I have experienced Gestalt therapy as a patient and that is the perspective from which I write. In other words I am not a licensed Gestalt therapist nor have I received any formal training other than what I have learned from my therapist and what I have read on the subject. For many years I attended a men’s group therapy sessions facilitated by two therapists trained in Gestalt body centered therapy. After the group broke up I continued on with one of the therapists. For what it’s worth, this is what I have learned.
I have learned to trust my feelings. If I feel an emotion in my body it is there for a reason and it is never morally wrong or bad. I think the root of my anxiety, depression and shame was the belief that my feelings were wrong. I can remember being a teenager and feeling anger that my parents would not give me more freedom. They responded by telling me my anger and the fact that I could not control my anger displayed how undisciplined and irresponsible I was. My anger was wrong and if my anger was wrong by implication I was wrong as a person. When a “wrong” feeling (like anger) presented itself I had to either deny it or bury it somehow. That was how I learned to mature. This requirement that I bury my emotions was the genesis of my addictive personality because I buried bad emotion with whatever addiction I had at my disposal. Further, this inner conflict initially produced shame and anxiety which eventually turned into depression, anger and grief. My therapist would always ask me, “what would you have to feel if such and such happend?” as a means of getting me to acknowledge and accept my natural feelings before the urge to deny or bury them took over.
I have learned about “the vicitimizer.” This is a concept similar to the Freudian “super-ego” in that it is my inner voice that makes me feel ashamed either by criticizing what I am doing in the present, causes me to remember embarrassing situations in the past or makes me anticipate and fear embarrassing situations in the future (all of which trigger the feeling of humiliation). However, the victimizer is much more vindictive than the Freudian super-ego. The victimizer is the embodiment of abusive energy from my parents that I bonded to as a child. When my parents told me I was wrong for feeling the way I did I took that energy into the energy of my body and there it remained all my life. When I feel the urge to shame my children for little things like having a messy room as I was shamed I recognize it as old bonding. Through Gestalt therapy I purged this bonding a little at a time and took on new, non judgmental bonding.
I have learned that I am a shame-based person. That is how I defined myself. Every situation I encounter is a new possibility to be humiliated in some way. For a long time I saw a therapist who was more cognitive behavioral / client driven in practice. We sat and talked for many years. I have no doubt that he was an honest and compassionate person but this was not the therapy I needed to move out of being a shame-based person. He commented that I experienced a “lack of entitlement”. This is true but we never progressed past that. Gestalt therapy is driven by the therapist. There is a path to follow and the therapist has the answers. Unlike client driven therapy which I assume was designed for me to stumble upon the answer myself in due time. I want to emphasize that I have nothing against the man as a therapist. It’s just that Gestalt therapy is much more effective in the treatment of shame in my experience.
I have learned about the “Death Layer” which is an emotional place that holds my greatest fear and a place that I would never have gone had it not been for Gestalt therapy. For me the death layer is humiliation. This is a place I tried to avoid at all costs. Although I never successfully avoided it because I experience humiliation all the time. But I always experienced humiliation with my guard up and holding myself against it. Through Gestalt therapy I learned to trust other people and to release my guard and descend into the death layer willingly. By doing this I experienced the energy or feeling humiliation in front of my therapist and the men’s group I attended. I learned that it was okay and that feeling did not mean my death (as some part of me whole heartedly believed). My approach to this inmost cave was accomplished in small doses and took some time. When I cross that barrier a well of grief that normally exists way below the surface is tapped. To experience that in a supportive environment (as opposed to a judgmental environment) is both liberating and purging. This is the path of Gestalt therapy.
I have learned that I have an inner child. Inside me there is a child that does not trust anyone and expects to be humiliated and shamed at every turn. This inner child does not even trust me because I have abandoned him every time I have ever been humiliated in my life. Through Gestalt therapy I have learned to love and support myself when I experience humiliation. I can be the adult for my inner child that was never there for me growing up.
I have learned that I was fucked with (not in a sexual sense) as a child by the people who were supposed to love me. When I protested I was made to feel ashamed (ungrateful, selfish, undisciplined, weak). There was this inner sense of loyalty that I had that made me choose to take the abuse and to agree with it in order to survive in this environment. I have learned that the people who fucked with me enjoyed it. I can see that in myself when I feel the urge to fuck with other people. Again, this was the energy I bonded to.
This may all seem to be a very harsh judgment of my parents. But they were simply acting in accordance with the bonding they received from their parents and so on down the line. This is not written to condemn them. Rather it is written to acknowledge that through Gestalt therapy I have found an effective treatment to break the chain.