A central concept within theories, systemic and existential.

The crux of family systems theory and the direction of the growth-work therein is we are born into a family system of rules, regulations, limitations and patterns. Let’s call these “forces.” We’re nearly blind to these forces by default, but we feel them. When we feel them, we tend to attribute them as “laws of nature” rather than “family forces.” Think of a couple who just moved in together: “this is just how it’s done. Why would you do it a different way!?” As opposed to, “this is the way my family did it. Wow, it feels strange to consider doing it differently.”

So the growth-work entails recognizing this beginning state as a family system state (as opposed to a blind state or a universal law state) and then moving away / beyond / or out of the limitations and regulations. The task is to chew on the forces (the beliefs, the patterns, etc) and digest the ones you’d like to keep and spit out the ones that don’t really fit you. In psychobabble terms, this movement is called “differentiation” towards “autonomy.” In the end, you are a *self* whose rules have been choicefully examined and moderated to fit your flowing life. You’re not operating on rules that may have been passed from generation to generation and you’re not restricted in your range of behaviors because someone else believed you shouldn’t behave that way. Your beliefs are yours. You are you.

I’ll do a quick contrast with “emotional reactivity.” This is where a person may *appear* differentiated but, upon closer examination, they’re largely doing the opposite of what the family forces were. This person is not differentiated because they’re still operating in relation to the family forces, even though the relation is opposition. “Wow, you are so different from your family” as opposed to “you are you.”

That’s growth from a ‘family systems’ perspective.

Now to existentialism.

There is a root fact that we inherit a ‘self’ without asking for one.  (Not to mention we have to figure out how to operate it and they can be pretty complex and difficult.)

We appreciate this ‘self’ in varying amounts (self-esteem) while we also know, on a very deep/core/mostly-unconscious level, that we’re moving uncontrollably towards death – the loss/end/destruction of this ‘self.’  We can’t stop this movement.  It’s happening.  It’s happening while I type this and it’s happening while you read this.

The way I visualize this concept is as follows: the “root fact” is at the bottom. It’s cement. It’s the base. You can’t go further down than that. It’s a brutal fact and it’s arguable we can’t fully accept it because of the amount of terror that’s actually involved. What we do in defense is we live “above” the cement. We get involved with things and we “forget” about the root fact. We forget we only have a certain amount of time here. We forget about the aloneness inherent in dying.  We forget about the burden of shaping our lives on a moment-to-moment basis.  We forget about the odds that no one will remember us in 50, 100, 200 years. Like we never existed. We float and dance above the cement.

To continue the visualization, there are ‘forces’ above the cement also, a lot like a tornado but a ‘fun tornado,’ if you will.  While we “forget” about the root fact, we float and dance inside the winds of the fun tornado, not minding how we’re above the cement.  We swirl around. We float and dance.  There are so many people swirling, floating and dancing in the winds of the fun tornado – it’s very normal.  That’s all well and good but sometimes the tornado’s winds shift. There’s a quick gust downwards and the forces grab a person and violently slam them against the cement.  Violently, I said.  Everything is different now.  It might pick the person back up and put them back in the current of winds (concussed and shaken) or it might leave the person laying on the cement.  This gust could be anything – the death of someone close to you, the loss of a tooth, a car accident, an illness, a movie, a bad grade on a paper, anything – anything that touches you near the core root fact.

Now growth from an existential perspective.

Lara Perls said, “your feet are for grounding and your hands are for connecting.”  Using the cement and fun tornado analogy, we want people standing on the cement and having fun with their hands.  We don’t want people floating above the cement; they risk getting violently slammed down.  And we don’t want people huddling or crouching scared on the cement; they’re missing out on the joy of living.  In addition, we don’t want people’s feet to actually BE cemented.  In tai chi, you learn how to move from step to step while staying rooted to the center of the earth.  Same here.  We want people to be able to move, in a grounded way, on the cement – even dance on the cement. But we’re grounded.  We’re rooted.  And we’re living with meaningful joy.

One of the reasons systems theory and existentialism fit so beautifully together is the “differentiation” towards “autonomy”.  In the opening paragraphs about family systems, I described that movement away / beyond / or out of the original family’s limitations and patterns.  In the existential paragraphs, it’s the growing movement from floating with the gusts of the fun tornado down to the cement.  It’s the same movement, the movement towards autonomy – ‘selfing’ – growing – developing – towards the deepest, fullest, most grounded, most defined “you are you.”  A developed self can recognize family of origin forces for what they are and can recognize culture for it is – and can see ‘self’ as embedded within, AND separate from, these forces.  That’s the concept of autonomy, crucial in both family systems and existential theories.

I like connecting dots. Two more.

This concept is very relevant in the Buddhist idea of “attachments,” the recognition of attachments for what they are and the ability to let them go and let them move.

This is also very relevant in Mark 7:6,7, “These people honor me with their words, but I am not really important to them.  Their worship of me is worthless. The things they teach are only human rules.”

The attachments, the human rules, the forces, the tornado winds: same idea.  They’re all descriptions of the value of the movement towards the fullest and truest version of yourself, to let go of the things that are not you and to embrace and utilize your true self.

Jesus, Perls, Einstein – Mission Statement – First Post, Disclaimer

I’m wondering if there is value in starting a blog.

If so, I don’t know for whom the value would be – current clients, potential clients, casual readers, other gestalt therapists, myself, other therapists who want to learn more about gestalt principles, etc.  Truthfully, I am not sure if I have a preference of a target audience.  One of the tenets of gestalt therapy is ‘creative pre-commitment,’ the idea of moving one’s energy into a space, having beneficent intentions, without an attachment to the form of the outcome. (This part of gestalt is consistent with parts of yoga.)  I am beginning this blog with this creative pre-commitment.  We will see what shape it takes.

As a personal disclaimer and as an expression of my resistances to starting this blog, I don’t consider myself a strong writer.  I consider myself a strong therapist, thinker, teacher, believer, creative to a fault, but not a strong writer.  I’m often disappointed in the flow of my written words once I look back at them.

There’s also a professional/legal disclaimer at the bottom of this post, to which I plan to point for every subsequent post.  There are lawyers in the world.

I also plan to listen to music whenever I want to get the writing juices flowing.  I’m going to list this music in a jocular way as “This Piece Pairs Best With: [song].”  (Performance Enhancers were used in the creation of that last sentence: jocular / thesaurus).  This piece, for example, pairs best with: Eluvium – New Animals From the Air.

A mission statement seems like a fitting first post.

Gestalt Development Center, and all of my movements as a human being, rest on three pillars from three heavy-hitters.

John wrote how Jesus redundantly asked Peter, “do you love me?”  Then, when Peter kept affirming he did, Jesus kept repeating the instruction, “then feed my sheep.”   It is a brief, circular, redundant passage which drives the point home.  Secondly, Fritz Perls said, “all we’re ever doing is backfeeding,” when he was summing up gestalt therapy in a very tiny nutshell.  I love the word-connection of ‘feeding’ and the overlap of a deep, religious mission with the technical application of a complex therapy theory.  I am much more familiar with the works of Jesus and Perls than I am of Einstein and, honestly, I don’t even know if this is an accurate Einstein quote (didn’t Abraham Lincoln do a facebook status about being frustrated with all the misquotes?)  The quote that I’ve seen attributed to Einstein is, “in the end, I hope you can say you’ve given more to the world than what you’ve taken from it.”  Those are the three interlocking pillars.

There is a ‘giving’ and ‘feeding’ component to my work and this makes me feel very good about the beautiful moments I have with my clients.  I truly believe when gestalt therapy is done well, both the client and the therapist receive very rich rewards, whether these rewards are framed for the afterlife or whether they are emphasized in the immediate, psychological growth of the people involved.  There is absolutely no need for a gestalt therapist to have a religious connection to doing the work (Perls was an avid atheist and would describe the neurosis of a person who ‘always believed God was looking at them’) but, for me, it does.  There is also no need for a client to have a religious goal in therapy but, for some clients, it does.

As far as future posts, two offshoots of these thoughts can be (1) the overlaps and contrasts of gestalt therapy and Rogerian therapy.  Both have the common value of ‘backfeeding’ but, when other ingredients  like energy flow, horizontalization and systems theory are added, gestalt can sometimes have a different emphasis of what is backfed.  (2) Why both participants (therapists and client) benefit from gestalt therapy – an examination of growth, authenticity and the contact boundary.  There’s a good chance those will be future posts for the next time I sit down and put some music on.

Thanks for reading.  Take care and best wishes.

– Kip

[ [ Professional/legal/semi-jocular-but-also-serious disclaimer:  Consult with a qualified professional before you actually make any choices or take any action in your life.  These posts are not medical advice and should not be used as such. These posts are not a crisis hotline. If you are in crisis, please do not comment for assistance – please call 911 or your local county crisis number.  If you are a client of the Gestalt Development Center, your work is special to us and we hold your privacy dearly. You are more than welcome to interact with these posts online but please understand this publicly announces your affiliation with us and we are, as such, not liable for breaching your confidentiality. Confidentiality is our professional duty to keep, not yours. You can do as you wish.  ] ]