Case #73 - My feelings or your feelings?

Martha described her difficulty getting in touch with her feelings. She was a counsellor, but mostly was in her head.

Firstly, I focused on the here and how between us. What was it like for her to sit with me, what did she feel in our contact. With each question I asked Martha, I also shared my own feelings.

Next, I asked her to look around the room, at each person, and notice her feeling reaction, and how it was different.

Finally, I invited her to look at me, and I allowed her to see some of my own internal world - I moved into ‘client mode’ for a minute or so, stepping out of my ‘giving/in charge/professional’ mode. It didn't take her long to notice - she said,“oh, you are sad.” I pointed out that what was important was what she was feeling -her sadness in response. She could then check out with me and ask me my experience. She was right in this case, but it’s important not to assume. People have the mistaken notion that they can ‘feel someone else’s feelings’. In Gestalt, we disagree - you always feel your own feelings - but the boundary is important. You can only guess at another's feelings, and enquire to confirm. Assuming one ‘knows’ is disrespectful, and unhelpful.

In more classical terms we use the word ‘projection’ to describe what is happening. You simply cannot feel another person’s feelings - they belong in their body, and you are not in their body. Your own feelings may be in resonance, but they belong to you. Projection in this sense describes your ability to IMAGINE the other person’s feelings, using your own as a guide. This helps us orient in the world, relate to others, and find ourselves (potentially) in parallel with them. But it’s only when you check such things out that you confirm whether your projections are accurate or not.

Hence, the precision of language is considered important in Gestalt, as it allows us to have these conversations, to enquire, to dialogue, to test our perceptions. This equips us with a language of communication about emotions that is clear and contactful, rather than being fuzzy and assumptive.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther