Tag Archives: Feelings

My Experience with Gestalt Therapy

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.

15 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Defining the Mind

There are many theories on the mind and many different terms used to describe how the mind works.  For example, the term “Ego” can mean different things in different contexts.

Dictionary.com lists six distinct definitions for ego, the first two of which are the ones most commonly used in popular culture.  Although these terms are commonly used (sometimes interchangeably) they are quite different.  The first definition is:

the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.
This definition, I believe, refers to the type ego that you might hear used by Yoga instructors, Eckhart Tolle, or Depak Chopra.  This ego is the “false self” that separates itself from the “true self” to cope with and survive in reality.  This ego is often referred to pejoratively as a problem to be overcome or a sickness of some kind.  This is true in a sense because this type of ego often is maladaptive and creates more problems than it originally set out to solve, but this type of ego is also a defense mechanism protecting the self from external assaults.  I believe that was the original intent behind bringing the ego into existence.  It’s an ally that comes to help but then takes over.
The second definition of ego is:
the part of the psychic apparatus that experiences and reacts to the outside world and thus mediates between the primitive drives of the id and the demands of the social and physical environment [also known as the ‘super ego’].
This is the Freudian definition of ego I learned as a psychology major in college.  This ego works in concert with id and the super ego.  The id is the primitive part of the mind that covets.  The super ego is the moralistic part of the mind that councils not to listen to the id.  The ego is the part of the mind that decides between the id and the super ego.  This ego seems more like beneficent administrator than the false self ego.
There are other systems used to define and classify the parts and functions of the mind.  In other posts I have talked about the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex.  There seem to be some correlations between the “false self” ego, the id and the limbic system.  They all seem to covet and do not do not seem concerned with moral issues.  But the limbic system and the id do not think in terms of language and logic but rather emote whereas the false self ego can be critical and judgmental as well as emotional.

Similarly there appear to be parallels between the super ego and the prefrontal cortex.  Both of these concepts can think logically and use language.    The prefrontal cortex is able to receive the urging from the limbic system but then use reason to decide whether it makes sense to act on it.  The super ego challenges the id in a similar but slightly different (more moralistic) way.

The freudian ego and the true self do not seem to be similar concepts.  The freudian ego is similar to the prefrontal cortex in that it receives advice from the id and the super ego and decides the best course.  The true self is mostly awareness combined with compassion and a small amount of will.  This is more of a spiritual concept.

Then there is thinking and feeling overlaid on these structures.  Thinking is labeling, conceptualizing, making into words, reasoning, planning remembering.  Feeling is a physical sensation in the body in the body connected to an emotion such as happiness, sadness, fear.  Feeling is more primitive but it is also more honest.  Thinking is more advanced but can engage in falsehoods.

The conclusion seems to be that there are many overlapping concepts use to describe the mind and its functions.  But they do not fit together seamlessly and can cause confusion.  The reality is that all these concepts do overlap in a manner that is probably not understood completely by any one (or perhaps all) schools of thought.  It might not even be helpful to design an entire system to encompass them all.  Where would that get us anyway?

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

My Ego and My True Self

Illustration by Warwick Goble to Beauty and th...

Illustration by Warwick Goble to Beauty and the Beast: the heroine is the youngest daughter in her family. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My ego’s goal is to separate itself.  Separation is how my ego first came into being and maintained its existence.  Separation is also how it procreates.  The ego first came into being when I was told that I was not good enough and believed it.  To compensate for this belief I created a false self to present to the world.  This false self was constructed by my ego by splitting myself into two entities.  My ego is fundamentally dishonest because it was born from a lie I told myself, then tried to believe and largely succeeded.  Once my ego came into being it had a self-preservation instinct like all living entities.  To preserve itself it had to split and continue to split because it is always at odds with reality and the way it copes with being at odds with reality is to split itself.  Splitting itself gives my ego a place to run when it is confronted with a reality that conflicts with its point of view.  And on and on it continues to split itself spawning egos of egos of egos.

At the heart of my ego is shame, the fear that if the world saw my true self, I would be judged and abandoned.  In this way creating my ego was an act of self-preservation made by my true self.  I can see this clearly in my children.  My youngest daughter says she likes a singer, my older daughter says she does not like that singer but likes another one.  Then my youngest daughter drops her original preference in favor of my older daughter’s preference.

For the ego to thrive, the true self must be put to sleep.  In the beginning the true self does this willingly thinking that the creation of ego and splitting the self saves the self.  When the true self is put to sleep the ego adopts the persona of the true self.  Its judgement and jealousy of others becomes true.  Its vanity and its shame become true.  The true self is mostly just awareness itself so when it sleeps there is no awareness that the ego is running the show.  As such, awareness of the ego is a sign that the true self is awakening.

Over time my ego created such an elaborate maze of illusion that coping with reality became difficult.  When this began to happen my true self began to stir in its sleep.  I would feel anxious and not know why.  I experienced a tightening sensation in my throat.  I became depressed.  Feelings in the body are always true.  They cannot be dishonest and always exist for a legitimate reason.  They are the way the true self communicates from its place of sleep while the ego is in charge.  It was this anxiety, physical discomfort and depression that set me on my journey to awaken my true self.

If my ego came into existence through separation and illusion then overcoming the ego and awakening the true self is achieved by unity (letting go of separation) and truth.  I did this through Gestalt therapy (more on that in another post).  A little bit at a time my true self began to awaken and I saw the ego and its shame and judgment as entities separate from my self.  They are not who I really am.  They are not true.  Bringing awareness to the fact that shame is a feeling brought forth by a separate entity (my ego) gave me separation from the shame.  It was there, but rather than believe it I observe it.  Separation from separation is unity.

1 Comment

Filed under Shame