Tag Archives: Mens’ Group

My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part VI

After about a year of being unemployed I managed to land a contract position working for an insurance company auditing their legal bills.  The hours were full time and the work was a tedious, cubicle type job.  Because I was a contract employee I did not have medical benefits, it did not pay very well and I was treated like a second-class citizen compared to the full time employees. On the other hand, I did have a place to go during the day and I had enough income coming in where I was able to get off unemployment insurance. It was better place to work than Dechert because the hours were not as long and the people were a little nicer. For that I was grateful. Basically, I was working this job because it was better than being unemployed.  But I knew that I was working this job only until I could find something better.

The guys in my Men’s Group were supportive and happy that I finally was no longer unemployed. But they all encouraged me to look for a job that better suited my desires.  At the time I really had trouble articulating what I actually wanted.  When asked this question my mind would go blank.  I knew I did not like working in a cubicle all day.  I had a vague notion that I wanted to write but every time I tried to write I ended up getting derailed.

Then I heard about a history teacher position at the private high school I attended when I was a kid. I loved history and could picture myself moving out of my parents’ house and becoming a part of the school’s community.  The job sounded much more exciting than my soulless, corporate cubicle job. I started to get really excited about it.  I interviewed with some of the school’s faculty.  A few of them were teachers that I had in high school. I thought the interviews went well and I really started to get my hopes up.

I remember going to work feeling good about the prospect of not having to work there much longer.  I went to group and told them about the position.  They all seemed to think it would be a good fit for me.  Weeks went by and I did not hear anything from the school.  Every week in the mens’ group they asked me if I got the job.  I kept telling them I had not heard yet.  Then one day I got an email in my cubicle informing me they hired someone else for the position.

I was devastated. I went to group and told them what had happened.  I could barely get the words out when I described the humiliation I felt.  When I did I broke down crying in front of them. At first I tried to hold back the tears but Scott told me to let them out.  Against every fiber of my being and every instinct I had I allowed myself to cry in front of them.

Craig (one of the group members) told me he thought I was going to get the position but now he knew that I was meant not to get it because I had to go through this experience.  I did not fully understand.  But after that meeting I felt better.  A huge weight of humiliation and defeat had been lifted off my shoulders.

I sent Craig an email and asked him what he meant.

Hey Craig,

Last night seemed significant.  But now I feel like that significance is receding.  Can you please tell me your perspective on my work so I don’t lose what happened?  Does that make sense to you?

Thanks

 

He responded:

 Last night was a miracle.  You let people love you even though you were feeling humiliated.  No one attacked you for being who you are.  You let people witness your vulnerability and your perceived “badness” for lack of a better word and you were loved through it, not beat up.  You let people see into your soul and you survived it.  You jumped from a cliff that you could never survive jumping from and landed on your two feet completely unhurt.  Not only unhurt but a better person for jumping.  George, last night was beautiful.  If there were words that would let me relay the true significance of last night I would share them with you.  Words will never do justice to what we experienced last night.  Please let me point out that I did say “we.”  Every person in that room last night was taken to a place we could never be alone.  I feel sad that Dave and Marc weren’t able to be in your presence last night.  It was easily the most significant night in my group experience other than my own major breakthroughs which I can count on both hands.  Stellar.  I hope this puts a little perspective on what happened last night.  And as an addendum, we can never lose what happens to us spiritually and I mean never as in eternity.  Can we feel that always, I don’t know but I can appreciate it when I do.

Love,

Craig

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part V

Over the course of the next three years I worked almost every group meeting.  I was usually the first person to show up and I never missed a meeting unless it absolutely could not be avoided.  I possessed a strong inner motivation to be there because on some level I knew it was working for me.  Over time I began to see things about myself more clearly.

I saw that I grew up feeling deeply flawed and at my core I did not trust anyone.  I developed an isolated and easily wounded personality.  I compared myself to everyone else and found myself lacking.  If I witnessed anyone succeed I felt ashamed that I never succeeded.  If I did succeed, I down played my success as if there was a reason I could not fairly claim my success or else be branded a liar or a braggart.  If I failed I felt cruelly and unfairly judged by the world and bitterly angry under the surface.  If my anger surfaced I was made to feel ashamed for being weak and selfish.  In short, I realized that there was no way to win in the world in which I lived.

As I became more aware of this anger within me, I could see how it manifested itself in my life.  I found myself lashing out at former tormentors when I was alone.  Interestingly, when Scott tried to get me to display this anger in a therapy session around other people I found it very difficult to fully get in touch with it.

I also became aware that I self-sabotaged myself when I did something that I wanted to do.  At the time I had been trying to set aside time to write.   But every time sat down to write I became easily distracted or my mind would blank out.  I also became consumed by the potential reactions of other people who might read what I have written.  I then felt ashamed.  “What a stupid, self-indulgent, pathetic thing to write,” I would tell myself. All of this would cumulate and I would find myself not writing.

Scott and I did some “pillow work” on this subject.  He threw a pillow on the floor, pointed to it and said, “That pillow is you and you want to write.  Will you try to discourage the from writing?”

“Get your work done first then you can spend time on your hobbies,” I said to the pillow.

“But he wants to write,” said Scott addressing the force I impersonated, “why can’t he do that?”

“It is irresponsible to not get your work done first,” I answered as the force.

“Why are you smiling?” Scott asked.

I then noticed that I was smiling and felt amusement and shame at once.

“So you’re fucking with me?” said Scott.

“No,” I denied.

“Then why are you smiling?” asked Scott.

I said nothing.

“Who are you?” asked Scott.  “Who is this force you are impersonating”

I knew the force was my father but I was reluctant to say this.  It felt disloyal.  At the same time I could picture him making me feel irresponsible for doing what I wanted to do.  It surprised me that he experienced pleasure in doing this.  I did not want to believe that.

“Okay,” said Scott, “now you be yourself and let the pillow be your father.  What do you want to say to him?”

It feels very awkward but I summon the courage and say in an unemotional voice, “Dad, I think it’s really unfair what you did to me.  I don’t want to carry this burden of shame around.  I want to follow my passions and not constantly be derailed.”

“I hear what you are saying,” Scott said to me, “but it sounds more like reasoned discourse.  Where is the anger behind it?”

I understand what he said to me but it seemed like an impossibility to display the depths of my anger in front of him.  I think deep inside on a very basic level I do not fully trust that he would not shame me if I displayed my anger.  Or perhaps I will shame myself.

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part IV

My wife and I started to see a couple’s therapist named Dori in Connecticut who was part of a larger practice trained in the Gestalt method.  Her office was an upper room in a large, formerly residential house that had been refurbished into therapists’ offices.  She primarily had us “mirror” each other whereby one of us would state an issue and the other one would repeat what the first one said starting with the phrase, “I hear that you feel…”  This was very difficult and after several sessions it did not seem like we were making much progress.  We were still angry with each other all the time.  During one session I had expressed that I felt a lot of shame and that I was trying to get past that and that was the reason I had seen the psychic.  And I did not like how my wife had shamed me into not seeing her.  Dori suggested that I join a “men’s group” that two of her colleagues ran in the same building.

I showed up to the first session feeling very awkward and nervous.  The group was made up of six men and two facilitators (Scott and Dave) who were trained in Gestalt, body centered therapy.  I remember that first session everyone took their shoes off in the hall so I did too.  I saw some other people bring in folding chairs so I grabbed one and set it up in the room. Other people sat on couches already in the room.  Once everyone had settled in the facilitators went around to the group members and asked them if they wanted to “check in” or “work.”  If a member checked in he would briefly describe how his week had gone and how he was feeling generally.  If a member chose to work he would describe something that was bothering him and the two facilitators would probe him until they got to the bottom of the issue.

Often the method employed was called “pillow work.”  If a member said they felt anxious about something (for example) the facilitators would put a pillow in a chair facing the member and say, “That pillow is you.  Make you feel anxious.”  Then the member would try to put himself into the mind of a person who would try to make him anxious.  Often this process resulted in the member lashing out in anger and then breaking down crying.

Each member checked in or worked and I grew increasingly nervous as I felt my turn approaching. I remember one member, Rick, announced to the group that he was dying of prostate cancer.  He had just been diagnosed with six months to live.  He seemed pretty balanced about it.  I remember thinking none of my problems were significant in comparison to his.  When it was finally my turn and everyone turned to me I remember saying that this type of situation was very difficult for me.  Scott told me he thought I was courageous for doing what I was doing.  I did not believe him.  I thought he was just trying to make me feel good about myself.

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