TWO MAJOR ASPECTS OF GESTALT THEORY
1. The Cycle of Awareness
The circleÂ representsÂ theÂ self/the person/the organism. Outside the circle is the environ-ment, i.e., everything which is not the person. The perimeter of the circle represents the boundary between the self and the environment, often referred to as the ego-boundary.Â In physical terms this can actually be the skin; psychologically it is a personâs sense of him or herself.
A healthy ego-boundary is firm, yet pliable. Such a person would have a clear sense of who he or she was, self-belief and the ability to relate well to others.
An unhealthy ego-boundary could be:-
a) overly permeable. Such a person may appear to be compliant, too eager to please, easily influenced. He or she would not have a strong sense of themselves, and often lose that sense altogether in a close relationship.
b) too rigid and impenetrable. Such a person may appear inflexible.Â He or she might not relate well to others, indeed may find it impossible to enjoy a close, intimate relationship with someone.Â There is no space to grow and develop as a person.
We need to remember that thoughts and feelings actually generate energy. Energy is real. You may not necessarily be able to see it or smell it, but it exists nevertheless.
So, if we decide that we want something, energy is produced to help us obtain that something; and that energy needs to be expressed, out from the body and on to the environment in some way (just speaking is one way!), otherwise, the energy stays trapped inside the body.
1.Â Sensation dryness in the mouth
2.Â Awareness realising one is thirsty
3.Â Mobilisation deciding to have a drink and going towards it
4.Â Action actually getting the drink
5.Â Final contact drinking (the organism is in contact with the environment)
6.Â Satisfaction thirst is quenched
7.Â Withdrawal – a kind of limbo, state of homeostasis orÂ balance, before another Â Â Â Â Â need emerges
The clockwise journey around the Cycle of AwarenessÂ represents a healthy flow of energy, generated in the organism and finally expressed out on to the environment.
The example given is a physical one for simplicityâs sake, but the same pattern exists for emotional needs.
However, in unhealthy functioning, âblocksâ can occur at each point. These âblocksâ or âboundary disturbancesâ or in Freudian terms, âdefence mechanismsâ, interrupt the natural flow of having our needs met.
1. Â Desensitisation: perhaps as a result of abuse or neglect, we numb ourselves to pain and discomfort, become stoical.
- Deflection:like denial. We refuse to be aware of feeling that might be painful
3.Â Introjection: instead of deciding what we want and going for it, we are stuck with what we think we ought to do, or must not do, or how we think we should feel
4.Â Projection:attributing a feeling or behaviour perhaps to someone else and not recognising it in oneself.
5.Â Retroflection: emotion, such as anger, is bottled up inside instead of being expressed. Doing to yourself what you would like to do to other
6.Â Egotism: instead of feeling satisfaction at a job well done, we go over and over it, Â analysing everything to death
7.Â Confluence: not being able to let go. Losing oneself in a relationship.
- The Five Level Model of Neurosis
The circle in the middle represents the core self, the real authentic person, before he or she developed layers of defences for self-protection, like an onion has layers. The task of therapy is to remove the layers, like peeling that onion, but,Â ofÂ course,Â slowly,Â gradually, carefully. Those defences were developed out of necessity, even for survival, so they need to be acknowledged for their original usefulness and respectfully laid to rest when their obsolescence is finally realised.
a) The outer layer – called the clichÃ©-layer, consists of socially accepted behaviour, meaningless small talk, clichÃ©d greetings, e.g.,
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â âHello, how are you?â
âFineâÂ (though your heart is breaking!)
Some families only communicate at this level.
b)Â The role-layer – We act as if we are only whatever our role is,Â e.g., helpless victims or born losers, a powerful boss, a devoted parent, a hard-working provider, the trouble-maker, the diplomat. So, if the role is taken away through bereavement, redundancy, divorce, children growing up and moving away, many people feel a loss of identity, because the real self is so buried; fortunately it is retrievable.
c)Â The impasse-layer – In therapy, there comes a point when a client feels âstuckâ, resistant, very anxious, confused, uneasy, uncomfortable. It is an important stage in therapy, because the client is close to catharsis.
NoviceÂ therapistsÂ oftenÂ feelÂ helplessÂ andÂ frustratedÂ atÂ this point, particularly where they see therapy as a mainly cognitive activity. Experienced therapists will welcome it and actively work towards it. In this layer, we begin to experience two aspects of ourselves locked in conflict, the healthy part which wants to complete the unfinished business, and the less healthy part that wants to avoid the suffering (anything for a quiet life).
d) The implosive-layer/death-layer -Â is the paralysis of opposing forces.Â We pull ourselves together, contract our muscles, implode, because we dare not let go, in case something awful happens, like going berserk. If a client can tolerate this awful feeling, âstay with itâ, he/she will eventually explode.
e)Â This is the catharsis, to the explosive or authentic-layer
There are four types of explosion:Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â i) Anger,Â Â Â ii) Grief,Â Â Â iii) Orgasm,Â Â Â iv) Joy
So the person reaches his or her true self, an authentic person, feeling what he or she really feels and expressing it fully.