Thursday, January 16, 2014

Case #52 - The party girls

Martin had a number of major relationships in his life. At 50 he was now in a very heart-connected relationship, but without children.

He had always been attracted to ‘party girls’. In the end, despite working hard on the relationships, he found he hadnt been able to  make them last, until the present one.

He was happy now…though his current partner did like to drink and have a good time. While he enjoyed this, sometimes he felt it was a little too much, and he often wanted to leave a gathering earlier than she did.

Thus he found himself drinking a bit more than he wanted to at times.

When it comes to things like alcohol, and patterns of relationship, its good to look at the bigger picture. What we call the Field, in Gestalt. Family constellations does this all the time, but there are many different ways to attend to this dimension. In individual therapy, there are some places where there is a strong indication to pay attention to the larger context. 

So I asked about his parents and grandparents. His parents got on very well.

His father’s mother turns out to have been a very adventurous woman for her times. She travelled, and married late in life. She was popular socially, but not always very present as a mother. So his experience of parenting came more from his father, who was the stable one.

Martin had never connected up these dots, but it became clear to him about his attraction to women who were lively but unstable.

The task was then to move this into the present. I put out a chair to represent the ‘party girl’, and asked him to get in touch with his feelings. These were mixed - attraction, but also pain, from his history of relationships. I asked him about what was activated in him when he sat in front of this kind of woman.

He became aware of a number of things - his excitement, his anger, and a feeling of emptiness. I asked him to identify where in his body he felt all this. He noticed a sense of congestion in his chest.

He reported that this was exactly what he felt when his partner started drinking too much - a kind of panic or fear. Usually at that point he would either nag her, or say nothing, and become resentful.

So I asked him to stay with that feeling, and say something to her, sitting in the chair.

This was very hard for him to do - he felt very uncomfortable, and spoke of that.

I then asked him to swap, and sit in the chair, and speak back as if he were his partner. In that position, he felt rebellious, didnt want to be told what to do, and said ‘if you cared for me, you would give me freedom, rather than trying to control me’.

This was somewhat familiar to Martin - he had heard her say things like that.

I then asked him to come sit next to me again, and asked about the part of him that was rebellious. In Gestalt we are interested in polarities, and especially those which are disowned, and often associated with our partner.

He was not used to thinking in that way - it was always his partner who was the rebellious one.

I asked him, if he had complete freedom, what were some things that he might do if he wanted to be rebellious.

He identified how at work he put up with very controlling behaviour from his boss, and never said anything.

So I suggested he put his boss in the chair, and say something rebellious to him. Doing this, he felt a lot of freedom, and a weight lifted from him.

We repeated this with several other scenarios in his life, and each time, he found enormous relief in being about to say something rebellious - he was the proverbial ‘good boy’.

He felt much stronger and more empowered.

This was just one step, in a whole series of therapy sessions, but it highlights the way in which our projected self - onto someone else - ties up energy that would actually be helpful for us to find more balance and aliveness - which are very much the goals of Gestalt.

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