Matt was a successful entrepreneur. He had spent much of his adult life learning about himself, doing courses, reading self help books, and building his positive momentum.
Recently divorced, his life had taken a new turn, with a new relationship. His previous wife was very critical, especially of his financial and worklife. Although he was successful and had a very socially conscious business, he was not wealthy. She had always attacked him for his lack of what she considered financial success.
He came to me after experiencing a panic attack at his workplace. He had been ‘paralysed’ for most of the day.
A trigger appeared to be a conversation he had in the morning with his ex-wife, who demanded that he instantly drop his morning plans and come to pick their son up because her car needed to go in the garage. As usual in her communication with him, she was harsh, blaming, and critical.
However, a number of other events had also happened recently - he lost out on a big contract he was expecting; a number of large accounts were late paying; he was doing a lot of positive things, including writing a book, to build his career, but none of them paid immediately; a previous joint venture partner was suing him; and finally, he looked in the bank account and there was only $100 there
I asked him how he felt, telling me about all this. He kept responding with his ideas about what was going on, his recounting various histories...but I interrupted him, and directed him to report his bodily experience
He said that previously, during the panic attack, his whole body had felt in a straight jacket. Now, he felt vulnerable, frightened, especially in the chest
I asked him to focus on these feelings...he noticed heat and a layer of fear. He said it was like a foreign invader.
He then gave the analogy his father used to give - the wolf at the door.
Normally when his confidence was up, he was okay to deal with challenges. But right now, when his confidence left, the wolf would be able to get him.
I suggested that it was like the wolf was not only at the door but standing over him. So I invited him to imagine the wolf was on top of him. He said, “it’s saliva is dripping on me.” So I told him to feel himself pinned down, and hear the panting of the wolf, and feel its saliva dripping on his face. I instructed him to breath fully, feel the fear throughout his body, and stay present. I told him that he would feel a huge amount of energy in his body and that if it got too much at any point, he could stop the process.
He did this, and his whole body jerked in spasms. After some time he opened his eyes and reported being surprised, that he felt so much energy in his body.
I then invited him to imagine he was the wolf, standing over Matt, dripping saliva. I asked him to speak to Matt, and give him some messages.
After some time, he opened his eyes. All his light bulbs went off. He said,“it’s actually a wise wolf.”
He realized that he was identified as a sheep, and from that position, he was weak, unassertive, vulnerable and his confidence undermined. The wolf was his disowned self, full of the power to deal with the challenges he was facing, personally and professionally.
In this process, I used identification and especially starting with the clues that the body experience provided. I followed the association of ‘invaded’ as it was clearly about more than just a palpable threat, he had been paralyzed with fear - a very immediate experience of danger.
So in the Gestalt way, we step right into the experience of danger, but with sufficient support. Then we move into the other polarity - being the dangerous one, leading to a healing of the split.
Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther