Case #26 - Giving and receiving

Tracy loved travelling by herself. She liked being an independent woman. She went home every few weeks for a few days, and that suited her. She had her own flat in town. She said it suited her husband, because she had high standards, and there would inevitably be arguments.

She felt her life was her own, and now that their son was fully grown, she didn't have to attend to family responsibilities. She enjoyed her lifestyle and her work.

However, her concern was that she started to feel panic when she was at home after a short period of time.

Probing deeper, I asked about her parents. She had a certain amount of freedom when growing up - her mother was busy with a number of children, her father gave her certain privileges treating her a ‘bit like a boy’, though he was also affectionate to her. However, when she got attention, it was often in the form of pressure to perform, or be a good child. The crux of the matter was this - the situation was either-or. Either she had attention, or she had freedom, but there was no middle ground.

Next, I suggested an experiment to explore how this was with her husband.

We stood up, facing each other. Hands curled up represented wanting attention. Hands pushed away represented freedom

Straight away, she became upset. She said she didn't want to be in the wanting attention position, it was too much pressure and she felt panicked.

I asked how often she felt, of her own accord, that she wanted to be in that position, naturally, with her husband. She said she wanted more freedom even than she had. I asked how much, without a sense of duty. She replied - twice a year for a few days back home, and the rest of the time her own.

This was not my model of relationship, but I was willing to accept it might be hers.

So on that basis, we proceeded. She only wanted to be in the wanting-attention position very briefly, then she moved into the wanting-freedom position. She said she felt very uncomfortable in wanting attention from him.

So I reversed the situation. I play the husband, and put my hands in the wanting attention position. Straight away, she started pushing away, very strongly.

She got in touch with a lot of resentment. She felt that when she was with him, he always wanted something from her, and that she was always giving out, never getting back. So her anger came up, and the cycle became clear. She pushed away, he became needy, she pushed away more, etc.

So I suggested we add an additional hand position: giving. Clearly she had no more to give. But I adopted the giving position as husband, and asked her to be in the wanting attention/receiving position.

This also brought up a lot of ‘grievance’ on her part. She felt like she had never really received from him, and that there had been too many years where she just gave and gave. Nevertheless, I asked her to come into the present, and just allow herself the experience of being given to, once she had expressed her resentment. She agreed, and was profoundly moved by receiving. However, she soon felt uncomfortable - the cost of receiving was that she would again have to give, and she feared that.

So a deeper aspect of the cycle came into view.

So I suggested alternating. I would give to her, she would receive, then as soon as she got uncomfortable, we could swap. She could give back, to relieve her ‘debt’, (and I would receive) but only so long as she was comfortable.

Her rhythm turned out to be quite fast, only a few seconds in each position. However, she felt very comfortable with this, and she felt we did not overstay in either position. The experience was profoundly insightful for her, and provided her an experience which she had longed for, but completely given up on.

The significance was not that this was a ‘fix’ or ‘cure’ for the situation, but that it was an awareness exploration, which yielded a much deeper awareness of herself, her context, her participation in cycles, and also provided a new experience.

Such new experiences as come out of Gestalt experiments are not ‘solutions’, but they expand a person’s world, and can provide a new reference point for what is possible. They can also provide a healing experience, when something has not been available from the environment.

The process was one that started with an exploration of the field context. Once that became clear, we moved into a here and now experiment. To do this, she had to feel it was not organised at all by any ‘should’, but could really be about her rhythm.

Using myself as participant meant that I could tune into where she was at, what she needed, and get direct experiential insight into her system.

It also meant I could respond in new ways. I modified the experiment to include the third gesture of ‘giving’, as this was clearly the missing, yet most significant ingredient. It also allowed her to have the experience of being given to, without the cost being too high.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther