Alan was a twenty-four-old single male who sought help for symptoms of PTSD. He was fascinated by muscle testing because he had studied martial arts and the use of energy or chi.

When I heard his story, I quickly understood why he turned to alcohol. After his father died when Alan was very young, his older brother became the leader of the family. He joined the Mafia and wanted Alan later to do the same. As the years went by, he had beaten Alan many times in public in order to “toughen him up.”

I thought that either these beatings or the loss of his father would emerge as Alan’s Top Priority Item. Instead, we located an incident at age eleven which Alan had “forgotten” to mention. The emotions were fear and shame – someone else’s in addition to his own. He said, “That’s probably the night I saw my brother kill a man.”

He added that he had been awakened by the sounds of a struggle from the living room, and a “yelping” as if someone were about to be hurt. He saw that his brother and two other men were holding down a man who was kicking and begging for mercy.

He then saw his brother pull out a switchblade and slit the man’s throat. His brother came over to him and wiped the knife off on Alan’s face, telling him to go back to bed. Alan added that his mother spent the next morning cleaning up the blood.

When I asked who else had the emotions of fear and shame in the experience, muscle testing suggested that it was not his mother, but the same brother instead. The trauma was (appropriately!) life-threatening. I suggested Alan write a letter to his brother and to express his feelings. Excerpts follow:

When I saw you kill that man, my world changed. I couldn’t believe that you would laugh and think it was a joke that someone’s life was taken away that quickly. I thought I would get over it as I got older, but I became what I feared – just like you!

From that night on, there was no more laughter and playing. I built a wall around me and learned to act tough outside – just like you. But inside, I was afraid if I wasn’t tough enough, you’d kill me, too.

I know you think of that day when we both held loaded pistols to each other’s head, waiting to see who would pull the trigger. You didn’t, and I didn’t – maybe because we saw in each other the times you used to play with me when I was a child, both laughing.

He read his letter in group, and then we cleared the original experience. He was smiling at the end. Support activity directed him to focus more on his inner child. He told me later:

After we did that exercise I realized that I never forgave myself. I never let go of that part of myself. I always blamed myself for the bad stuff I did. But now I realize it wasn’t all his fault – the kid inside me who turned mean. I have to forgive myself now. It’s like a mystery that’s been solved. I love your technique, Doc. You’re radical!