Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Case #166 - Spiritual transformation: from the pain of lack, to the possiblity of connection

Ulan had an issue with her mother. Ulan believed in Buddhist philosophy, while her mother was a deeply Catholic, and believed her daughter would go to hell because she was not a Christian. Her mother was very oriented towards the afterlife.
Ulan saw her mother every day - her workplace next was right next to her mother's house.
It was very painful for Ulan that she couldn't share anything about her faith with her mother, for fear she would be judged and rejected.
I asked her where she felt this pain. She replied it was in her chest.
Ulan was middle aged, without children. She had married at 40. Her mother had not participated in the wedding plans, because Ulan's fiancé was divorced, and not in a member of the church.
A decade later, when Ulan got divorced, her mother said, 'why are you sad, you were never really married in the first place'.
Needless to say, these were very painful words for Ulan to hear.
As I listened to her story, I was aware of a number of threads. Ulan seemed very much still oriented towards her mother, looking to her for approval etc. Whilst to some degree this may be normal, it seemed to me that Ulan was heavily invested in this need.
I shared my own need of approval from father. Even in my middle age, it is still hard to let go of such a need. I also shared about my own struggles to get recognition from him regarding the validity of my own spiritual path. I never got that recognition, and no amount of rational argument made any difference.
Then I asked about her spirituality, and practices. She explained that she sees God as being loving and accepting and non-judgemental. Ulan prayed regularly.
I set a scene for increased receptivity; I explained that meditation is like listening to God.
So I invited Ulan into an experiment - to feel the emotional pain, and at same time, allow Gods presence - unconditional, non-judgemental, loving - to let that in, be receptive.
I also do parallel work. As I invited her to do this experiment, I also tried the same thing for myself.
Ulan felt profoundly transformed by the experience. She could experience compassion for mother, rather than grief and distress. It was a kind of spiritual experience. Afterwards she felt peaceful.
I gave her some homework - now that her emotional needs were able to be addressed from a spiritual source, she could then potentially be interested in the world of her mother.
I suggest that she ask her mother many details; for instance - what will heaven be like, what will you do, will you eat, where will you sleep, will God be there?˙
In this way, she could find relationship where it is available - in the place where her mother is. She is not going to get that same thing from her mother.
This session contained many aspects.
Firstly, a place of difficult pain, one that is very hard to shift, because its connected to core longings we all have, and at the same time, faced with limits to a parent's ability to be there for us. This pain was exemplified by Ulan's mother's lack of willingness to recognise her marriage, and her lack of empathy for the pain of it being over.
This represents a situation where the 'internal parent' figure is harsh rather than loving. One way to deal with this is to slowly build up ground in the therapeutic relationship, so the client gets to have a somewhat different experience - empathy for their pain, rather than rejection.
However, this takes a great deal of time.
What I could do in this initial contact was firstly share my own pain, in a way which allowed a kind of I-thou contact, creating a base for our therapeutic encounter. Then, I used the spirituality that was so important to Ulan, to bring in the experience of being 'held' in the place of pain. Setting this up correctly as an experiment means that it is not just mental fantasy, but actually allows the client to have a spiritual and therefore transformative experience.
With this new internalisation of care, then I can point the client to where relationship is available - by being interested in her mother's reality, and building a bridge to that. Normally, this would be a reversal of the parent child relationship, and therefore not be completely healthy. But Ulan was a mature woman, and with the added support of this internal experience, she could let go some of her longing from her mother, and instead use her adult functioning to build relationship where it was actually available.  

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)