I am excited to begin this blog series on Gestalt self therapy. Gestalt self therapy is a tool I use to explore and peel away layers of misleading emotions and reactions while becoming aware of new parts of myself. The various topics in this series have grown out of my personal and professional experience in Gestalt therapy. I often share these tools and experiences with my clients and thought I’d share them with you and anyone else and who is interested in their own personal development.
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned (and still learning) from Gestalt therapy is that I do not have to understand WHY I feel a certain way, and this okay. Understanding or making sense of a situation or my reaction is not important in the moment. I don’t have to make interpretations or form conclusions about myself and the people in my life. However, doing this usually leads to false interpretations and is also not helpful.
I use Gestalt self therapy techniques to explore and experience different parts of myself, parts that I may not be aware of or feel too vulnerable to look at. I’m always amazed at what I find — better yet, I’m always amazed at the “who of me” I discover. My hope is that you can use these techniques when you notice yourself reacting to something in an irrational way.
Step 1: Recognize an inappropriate reaction.
There are times when I might notice my reaction as being inappropriate in some way. Until you have more experience in self therapy, it may be difficult to notice an appropriate reaction when it actually happening. Often times I reflect on my actions the at a later time. For example, “What was I so upset yesterday? He didn’t really mean to hurt me…”
Step 2: Feel the apparent emotion.
Often the emotions experienced are false and only serve to cover up real emotions. For me, I am usually aware that I am covering up some emotion that is too scary to feel by tension, headaches, physical symptoms of anxiety, like difficulty breathing. These are all signs there is something I am afraid to feel. This is why this step is important – to feel the apparent emotion – the real emotion. So I ask myself… When did these symptoms begin? What was happening and when? What did I feel? This requires me to SLOW down and really sit with and track my experience.
Step 3: What else did I feel?
While I’m exploring these hidden emotions, its important to pay attention to any other feelings I didn’t pay attention to, either because they were covered up by the apparent emotion or I wasn’t aware of it. In this step I might remember something new… I ask myself, “What else did I feel when he ignored me?” “What else happened along with the anger?”
Step 4: What does this remind me of?
In this step, I ask myself how this reaction or reaction to situation is familiar to me. “What does this remind me of?” This can be tricky because it is easy to get in your head and intellectually try to “figure it out”. Thats not the goal here. In this moment I am intentional about getting out of my head, moving away from an explanation, and dropping into my body in search for a familiar sensation. “In what familiar situation have I felt this headache?” “Who else might I feel ignored by? Again, the idea here is NOT to create some explanation for your self-defeating behavior, rather you are goal is to feel the true emotion behind your reaction.
Step 5: Look for the pattern.
And finally, look for the pattern. After some practice your able to recognize an apparent emotion and the emotion you use to cover it up. THIS IS PROGRESS! You are now predictable to yourself 🙂 You now have a better sense of “how you do you!” You can predict (and make a conscious choice) how you react to certain situations under certain conditions. You are able to see a pattern of how you cover a hidden emotion with an apparent one.
Using this techniques has helped me get to know parts of my self that I didn’t know before. It’s important not to try to make up stories, interpretations, about WHY you react in a certain way and HOW TO STOP. You are not your own psychotherapist. Your job, here, is to become self-aware. Increased self-awareness IS the vehicle to change.