Case#45 - How to deal with misery

Betty wanted to talk about her fear. She couldn't identify what it was about, or what it was connected to.

But before I acquiesced to her focus, I wanted to know more about her. I asked about children, marriage, work. She had recently resigned from a job she had held for 20 years, and was in a transition period. Her family life was settled and secure, her daughter beautiful and talented, and her husband loved her.

But as I looked at her, she didn't really look happy. I asked her if she was happy, and she said, no. Everyone thought she had the perfect life, the perfect family. I asked what was wrong.

She said - “my husband loves me more than I love him. I am secure with him, but it was an arranged marriage and he is ‘not my type’.” I asked what her type was: a strong character, a clear personal sense of vision in life, and good taste. He was none of those.

This impacted me, and I took some time to take this in. The great life, but something essential is missing. I looked again into her eyes, and could see how miserable she was. I asked her how old she was - 44 . I asked if she would spend the next 44 years with him, she replied, yes.

So that was clear, her choice was to be there. But the cost of that was some kind of basic disjuncture in her sense of connection in relationship. Some kind of basic need for passion, meeting, and synergy wasn't there. She had settled for a superficially happy life, but somewhere it didn't meet a more profound need.

In Gestalt, we are interested in choice, and this is understood in terms of existential notions. Life throws us into different situations, but we always have choices. Our sense of imprisonment comes not through external circumstances, but by forgetting our moment by moment choicefulness.

With choice also comes consequences, and a life well-lived is one where we take responsibility for the consequences, rather than try to blame others, or spend our lives wishing we were somewhere else.

This was very much what Betty faced. Her choices were clear, and so were the consequences. But she was miserable, so unless she wanted to remain this way, something had to change.

What was available were different choices within the structure she decided she would stay with

I spent quite some time just being with her, seeing her misery, acknowledging that's how it was. This is the relational space, where nothing has to change, there are no agendas, and the focus is on being, being with, and recognition. This is also known as the I-Thou.

After this, I moved to the ‘what's possible’ question. To go there at the start would simply mean some kind of ‘solution’ to a situation which in a sense didn't have a solution. But after being present for a while in that being space, we could then explore together other choices and perspectives.

I asked if he knew her misery, if she showed it to him like she did me. She said no. So I shared an incidence from my own life, where my partner revealing her misery about something had a huge impact on me. Because he loved her, this could be the start of some kind of change.

I pointed out that he would never be her ‘type’, but that if he was motivated, he could take a few steps in that direction. The ball was firstly in her court to be able to communicate to him her authentic self and needs. The challenge was to do so in a way which would produce positive results.

I suggested she ask him to look into her eyes for 10 minutes, without conversation, and show him her misery. After that, she could communicate to him some small changes that she would like him to start with, that would be meaningful for her.

But this was not necessarily the solution to her unhappiness. The fact was, she was in a situation where her needs were not getting met. So I suggested to her that she actively explore both her creativity, and some kind of spiritual practice. These could help her find a core of happiness which was not dependent on her external environment.

To suggest such things as some kind of rote solution is not what Gestalt supports. But in the context of a deep sense of contact with personal stuckness, such possibilities become personally meaningful, and there is a profound motivation to move in that direction. If there is an interest, the person can be helped by practical support - a conversation about how it might happen, and the range of options.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther