Sunday, November 27, 2016

Case #195 - Bullying reminds of abuse

Anastasia was a hard worker. She always performed her job at a high quality level. She was much valued in the different places she worked.

She and her husband moved to a country area. He was an engineer, she worked for a community welfare organisation. One of her co-workers was extremely difficult to work with. She reacted to Anastasia with burst of anger, accusations, and then would collapse into tears, blaming Anastasia for any problems which arose. After months of this, Anastasia felt she was walking on eggshells at work. She had to run projects with this woman, and the behaviour was making her feel sick. She felt anxious about going into work, and jittery about the unpredictability of her co-worker's reactions.

She tried everything, including broaching the subject with the coworker. But no matter what Anastasia did, her co-worker would explode, or collapse. Anastasia felt like she was going crazy, and it seemed that others at work were also intimidated by this woman, who could be an incredible bully.

Whilst I spent time addressing some of the details of the issue with her, I was also interested in the direct experience Anastasia had. The feelings - in her body, as she experienced the behaviours of her coworker. Going into these feelings moved us out of the 'talking about' (or 'complaining about') mode, into direct experience. It also brought the reality of what she was dealing with into the present, into the session, so we could work with it directly.

In cases such as this it is particularly important to do this, otherwise the session can become a 'debrief'  - complaining, letting off steam getting sympathy. Whilst there may be some value in all of this, the focus of Gestalt is on exploring and deepening awareness and experience. By going into the heart of experience, we help the person go deeper than they can ofter go on their own. At the point things become 'too much', the person often goes into their head - thinking about, explaining, etc. At this point, I drew Anastasia back to the present, back to her feelings, and to see where and how she may want to express that.

In doing so, something deeper emerged. This was memories of the sexual abuse that Anastasia had experienced as a child. The way we found this, was by going into the body experience, staying with it, and then some memories and images started to arise - other times that she had felt powerless. The abuse experienced resurfaced, and again, I brought her into the present, so she could stay with the pain, anger, and powerless feelings, without being submerged in them. I kept her in touch with her 'outer zone' - what she saw when she looked around the room, and I invited her also to look at my face, and describe what she saw. This helped to stay present with the feelings, rather than dissociate. There is no point going into feelings, if they are too much, and the person simply disconnects - in ways similar to what happened in the abuse. That is why in therapy, one has to be very careful at just letting feelings arise, and ensuring that there is enough support for those feelings to be fully experienced. Cathartic therapies can be exciting to witness, and seem to yield dramatic results, but unless the person is sufficiently grounded in the present experience, such intense emotion may simply pass, and not be integrated.

So in Gestalt, we slow the person down. We are not in a hurry to get anyway, to resolve anything. The focus is on being present, in connection, and ensuring that each step of the therapy takes place with integration.

In this case. I also kept Anastasia in touch with me, to feel the support I offered in the moment, to take that in, to realise that as a 50 year old woman, she had resources, and the support externally - myself, her husband - so that she could bear the feelings which had been too overwhelming in her childhood.

After this process, when we came back to the co-worker, Anastasia felt some of her fear (and anger) replaced by an increased sense of solidity.

The problem is rarely 'other people'. It is our own resources in the face of what is happening. Hence, in Gestalt we always focus the person back on themselves, and support them to allow the new resources available in the present to provide a stronger base to address their unfinished business.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Case #194 - Solving a business problem with awareness

Tracy described her business problem: she was a consultant with a number of different businesses. One of her major clients was proving difficult to work with. This was her largest client, and she would go to the headquarters, to work with the staff there in her consulting basis - which included helping to identify problems in the running of the business, working with the staff to find solutions, and providing advice to management.
The boss there was treating her as an employee rather than as a consultant. He would frequently expect her to be there on a regular basis, and no matter how often she told him that as a consultant, she could come and go, as needed, he continued to press her for more time.
Tracy was irritated by this situation, but nothing she did seemed to change the attitude of the business owner. He didnt seem to be listening to her, respecting her boundaries, or willing to respect her boundaries and autonomy as a consultant.
Having heard Tracy describe the situation, I asked her to come into the present, and notice what she was feeling. She described her irritation, and the feeling of tension in her chest.
Rather than jump into a solution, provide her with advice, or try to solve her problem, I sat with her in silence for a few minutes. I invited her to stay present, and I did the same. I allowed all the elements she had described to float in my vision, and without making any effort, I stilled any inclination I had to 'do' anything. In this Wu Wei state, a question suddenly occurred to me. I asked Tracy if she had a specified number of hours that was spelled out in her consultancy agreement. She said no, it was just an 'as needed' situation, where the contract mentioned the total length of time - 6 months - but not the number of hours per week.
This became immediately clear to me - the problem was not the business owner, who was simply doing what all people do - press for the maximum return for the money he was spending on the consultancy. Rather it was Tracy - whose boundaries were not as clear as she thought. She had not specified just how long she would spend each week, and so she had set up a situation where the limits were fuzzy and unclear.
This led to an immediate solution on a business level; however it also opened up another level of more personal work that Tracy needed to do - being clear about her limits. The fact she had neglected to make her time limits clear in this situation actually reflected a more general difficulty she had in setting limits - in other business situations, as well as in her personal relationships.
In Gestalt we always focus attention on the responsibility of the person in front of us, rather than cooperate in their blaming - no matter how justified it might seem. That is the key to both personal transformation and improved business practices.
All such situations are influenced by personal context - what we refer to as the Field. In this case, the issue of limits and boundaries for Tracy is related to her experience of how limits were handled in her family of origin. Understanding more about herself, and her context, helps Tracy bring more awareness to how she operates in business.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Case #193 - Longing for intimacy and avoiding intimacy

Marge had been married for a long time - almost 20 years. She had tried very hard over the years to make her marriage successful, but in the end, she gave up. Her husband refused to come to counselling, and there were many problems which she was never able to deal with. For instance, their sex life was bad - he was rarely interested in sex, and when they did have it, he had little sensitivity towards her, coming very quickly himself, and leaving her high and dry. He also would treat her coldly at other times and generally found her 'too much' with her feelings, her high energy, her enthusiasm.
Despite all this, she had perservered.
Now, she came for therapy.
She had certainly suffered in the marriage - though it was not all bad, all of the time.
In this picture, her husband was clearly at fault. He had not treated her with enough care or respect, and had not been considerate of her needs - often blocking things she wanted.
This was not domestic violence, but there were certain aspects of the relationship which were reminiscient of that kind of extreme disrespect.
Was she a fool for staying so long? Should she have given up much earlier in the piece?
These were not questions I was addressing. I was more interested in the systemic dynamics, and from a Gestalt point of view, who was she in there, and what was her responsibility?
As we explored, some things became clear to me.
One was that she was a very speedy person. She talked very fast, she was bursting with energy, ideas, agendas, feelings. I appreciated this about her…but it was hard to get a word in edgeways, and when I did talk, I rarely had the sense she was really listening to me.
So, already theres one phenomena which we needed to explore. Her husband had not been available in  and for relationship. But - had she? As much as she desperately wanted relationship and depth and love and care…as I experience her, she was also pushing it away.
If I said something appreciative to her, she would be touch for a moment perhaps, but then quickly move on, talking, bringing up more and more material. It was like she really couldnt take anything in. She didnt know how to/was not willing to just pause, breathe, and feel the impact of another person.
So this was our first major set of experiments - I would interrupt her (an important relational skill in therapy), and bring her into the present, into her feelings, and invite her to notice how she felt about my responses to her. It was hard work, because she would quickly be off and racing.
I commented that as much as she yeared for relationship and connection, she also made herself unavailable for that connection.
This was the first of many interventions with her. It was essential - if I just stayed with the content, with her stories, with her regrets, with her aspirations, with her longings, I would be ignoring what was ACTUALLY going on in our relationship - which was that she was avoiding actual intimacy, between us. She was so busy longing for something or regretting something that didnt happen, she was not with relationship as it was on offer, between us. This was hard for her to grasp - she had a very good excuse for the last 20 years, in a partner who clearly was not available. That had taken the focus off of the question of her availability.
Now I was shining a spotlight of responsibility on her role, and she didnt like it. She needed care for her feelings - which I coudl easily do, as she was a likeable person, who had certainly sufferend. However, she also need me to not perpetuate the system, and be the 'neglected' on on the other end of her racing forward. I needed to be tough with her, to insist that this wasnt ok with me, and I was not willing to simply be 'talked at'. She found this very confronting, yet it was the only way to move forward with her, without getting coopted into repeating in some ways the dynamics of her marriage.
For this reason, in Gestalt we pay more attention to process than content, to what is happening in the therapy room and relationship, than what is happening outside of the room. Too much 'talking about' is a distraction from our primary focus on the 'what is'.

© Lifeworks 2012


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