Monday, October 24, 2016

Case #192 - Topdog and underdog

Jane talked about difficulties she had with her live-in home help. The woman did not always listen to what Jane asked for, and did not always do things to the standard Jane expected.
I pointed out that this was a complex relationship. The woman was both employee, and also a kind of family member, in the sense she was residing in the house, and very much connected with what was going on, even if in the background. I also pointed out that this woman had her own feelings  and needs, which had no airspace.
The roles here were overlapping and mixed. The woman was younger, so there was an additional complication of perhaps some kind of  mother-daughter dynamics going on.
The lack of attention to these complexities, and the focus on only one role relationship can lead, as in this instance, to unstated tension and conflict, which in a work-relationship arises as resistance, often passive aggressive. The dynamics of power make relationships complex. People can to some degree put aside their personal needs in order to fulfil the requirements of a job. But these boundaries can easily get blurred, and the capacity to set aside one's own needs tends to be more limited that many people realise. The personal almost always interjects into the professional, and hence the importance of attending to 'fuzzy' issues in a work setting such as feelings. Ignoring them often leads to them going underground, and the classic 'top-dog / under-dog' dyad forms.  
An experiment then would be to play out this dyad with Jane, with her playing both roles - herself and the housekeeper. In this way, she gets an insight into what is going on beneath the surface with her home-help, and also she gets a chance to make explicit her anger, frustration, as well as other feelings such as superiority and hostility.  
The nature of the topdog/ underdog cycle is that the more resistant the underdog role gets, the heavier the topdog becomes - exerting pressure, yelling, using 'shoulds', threats, etc. But the underdog role just goes underground, passively resisting, digging their heels in, 'forgetting', or doing a half baked job, or being careless. They might say 'sorry', or 'I will try harder next time', but these are just part of the excuses that keep the cycle going. The topdog, who feels they have the power, gets increasingly frustrated.  
The only way to step out of this cycle is for the topdog to move away from shoulds, and notice feelings - personalise, rather than trying to wield their power to solve the situation. The underdog role needs to take responsibliity, and make the resistance visible.
This is what we facilitate in a Gestalt dialogue between the two sections. Jane's housekeeper may be her employee, but the same dynamic is also an internal one, within Jane.  
By bringing these two parts into dialgue internally, a resolution and integration can result, that combines power with feelings.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Case #191 - Soft woman, hard woman

Mandy wanted to work with her vulnerability.
So I stepped straight in, and started sharing some of my own vulnerable feelings (including some internal emotional pain) in that moment. She also shared about her feelings of pain.
So we spent some time connecting, me revealing my own vulerability, and checking in with her about her experience.  
She apprecaited the connection, and relaxed somewhat, reporting changes in her feelings.
She metioned wantint to become 'softer' as a woman, but the difficulty of doing so in her work, where she was known as being a very tough businesswoman. She wanted to join with some of the women employees in more relaxing activities such as flower arranging, but she didnt really know much about it. Regarding some of her previous clients who had been helpful to her - she did not call on them once she moved on - she wondered if this was too hard?
I apprecaited both sides, including the need for her to be tough in negotiations, and hard end decisions. She said however, that she felt the conflict between wanting to be one way (softer), and the demands of business.
I acknowledged the complexity of moving between the 'I-thou' and 'I-it', and the challenges of changing hats and roles with employees and clients. I shared some of my own experiences in trying to do this.
This helped build the ground between us, including  my sharing my own vulnerabilities in the process.
I then suggested an experiment. She would stand up in one or other of the two positions, which she named 'soft woman' and 'manly woman', facing each other. I facilitated a conversation between the two. At first, the 'manly' side was oppositional, saying 'you are too soft, its not possible to survive in the world if I am like you'. After some dialogue back and forth, the soft side acknowledged the pain of being so busy, not enough time to spend with family or children.
When she came over to the hard side, she collapsed in tears. I supported her, as she could hardly stand, with the pain.
I gently encouraged her to put her pain into words. Finally she said 'yes, its too much, I need more of your softness'.
A little more dialogue, and the process was complete - she felt integrated, calm, and able to bridge both sides. Gestalt emphasises wholeness, and integration is the result of bringing split polarities into contact. However, this cannot simply be a technical exercise - the relational ground needs to be built firstly

© Lifeworks 2012


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