Case #7 - The giver and the marbles

Changchang was in her 50’s. She was a very kind person. In fact, she was very caring about everyone around her. But she revealed that she was unhappy in her marriage. She didn't feel fulfilled, she felt lonely.

It turned out that although she had friends, lots of social contact, and was well regarded, she still felt unhappy and lonely.

I moved into a directly dialogical mode with her. I told her ,”I feel very comfortable in your presence. I have a sense you are very forgiving, and there's lots of space for me to be myself, and you will accept me.” She agreed - that's how she was with people.

I told her how much I enjoyed this feeling - like being very safe. She nodded and said that was important to her. I told her how I could imagine possibly taking advantage of this feeling - of confiding in her, or leaning on her, or accepting her warmth. As a therapist, it was a little difficult for me to stay in the position of authority, or a professional, or giving to her, because I could feel my own need arising in the face of her generosity.

She nodded - she could recognise all this, though it rarely got put into words so directly.I also noted how I felt a bit uncomfortable in some way that was hard to define. She only wanted to give, and she had a lot to give. But was she able to really receive. Could she receive something from me?

Tears came to her eyes. That she said was difficult.

I also felt touched by the moment. We stayed in that emotional contact, in silence, for a while.

But she couldn't take in anything from me. She was almost compelled to give. It wasn't balanced.

So came up with a Gestalt experiment. I found some beautiful glass marbles in the room, and put them in my hand. I said, I am going to give you a marble, one at a time. I want you to really take them from me, as if you were receiving a gift.

She agreed, and we did this. I did it very slowly, looking at her, making sure she was really receiving from me. She was shaky, her vulnerability emerged, she was crying as she took each marble.

She said it was the first time she could remember for a long time really taking in something from another person. She was always the giver, and that's how she got her recognition. But it was eventually empty, because the flow was not two-way, and relationships tended to stagnate as a result. Hence her loneliness, despite being well regarded and having many friends.

Here I used my own experience in the dialogue. Rather than talking about the rest of her life, we brought it into the present, and the experiment was between us. So her new experience was possible, because I was investing myself just as much as her. I brought awareness into a relational transaction that was normally automatic and out of awareness. By bringing my own experience in (rather than a judgement), she could accept it, and be open to something different.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther