Case #178 - An exquisite moment of shyness and connection

Alexis spoke of being shy. She said 'I am often in my world, others in theirs'. As we conversed about this, she described how even her husband talked about her not letting him in. I asked about her daughter, who was 20 months old. Alexis said her daughter was very similar to her, very shy.

I shared with her that I also had an inner world that, despite my apparent outgoingness, others rarely had access to. I then asked about her daughter again…Alexis said that there were two things which worked in terms of connecting with her daughter: firstly getting the right distance - not overwhelming her; and secondly, proximity - being close enough as she needed comfort.

These two paramaters gave me the keys to Alexis. I invited her to stand up with me, and find the right place spatially in relation to me - expressing the right mix of distance and proximity - I used her exact language, that she had talked about in terms of her daughter's needs.

She moved around in order to find find the right place in terms of distance from me, and then she came and stood slightly behind me, so I couldnt quite see her, but at the same time very close to me, just touching.

I felt a wave of emotion, as did she. I felt deeply touched, at this interaction, wordless though it was. I shared that with her. After some time she then moved around in front of me, and reached out her hands. We stood there, holding hands, for a long time. The moment was exquisite, and profoundly moving.

This is the potential of Gestalt therapy, to move with the wave of awareness, with a minimum of words, and a maximum of grace. To explore the edge of contact - what we call 'good contact'. To find the balance between respectful space, and yearned-for closeness. This can lead to such encounters which we term the I-thou.

Such experiences are transformative. Not in some intellectual way, of purely 'insight', or 'understanding', or advice or explanation. This is experiential learning at its best - to actually participate in the Gestalt experiment, as we call it, the 'safe emergency', which is intense enough to be real, to take people to their edge, but not so much as to overwhelm.

Alexis has had a life time issue with her shyness. Now her daughter is also shy. But in her daughter's vulnerability and simplicity, its apparent to Alexis what is needed. This provides the keys for what Alexis needs. An experience of this kind of contact is nourishing and healing, and in adult life, rare. Gestalt offers the opportunity to provide the space for such moments. We can't engineer them, just be present, be with the client, and set up an experiment with the right ingredients.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther