Case #124 - Meeting in spite, hate and acceptance

Abby spoke sharply. She was annoyed by another man in the group, and the way he expressed his feelings. She was critical, and somewhat condescending. I was interested in her energy, more than the words. There was a sharpness, and liveliness about her manner that I wanted to engage with. I asked her to personalise the feelings. She admitted to feeling sadistic towards me. And she showed me a particular action with her hands. I was feeling quite engaged with her - her explicit willingness to show her aggression, and authentically express it.

I did not feel defensive at all. Instead I was interested in her energy, and wanted to meet her in that place. I invited her to show me again the aggressive action towards me, using movement with her hands.

I invited her to stand up, so we could both mobilise and move some more. I asked her to show me with her face and hands what she felt. She did so, but also used sharp angry words. I ignored the words, and matched the energy - she showed me a hostile face, so I made a hostile face back. I was careful to match her as exactly as I could, neither less, nor more. Every nuance, every move I reflected back. Both in terms of expression, and the anger behind it. I did not feel angry towards her, but I summoned my angry feelings and used them to meet her. When she showed spite, I showed spite back. I encouraged her to put less emphasis on the words, but she sill wanted to use them. She amped up - with stronger, more hateful words, and energy, and I kept pace with her - not using any words back, only energetic meetings.

This escalated. She wanted to hit, so I got a pillow and encouraged her to hit it. But this wasn’t enough, she really was furious, and hateful, and voiced hate at the human race. I asked her to personalise that, to whom exactly what she so hating and despising. She said - 'father, mother'. But she kept speaking about the human race - two eyes, two legs. I kept drawing her into the present - 'I have two eyes and two legs'.

Then she went inwards, talking about hating herself as a human, wanting to stab herself. She clutched her hands at her chest. I pointed there and asked what she was feeling. It took several times repeating my question until she spoke about how much she just wanted to kill herself - a retroflection of her energy and hatred. I kept pointing to where she was clutching her chest, and asked her about the feeling. Tears appeared in her eyes, and her hatred and anger towards me was now mixed with other feelings. She softened, there was an opening of vulnerability.

At this point, I moved forward and held her. I could see that the hatred was never ending, and that no amount of matching it was going to satisfy her. I could see both the window of vulnerability, and could also see she was out of control. So I held her, and allowed her to both cry and rage. She was clutching onto me with one hand. The other hand, I encouraged her to hit my back. She did this, as well as squeezing me aggressively with that hand. It did not hurt me. I was fully grounded in the moment, in my body, with all my resources available.

Then she started to soften and sob. She cried ‘father’, and was wracked with intense emotion. I supported this for some time, and then asked her to look at me. She could hardly do so. I wanted to bring her into contact, with what was available in the present. She went back into her sobbing, and after holding her, I again asked her to look at me. We did this several time. Finally, I could feel her letting go into me, and held her, with the same firmness she had been grabbing onto me. After some time, I sat down with her, as she was now quieter, and allowed her to curl up and be held by me. She became completely quiet and calm, and I asked her to really take in the nourishment available to her in this place. This process entailed the Gestalt element of relationship. Dialogue was less about words, and more about energy, emotion, and meeting. By staying with her, and meeting her in each place she went to, she was able to move forward. I originally moved from her words, to the experiment, which involved meeting her anger. To stay with the content of her words would have been distracting from the relational interaction going on underneath. Gestalt is always oriented towards process, towards embodied energy, and towards bringing things as far as possible into the present therapeutic relationship. As I went down this track, she was able to move into a place of openness, and then taking in the nourishment she had been wanting but pushing away previously. By representing this taking in/pushing away, with her two hands, she was able to move past that impasse place.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther