Case #153 - Underneath the face mask

Belinda laughed and smiled a lot.

I told her that I enjoyed her friendly manner. And I also wondered what she was feeling.
She said she felt fear, but tended to hide it.
I asked further..
Fear of rejection was her issue.
So I invited her into an experiment, to support her in authentic expression.
I asked her to pay attention to what she felt in her face.
I asked her to do her best to relax her face.

This took her some time - she was not used to that. When she did relax her face, she started to look sad. I gave her this feedback. She said - "well, I don’t see the point of showing my sadness - I feel it inside, but at least if I smile I don’t bring other people down, or have to explain myself.”

I understood, and pointed out to her that showing her true feelings might not change how she was feeling, but it changed the impact she had on others: when I only saw her smiling face, then she only engaged the part of me that is warm and friendly in response to her laughter. She deprived me of responding to her sadness - I explained I felt a bit gypped. This was novel to her - in her state of fear, she hadn’t really thought through the relationships she was creating as a result of only presenting her sunny side. Her relationships lacked depth, there was no chance of her getting care in the place of her protecting herself from rejection, she also stopped people getting close. The trouble was, the acceptance she was getting from people was more to do with how she presented herself, than how she truly felt.

So, having the experience of showing me her sadness, and feeling acceptance in that place, had a big impact on Belinda. She understood that by being fully who she was, she had a better chance of getting true acceptance. The risk was real - of being rejected for her sadness, as she had been historically in her family. To become more authentic in relationship required taking that risk.

In Gestalt, we support and encourage people to take risks. We ask ‘what’s the worst that can happen; and can you take responsibly for that’. This confronts what Fritz Perls called ‘catastrophic fantasies’, which people use to hold themselves back. The Gestalt experiment provides a ‘safe emergency’, which sets up a situation of taking a risk, doing something new, something more authentic, in a way which is relative safe. This is an ideal learning setting, and provides people a new experience. The insight which flows from this is embodied rather than just cerebral.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther