The following article is a combination of my experience and insights following the Gestalt Psychotherapy Foundation Year. It is likely to become richer and modified as my studies and experiences continue.
To look into another’s eyes and see being seen, feel being seen, and hear I am seen as who I am in that very moment has formed the catalyst of acceptance. I am enough to be seen by another even when I am messy, jumbled and weak because that is OK. Their embodied acknowledgement is like water to the fire of intense doubt as I look back into their eyes and in doing so, I feel that my eyes also exist. And by sensing into our mutual existence, I am soothed by the common humanity.
I see you see me. In experiencing another we experience ourselves
Ruella Frank, Ph.D
Our societal lives are confined by restraint of genuine, unpalatable emotion of the kind that makes us burst into tears, lose our breath and vent despair. Instead of encouragement to feel into the experience right now, we are told how to be right now. As a child we may have been told to “stop crying”, as a teenager grounded for expressing our frustration, and as an adult shunned for fighting one’s corner.
The expectation of what one should be wraps itself tightly around how it is to be in this very moment. A smile is plastered onto the face as we reply “I am great, thank you” to the almost rhetorical question of “How are you?” - temples tightening, neck muscles clenching as we stuff down the heartfelt response of “I’m trying to hold it together but I’m struggling”.
Such has been the consistent effort to structure society and family to accepted codes of being, it takes many ingredients for our genuine selves to emerge from the shadow of polite society. Yet I truly believe that once one has had exposure to regular, genuine contact imbued with acceptance of what is, it becomes possible to show one’s true face in a loving, awareness filled manner.
Here a few questions to consider:
Does this person make me feel safe?
Will they accept what I don’t like about myself?
Can they look at me when I feel I don’t deserve to exist?
Are they prepared to challenge me for my own growth?
Can they listen to me?
In relationships where all of the above have existed, I experience an acceptance that takes root in the depth of my being. I feel that I exist as I am now, not what I ought to be. The sense of what makes me ‘me’ is so intertwined to the relationship with the other that without relationship, I lose my uniqueness and how it is to be ‘me’. Contact with another is so important, the absence of it through solitary confinement is used as a punishment. It is well-documented how children survive and thrive through stable, nurturing contact with a caregiver. As such, it becomes imperative that there is a relationship in one’s life that embodies mutual co-existence because the ability to heal our shame, pains, and life’s anxieties is dependent on how we are received in a relationship whereby we inch closer to genuinely expressing.
The self-sufficiency of our culture and many healing modalities, including yoga, often makes the other redundant and instead focusses on the relationship to oneself and higher self (e.g. God, Divine, Gaia). Our earthly relationships are deemed superfluous for essential growth to take place. This has left us in the predicament of wanting to go it alone, and yet craving to be witnessed and valued by the world. In my experience, as I retreat further inwards in search of the answer, the less I am ‘in touch’ with what is around me. At times this can be essential and necessary, yet the ability to contextualise has been lost: the engrained value of self-sufficiency quite easily moves inwards as the normal way of being and I feel increasingly isolated. Self support is seen as supporting oneself entirely. If I were to say that from aged 18 you were to learn everything through being alone and without guidance, you would think me mad. Yet, we tell ourselves that we must learn all the ways to support ourselves with only ourselves.
As my dearest Gestalt teacher explained “to self-support is to be able to ask for support and receive the support offered.” Using the learning analogy, this is acquiring new knowledge and skills through others which is something we are all comfortable with. Yet, the ability to ask and receive support is not so welcome for a variety of reasons, most of which are linked to societal expectations and past experiences.
Not all the people we encounter will be prepared to see us, nor will we be able to see all the people encounter. Yet there is always a relationship out there, including group or individual therapy, that is waiting to heal our long concealed scars and encourage us to reveal our true face so that we embody our wholeness, warts and all.