supplied. It's plain and dull. There's no encounter with anyone. No sense of communication. I've got nourishment, but apart from that, a cloud. I hardly know that I'm a person. No sense of personal world beyond." That differentiation between physical nourishment and emotional supplies is frequently quite clear.

Sometimes the indications point to an attempted abortion that failed. The next example is taken from the script of a man of 40 who knew very little about his mother's pregnancy, though he suspected his father would not have welcomed it. During his work on the first trimester in the womb, he encountered a familiar but unpleasant tight feeling in the stomach, and then a nasty metallic taste in his mouth, which he would often notice on waking. "Afraid," he is saying, "afraid of death. Metallic. Fear of death. Fear of not being." He shook and convulsed. "Can't do anything. Can't be sick. Death". And then . . . "I see a long silver thing, pushing in, pushing. I shrink away. Oh! death. Go stiff. Can't get away. Am stuck here. Don't want to be here." But a little while later this has passed, and he says: "Can breathe now. Want to stay. She likes me. She wants me to stay. Loose, floppy, slack. Almost like early bliss," he sighs.

Unfortunately, this man's mother died many years ago, so this story could not be confirmed-though in some cases such discoveries are admitted by the mother when she is asked directly. Recently, he said that these experiences he had 'in utero' as it were, illuminated and brought together all otherwise unconnected strands of his personal growth work. "It made complete sense of my life and all my problems, totally, in terms of their overall relationships. I found out where things all began."

Lastly, there seems to be quite an association between tension and pain in the stomach, and parental marriage problems. Here is a man who had been hospitalized with suspected appendicitis, but the appendix was actually normal. His father never gets close to anyone, and his mother clearly suffers. When the first trimester is well established, he says: "It's hurting in the stomach. It's sharp . . . there is nothing there. She wishes she was there, but there is nothing to give. She is tryingat least the pain is something. I feel all head and guts. My head is detached and looking at the pain. She feels alone. Yes, she is lonely. There is nobody to feed her. I feel sorry for her. I see her waiting, waiting . . . but she is glad I am there. I don't feel hungry, but I just want something. I don't want to feel alone like her. The pain!" He cries loudly and screams. "But she can't help it. My pain and her emptiness, they are the same. I've got to endure it. Sometimes I don't feel like going on-it's the way she feels. Somewhere there must be some love I am sure . . . "

Notice particularly here the identification with his mother's plight when she doesn't feel like going on. This is a common insight in this sort of work and often a great relief to a child who has born a burden of guilt in vainly attempting to make up what his mother so much needed.