Monday, June 22, 2015

Case #148 - Balancing Masculine and Feminine

Sarina was very sad. She said she wanted to balance masculine and feminine within herself.
I noticed her socks - they were red. She said that a master who she followed told her that red was not a good colour to wear - it was too masculine. So now she tries to wear grey colours. She said she was desperate to balance the masculine and feminine energies.  
She had had a successful life. She had been a mayor, the editor of a newspaper. Men liked her.  But she had given up her job because she felt herself too much in the masculine world and did not want to become more like that. Again, she reported feeling sad, and unhappy.
She drove a small jeep. She liked driving jeeps. But she didn't want to drive a big one because it would be too showy, and again, too masculine. There was a conflict within her.
I asked her to choose something to represent that conflict - she chose a red candle. She wanted to put the candle to one side, not have it between us. But when she did that, she started to feel panic.  
She recognised that the  the candle represented her mother. And I was in the father role.  She said that she had lived her life to please her father, and his ambition.  But now, she didn't want to live for anyone else.
So, I took the opportunity of being in the 'father' role to give her some supportive messages. I told her her- its ok to be yourself, to wear red if you want, to drive a jeep if you want; its ok to live your own life. Then you will attract a man who likes you, just the way you are.
Her response to this was to tell me that she would like to take me to the movies.
I took this as an indication that I had shifted roles from representing father, to being more a peer, a man she could get close to, go out with; the erotic dimension of this was coming forward. She was showing me her vulnerability and her yearning, and so I acknowledged this to her.
She came back to her statement about balancing the masculine and feminine.  So I told her a little story. I made it up - about a woman who was capable, and a man who met her and liked her capability. I talked about the man being able to have a balance as well, to show his softness. About both of them moving between masculine and feminine capacities.
A story such as this gives a sense of permission, provides possibilities which may be desired but not as yet achieved. Her indication of vulnerability towards me meant she was in a space to take this in.
I gave her the homework, to light a red candle each day, and to do something that felt feminine for her. She needed to feel herself moving into her feminine, and clearly red was a colour that was important to her - she wore the red socks, even though she wasn't 'supposed to' according to the master.
The emphasis in Gestalt is on the person finding themselves, developing the areas they want to. In this case, masculinity and femininity are very much socially defined. So I wanted to help her explore what that meant for her, to define her own self of self within that. I did not want to replicate the 'master' who imposed his ideas of what it meant to be masculine or feminine.  
Finally I told her another story - of Amelia Earhart, who flew solo across the oceans when this was beyond the sense of what society believed a woman could or should do. This provided her with both an example (support) and also a metaphor, which should could use to construct her own sense of herself as an adventurous woman.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Case #147 - A wall dissolves

Brittany spoke about having a picture of a wall in her mind, that she felt quite scared of. She talked about not being able to get through it. She felt distress, demoralised, and that it was blocking her way.
In Gestalt we are always interested in anything that looks like 'resistance', a wall being a clear example. Rather than trying to get through it, we explore it, through a Gestalt experiment.
So I invited her to 'be the wall'. I asked another person to come up, and they would swap. The volunteer would play the wall, they would swap, the volunteer would be her, and she would be the wall.
In this way I facilitated a dialogue between her and the wall.
She was initially very scared of the wall - wanted to run away. She identified the wall as 'solid', 'secure' and 'dead'.
I helped her find a distance from the wall where she could stay, and not run. I encouraged her to breathe, to stay with what she was feeling, to stay with the experience of being in the proximity of the wall.
Gradually her fear subsided. She started to be able to feel her own solidity. To feel more secure in herself.
This allowed her to stay with the 'dead' feeling. I brought her into the present, into her breathing, her aliveness, in juxtaposition with the deadness.
This conjunction of polarities is very powerful, as the split parts of the personality start to make contact, something shifts.
Brittany was able to breathe life into parts of herself which she had deadened, out of fear. Her sense of solidity increased. Her disowning of the wall transformed. She was able to find her steadiness, her fear reduced, the wall no longer a barrier, allowing her to now move forward in her life.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Case #146 - Safety and the scream

Molly had an issue about feeling safe in the group. Her sense of unsafety was about peoples needs being cut off, including her own.
I asked what she wanted - to be accepted and recognised.
This was a very general statement. In Gestalt we always want to get specific, personal, and present.
So I invited her to address her sense of safety with specific people, and to identify what her needs are that might be cut off by me.
I also invited her to outline in what ways she wanted to be accepted and recognised by me.
I also suggested that she enquire specifically about where it was I accepted or rejected her.
This is about grounding broad fears directly into relationship. Its about establishing interpersonal boundaries in the here and now, for instance between me and her.
She had mentioned also a dream about her mother - who had beaten her, and then a second dream where her mother took pieces of her puzzle away, and was very angry at Molly.
These dreams gave me clues to aggression being present. In the Gestalt fashion, this is about disowned aggression on Molly's part. However, I did not approach this directly to start with.
I suggested several experiments.
Firstly, to look around the room and pick 5 people. Then, to tell each person the percentage she felt safe with them, and the percentage she felt unsafe. This helped bring the general topic of fear into contact, and actually was a way to facilitate good contact.
Secondly I invited her to pick a woman who most reminded her of her mother. Then, to tell her the ways she was similar to, and different than her mother. This is a Gestalt way to bring someone into the present relationship, helping to draw a clear boundary, whilst acknowledging places of apparent familiarity.
She kept drifting into her story about her mother - 'talking about' as we say in Gestalt. I kept pulling her back into the room, and the present. This drifting away signified that there was energy there, and work to be done, but this was part of a much larger picture of her unfinished business with her mother, that I did not have the time or space to go into here. If we could have a series of ongoing sessions, I would then attend to this. But sessions need to be managed, and my estimation was that it was more important for her to stay in the present, as at times our stories about the past can become a little too fascinating, at the expense of life in the present.
Next, in response to statements she made about wanting to strangle her mother and sister... I invited a representative for her mother and sister to come forward in the group. I gave those two people a blanket, and also a blanket to Molly. I then invited all three to 'strangle' by twisting the blanket in their hands.
This was a safe way to encounter aggression that was clearly in the family. It allowed Molly to feel her aggression, own it, and express it non-destructively. It also allowed her to experience the climate of aggression - what was familiar - in a way which was different - her mother and sister also expressing their aggression in a safe way...which in turn supported her to bring it more into the open.
Next I brought the process to the connection between Molly and I. Asked where she felt scared with me. She said things like 'you might see my dark side', 'you might abandon me if you see my anger and judgement'.
I told her I welcomed those parts of her, and was willing to see her anger and judgements. She spontaneously emitted a loud scream. I said 'I am a little afraid of the intensity of your scream, and mostly excited'. In invited her to name some judgements.
The significance of this was grounding her fears in the specifics of the therapeutic relationship, and to stay present with her during the exploration of those fears, in an authentic way. She could bring that part of her into relationship, and experience something novel - support and presence.
I then invited her to look around the room again - she reported feeling her power. I said 'and what about safety'. She replied 'for the first time, I feel quite safe'.
In this sense, the 'fear of others', was more to do with her own difficulty being with herself, being able to be authentic with others, and be met in that place. In this way, the Gestalt process pays attention to what is needed in relationship, and ultimately brings the centre back to the client, so they can really see how they 'create their own reality', to use a contemporary phrase.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Case #145 - Allowing nourishment in

Liza spoke about eating too much, as well as not being able to sleep very well.
Food is always a very big and complex subject in psychotherapy. It connects to body, to family, to self image, to feelings, to history, to orality...
So it requires careful attention.
As Liza spoke, I saw her mouth puckering, and commented. This phenomenological observation is done without evaluation, simply noticing, and inviting the client to state their own experience and meaning frame.
I pointed out that food is most ostensibly about nourishment, and asked about her experience of being nourished. This is a field question - eliciting the context for her of nourishment.
She replied that her experience was one of neglect. Her parents sent her to a kindergarten where she lived for 5 1/2 days a week.
She relayed a clear memory of waking up from a nap there one winter's afternoon, feeling lonely, cold and scared.
She described how in the kindergarten she would eat a lot, in fact she developed the capacity to 'eat anything'.
In her current life, she said she ate 'all the time'...'too much'.
She talked about being very close to her grandfather, his favourite. But she couldnt take in love from him - for example he wanted her in a birthday photo, but she went somewhere else in the house instead to eat something.
This spoke about her difficulty in relationship, even when there was care there - it was clearly hard for her to take in other kinds of nourishment. Eating was evidently her 'creative adjustment', her way of surviving emotionally.
I wanted to recreate the scenario where she had been asleep as a child, as her waking up was a figural moment of trauma.
I asked her to lie down, as a 2 year old, and told her I would be there to support her. She reported feeling an aching in her back, so I put my hand under that place. The aching moved to her shoulder, so similarly, I put my hand under there. I instructed her to stay with her breath, coming into her experience.
She said it was easier to breathe out. So I invited her to imagine breathing out the pain, and breathing in nourishment.
Many feelings arose during the process, which I kept checking on with her. Pain, then the feeling of an ocean, then cold, shaky. I continued to encourage her to stay with her experiences, to know I was there with her, and to breathe in nourishment.
I could see that, as with her tendency to breathe out rather than in, her capacity to take in nourishment from others was not only low, but she had a lifelong habit of reverting to her trauma, and then feeding herself in compensation.
Such patterns take a combination of things to change. Support, and empathy is one. At times, a certain kind of focused energy is another. Because I could see her tendency to revert to trauma, even in the face of nourishment (viz her response to grandfather), I pushed her to stay in the present. I kept bringing her back to the present, her present experience, her awareness of me there with her, her grounding in her breathing.
After a long time, her experience shifted, and she felt warm and peaceful. At this point I told her that she could 'wake up now'.
She cried out 'papa', and took my hand. I said 'I am here; take in some nourishment, and feel the pain at the same time'.
This represented an integration, between the feelings associated with the trauma, and the present reality where other forms of nourishment are available.

© Lifeworks 2012


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