Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Case #190 - Down the authentic river

Jerry wanted to talk about parenting. Something I had previously said had triggered him. He related an incident about the previous day, where he had played ball with his son in the morning. In the evening, his boy wanted to play again with him, but he pushed him away and told him to play on his own, because he was very busy. But then later, he felt sorry about doing that.
He explained that he was under a huge amount of pressure. His wife didnt work outside the home, they had financial goals they wanted to achieve,  he had worked hard to get where he was in his career, and afraid if he slackened off, his income would go down in a competitieve field.
I observed the universality of his dilemma - torn between differing responsibilities - work and parenting.  
We discussed these difficulties for a while.  
He had also cottoned onto something I had said about authentitity. He said how hard it was for him, as he had these different pressures and pulls - what direction should he decide in?
I asked him what he would like to do - he said, more exercise - he never used his gym membership. But…he couldnt see a way to change things to create more time.
So I invited him on a fantasy experiment: to 'float down the authentic river'.  
I asked him to describe what an authentic day would look like.
Jerry said he would work 2 hours a day. I asked him the detail. He would get up, play with his son, do some caligraphy, then some tai chi. He explained how he used to do a lot of tai chi, but for over a decade simply had not had any time. He had recently met a tai chi teacher, whom he wanted to learn from. I asked about the rest of his day. He would do some exercise, then play more with his son when he came home from school.
He said - 'but this would mean I would not enough income, we would have to live off our savings, and that would have an end'.
This was a real world practical dilemma. The he mentioned he was in charge of a staff of 500.
So I made a creative suggestion. 'You could take some of your authenticity into the workplace. You could direct your 500 employees to do an hour of caligraphy first thing every morning. Or an hour of tai chi.'
Jerry said that there was pressure from his bosses, and pressure from the clients, so more than one day of this experiment would probably not wash with them.
I pointed out that there were examples of people doing this kind of thing in business, and productivity going up, even though working hours went down.
We discussed this for a while - I wanted to ensure he understood what I was suggesting.
Jerry reported feeling very releived. There was, after all, some way to bring authenticity into his life, and into his workplace, without giving up what he wanted.
Gestalt affirms the principle and practice of authenticity. The focus is on 'what do you want' rather than 'what should you do'. There is life energy available if we can help people tap into their authenticity, and act on it. Of course, we cant do what we want, every minute of the day - there are social adjustments. But mostly people err on the side of those adjustments, and move away from their own life energy. The point is to start somewhere.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Case #189 - The skillful blast

Cynthia wanted to do some therapy work, but was not clear on just what to choose. I asked about her background - she was a social worker. She had been divorced for some time; she wanted a family in the future, but was not ready at this point.
Her issue as it emerged, was a current problem at work, to do with problems 'managing the team'. I asked a series of questions, focusing her on questions such as - 'what exactly, who exactly, when exactly', before we arrived clearly at the problem.
One of her employees was not pulling his weight. She and others in the team were compensating by increasing their own workload.
It was clear to me - she was avoiding conflict. I asked about whether this was also the case in her previous marriage, she agreed.
I asked if she had ever had a good fight. She thought for some time, and replied that once she was so frustrated with her mother, so many things had built up, that she blasted her, told her all her opinions. It had been 'refreshing', and had not seemed to damage her relationship with her mother.
This was an important template for me to work with.
So I invited her into a thought experiment first - to imagine 'blasting' the employee at work. She smiled, and was happy to imagine that.
I then proposed a more challenging experiment - to put a chair in front of her for the employee, and to imagine he was in front of her, and 'blast' him.
She agreed.
When she did so, it hardly seemed like a blast to me.
But she was shaking. So I moved closer to her, put my hand on her back (after checking with her) to support her. She said she had a violent feeling in her chest, but was trying to calm herself.
Instead, I invited her to be with that violent feeling.
I told her that I would rate her blast at 10%; she told me for her it was more like 50%.
I then showed  her what I would do if I played her role - I did a little demonstration blast, where I spoke strongly and did not mince my words.
Cynthia's response was a fearful one -  that she did not want to be a bad person - putting others down, or being mean.
This was a self belief, or introject, but I didnt want to go into that in the moment.
So I outlined to her the theory of separating out person from behaviour.
I put out two pillows on either side of the chair. One I said was the person, the other the behaviour.
I invited Cynthia to talk to them alternately. She easily did so - acknolwedging the personhood of the employee, then in a powerful voice and powerful words, outlining the unacceptable behaviour.
She felt calm, and pleased that she had been able to 'blast', without being destrutive of the other person.
Aggression is a topic of interest in Gestalt. It is not seen in negative terms. It is life energy - which usulally becomes overly suppressed according to social norms and rules - or introjects - that a person 'swallows'. This increases passivity, reduces assertion, and leads to a loss of life energy. The person doesnt really know who they are, what they want, and they dont bring themselves fully into relationship.
In this case, Cynthia's avoidance of conflict was an avoidance of her own aggressive energy. Whilst there is no doubt, aggressive energy can be destructive, its also destructive to turn it inwards, or to fail to express it when appropriate. This was the problem at work - her accepting a higher workload rather than holding someone accountable - and was likely to be a large part of the failure of the marriage.
But Cynthia needed a great deal of support to be able to get in touch with and express the full extent of her feelings. Ultimately, she needed to find a way to do so, and reconcile her values. This was provided the through process of the Gestalt experiment, finally culminating in the skill of separating behaviour and person. Without the actual experiment, this would remain simply a 'good idea', or just become a kind of skill to practice. What was significant here is that her understanding represented an integration, resulting from the combination of the challenge of the experiment, her own risk taking in the process, and then being taught the skill. These come together in our goal in Gestalt - the integration of new way of being and understanding, into the person's being.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Case #188 - Difference without rejection

Yuri sat in front of me. I remarked that he seemed very serious. He said he was nervous. So I engaged him in conversation - I commented that we both wore glasses. I told him a story about snorkeling recently, and not being able to see clearly without my glasses.  
I noticed a pendant he was wearing, and remarked on it. He told me it was an Narcotics Anonymous  symbol.  
He had used drug extensively, so I asked him about his history. He said he had used pot, meth, and also gone to jail.  
I told him I was a drug virgin, I had only had drugs a few times in my life. I told him about my wedding, without alcohol.
The point was for me to reveal myself, to show my limitations, to remove myself from an expert position, and to reduce the spotlight and any possible consequent shame for him. I put him in a position of knowing more, which in the case of drugs, is true.
I asked him his feeling in the present - he felt heavy in the chest. I asked how heavy - in kilograms. He said about 60kg. I remarked that thats quite a weight to carry around. I pointed out that he wasnt born feeling that weight, so where might it have come from? He was unclear. So I asked when he started feeling that weight. It was when he was 12 years old, so I asked what happened at that time.
He said it was entering into High School. He had previously been open, but he started hiding who he was.
So again, I took the spotlight off of him, and talked about myself. I shared about the way I had hid important things about myself to my peers, during my high school years, and how that changed dramatically when I went to matriculation college, and how I decided to stop hiding, and through a difficult process, reveal more about myself to others.
Yuri listened intently, and asked me some questions about my experience. I asked him in more detail about what he was hiding. He said that it was about being different, if he had a different point of view, and was not going along with others, that he would be rejected. This also made sense culturally (Japanese context).
I invited him into an experiment -'the first step'. I suggested that he and I talk openly, and explore any differences, in a way that we both come out of hiding. I told him I was very comfortable with differences, and ok if he didnt agree with me about topics - I was a safe person to do this with.
We started talking. I started with obvious difference - in culture in age, in life experience, in parental status, etc.
We got to the topic of diet - I am a vegetarian, he is not.
I explained that this wasnt for me just a 'we are different' topic. Although I never hassle people about their dietary choices, internally I disagree, and consider that killing animals is unecessary, and therefore I see it as unethical, and not ok. So I came out of 'hiding' to reveal that this difference was in fact a difficult one.
This gave Yuri the experience of encountering a real difference, one which was full of emotion and energy, and yet, it being communicated in a way which made it ok to hear each other's thoughts and feelings.
I set the example of coming out of hiding, declaring a part of me which I normally did not reveal- the strength and judgements I hold about killing animals.
We were able to have this conversation, and Yuri found that it was still ok, we were still connected, I was not rejecting him.
I asked about the weight on his chest - it was down to 10kg.
In Gestalt we are very intereted in difference. Its seen as a signnifcant opportunity for quality contact, and is grounded in notions of authenticity in the context of relationship. Part of what we offer in the Gestalt process is an opportunity for people to be fully themselves, without being either rejected, or agreed with. This is an important part of the healing that takes place in a Gestalt dialogue. Not because some wounded part is healed, but because of the experience of connection alongside difference.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Case #187 - You should die

Jeremy spoke about the issue of bullying. He had been bullied as a child, and it was an issue for him still.
He referred to a phrase which had been spoken to him during the bullying: 'you should die'. This had stuck with him, and he now sometimes repeated it to himself.
I asked him a number of questions about the details - when did he hear this, under what circumstances, how old was he, who said it to him.
I wanted to form a clear picture of the context of this phrase.
I did not 'Gestalt' this phrase immediately. In fact, I took quite some time, to have a conversation with Jeremy about bullying, about my own childhood experiences, and the feelings they had left me with.
I shared that talking about the subject, I felt heavy. I had various of my own memories come up.
Jeremy's rhythm was slow. The conversation was slow. I was not thinking particularly clearly - I told him, I had no creative ideas occuring to me at all. My feelings were sluggish, and I also reported that.
As something occured to me, I would bring it up. I mused out loud about how people could be so mean, and he agreed.
I told him I would like to surgically remove those awful words from his brain.
But we just hung out, in that space. There were periods of silence. I affirmed my sense of connection to him.
This was building the ground of relationship, and allowing the natural development of figures without forcing them. This was what we call remaining in the 'creative void', or Wu Wei.
He said 'those words are set in concrete'.
Immediately, I had something to work with.
I moved into experiment mode - I invited him to work with this metaphor.
I asked him to give me an image of the 'set in concrete'. He talked about the colour red, and a sword and shield. I asked him to 'be' those items, to speak as 'I'.  
He said that the words were burned into the shield.
Then he said, 'theres warmth. I asked him to 'be' the warmth. He said that he was in fact sunlight, coming towards the sword and shield.
As sunlight, he could actually transform the shield, through a chemical process. As sunlight his words were 'I want to live'. he could change the word 'die' to 'live' if he came in contact with the shield.
I then invited him to a conversation with the sword. The sword said that it was afraid of change. This was a moment of vulnerability.  
He didnt quite know, as sunshine, how to deal with this. So I stepped in to help him shape the conversation - acknowledge with empathy the vulnerability of the sword, and reassure it that change was ok, for the good.  
The sword relented, I guided him, as sunlight, to come to the shield, and accomplish the transformation he had spoken of.
He sat in silence for sometime doing this. Then he opened his eyes. He was bright, and sparkling, and said the change had occured.
It was important with Jeremy not to rush into an intervention/experiment like this. I needed to build the relational ground, to meet him in his rhythm, to not try to fix things. As a result, his own creative growth processes kicked in, and all I had to do was support their emergence.

© Lifeworks 2012


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