As soon as Annabelle started speaking, I got an uncomfortable feeling. She clearly wanted to tell her ‘story’, about how she had been wronged in various ways, how she had valiantly tried to help others in the family, etc. I found myself feeling impatient, and not really wanting to listen to her. I could see that she would just talk, fill up the space, without really allowing for input - she seemed to just want to complain.
After a while, she would ask me a question related to her story. But again, I felt uncomfortable, as she seemed to have lots of questions…but it made me into some kind of expert to solve her situation.
I did not, however, say anything about my feelings. I conversed with her, but declined to answer all her questions, asking her instead to make them into statements.
This is a common direction in Gestalt, because often questions are a ways of avoiding responsibility, or showing up in relationship. Statements allow a person to own who they are, what they feel, and what they want, in a more direct manner.
I did not say anything, because I could feel my own reactions, and I wanted to understand myself more in that place. I sat with my own feelings, and got in touch with what my experience was.
Each time Annabelle spoke, it was in the same way, and I had the same reactions, including asking her to make statements. This much I could do to interrupt the pattern, and I did not want to get drawn into the role she was offering me - great wise person.
This was enough, however, to get her curious about. Putting her back on her own experience gave her a different experience, and because I did it in a neutral way, she was able to start noticing her feelings a bit more.
I was discussing authenticity. Suddenly she said - “I want some honest feedback from you, how do you find me?”
I took a breath, as this was an opening to deepening the relationship, but I also had to proceed carefully as I realised the sensitivity that was also there alongside the question. This question I was willing to engage with, because I judged it as a more authentic question.
Because I had sat with my own experience for some time with her, I was able to name something, not directly about her, but about my own experience.
I said - “whenever you talk, I experience the invitation to be conspiratorial…I feel drawn in to agree with you, to confirm your view of your family and how you have been treated. I feel uncomfortable with that, because I don't want to reject you, nor do I want to join with you.”
This was naming my own authentic experience in a way which left her room to find herself in response. It was my attempt at a non-shaming statement -very important in giving feedback.
Annabelle smiled broadly. She said - “thank you. Others have said this to me as well, but none so clearly as you. I know what you are talking about. I feel like I am trying to get people on my side.”
We then had a very valuable authentic dialogue. I pointed out that there were other sides to being conspiratorial - that could be a fun thing, like kids might play at. We explored a number of facets of it, and Annabelle visibly relaxed, as did I! There was a shift in my experience…after being able to name my experience. She experienced being seen. This is the I-thou contact we are seeking in Gestalt, and is the basis for the deepening of relationship.
Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther