Sunday, January 19, 2014

Case #53 - Too much drinking, or to too much giving?

Tom drank, too much, too often. He had done this for many years. Sometimes he gave up, sometimes he started again.

Abby was not happy, and had become increasingly vocal about things having to change. The trouble is, they did change - he stop drinking, they would get on better for a while, then somehow, the whole thing would start again.

Abby wanted a good relationship. She wanted connection, communication, honesty. They had been together a long time, and she didnt want to throw the relationship away. Nagging didnt work, but neither did just going along with the pattern. Abby was very frustrated. Tom didnt seem able to sustain the changes she really needed. She became increasingly 

There was no doubt, Tom had a problem with alcohol. It was clear that he didnt really have control over it, and it was also clear that his efforts at stopping only worked for a limited period of time - sometimes 6 months, but then he would start again.

Abby seemed to be doing everything she could. She made her position clear. She put in boundaries. She was coming to therapy for help.

From a Field point of view, addiction is not something ‘in’ a person, but something ‘in’ the family or relationship. It is maintained by more than one person, although in this case, it appeared as if Abby was doing everything she could to change the situation. Her particpation was not clear to her - she seemed to want nothing more than to have an addiction-free relationship.

Abby had a father who was controlling, discounting, and often mean. Her needs for nurturing, to be listened to were not met. So she learned to be a helpful girl, as an attempt to get some kind of recognition.

This is what we call in Gestalt a ‘creative adjustment’. It made sense at the time, but now, as an adult, Abby was finding that she was getting more and more stuck - the creative adjustement was no longer working for her.

She identified that this is what took her into nursing -taking care of others and their needs. And that is what she was doing with Tom. 

As we explored this, Abby became aware that her helpfulness contained a kind of gift-giving. If she gave to others, men, then she would be useful, wanted, recognised, needed.

And this was exactly the situation with Tom. He needed her, and would become very sad if she got angry and pulled back. She couldnt stand seeing him so sad, so she would come forward.

The key was when we identified how her helpfulness was also a kind of manipulation: ‘if I bring you something, then you will need me, and wont leave me’.

What was important was the turnaround - Abby was now able to see more clearly not just Tom’s addictive behaviour, but her own repetitive maipulation - giving to get, or what we call in Gestalt, ‘proflection’. 

This is an example of what we term a distored boundary - it looks like something is being given, but there is actually an underlying motive, so the giving aspect is conditional, not unconditional.

This recognition was dramatic for her - she could see now not just the familiar pattern of his drinking, but another pattern alongside that - of her manipultive giving. 

In Gestalt we work with awareness, but this is not only of the ‘here and now’, it also includes awareness of our field, with all its complex layers, and especially our hidden patterns of behaviour.

Bringing these into the light creates the possiblity of owning that behaviour - whatever its antecedents - and thus ‘taking responislbity’ in Gestlt terms. This is liberating. To see one’s own manipulativeness gives options, whereas to see only the other persons’ stuck/addictive behaviour, leaves only reaction.

No comments:

Post a Comment

© Lifeworks 2012


Who is this blog for?

These case examples are for therapists, students and those working in the helping professions. The purpose is to show how the Gestalt approach works in practice, linking theory with clinical challenges.

Because this is aimed at a professional audience, the blog is available by subscription. Please enter your email address to receive free blog updates every time a new entry is added.

Gestalt therapy sessions

For personal therapy with me:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

© Lifeworks 2012




Informed Consent & Rates


Gestalt Therapy Defined





Book:Advice for Men about Women


• English






Greek ελληνικά

Hindi हिंदी








Russian Русский

Serbian српски

Chinese 中文

Japanese 日本語

Arabic العربية

English Bahasa České Deutsch Español Filipino Français ελληνικά हिंदी Magyar Melayu Italiano 한국의 Polski Português Română Русский српски 中文 日本語 العربية

If you are interested in following my travels/adventures in the course of my teaching work around the world, feel free to follow my Facebook Page!


This Gestalt therapy blog is translated into multiple languages. You are welcome to subscribe


Interested in Gestalt Therapy training?

Contact Us


Career Decision Coaching


and here


Gestalt training and much more

For Men

Here is a dedicated site for my book Understanding the Woman in Your Life

The Unvirtues

A site dedicated to this novel approach to the dynamics of self interest in relationship

Learn Gestalt

A site with Gestalt training professional development videos, available for CE points

We help people live more authentically

Want more? See the Archives column here

Gestalt therapy demonstration sessions

Touching pain and anger: (40m)

Permission to feel: (54m)

Marriage after 50: (1h 17m)

Serafina - Angel wings: (45m)

Barb Wire Tattoo: (37m)

A natural empath; vibrating with joy: (39m)

Dealing with a metal spider: (51m)

Interactive group: (1h 57m)