I am half way through my training to become a Focusing Trainer with the Focusing Institute, New York. Focusing comes from philosopher and psychologist Gene Glendin, who died very recently. After making the process of Focusing teachable to many people he went on to develop a philosophical method which he called Thinking at the Edge (TAE) TAE is far too complex for me to discuss here but Watched a short series of youtube videos yesterday where Gene says some very striking things about identify which are also resonating with ‘New World, New Self’ by Philip Shepherd, which I am currently reading.
Gene says that people are ‘interaction’, while Philip says,
Who you really are is the part of you that can centre itself in the energy of the present, which will always be unknowable in any objective way.’ (New Self, New World)
Gene explains that you can see that you are interaction because when you focus by yourself it is different than focusing with someone else, when you do it alone you typically experience more self blame and judgement, can intervene and improve the quality of the self-focusing interaction by reminding yourself to keep it company. But it is different when it is with a partner. Also, he says, with different people we are actually different, each person we know has an idea of part of who we are. The listener or therapist is the type of person who would be likely to elicit a good interaction with a person vulnerably laying out their difficulties. Conversely, Shepherd explains,
‘When we become defensive in social situations…we are defending ‘who we know ourselves to be’ from the implications of a present attack. When our self-definition is under attack we feel we are under attack. We confuse the two. And because they become confused, we feel that when we protect the definition, we are protecting the self‘.’ (New Self, New World)
So the therapeutic relationship cannot work if we are defensive or if our therapist appears to be a threat. It is not a habit that we will close off, but a fact, unless we have a very conscious relationship with our actual self – which is unlikely if we are in therapy. When as listeners we create the possibilities for an authentic interaction we are helping the speaker to become authentic, when we offer trust and integrity we are making that a possibility for the other. Therefore, in a therapeutic or learning context, when we provide the right conditions for a relationship we provide the opportunity for change in the other person, because the other person (and ourselves) are interaction.
Gene explains everywhere there is Implicit Intricacy, by which he means, the living process is not static in anything, in plants, animals and humans – any theory or idea is wrong if you believe it, but the theory can be helpful if you think it may be helpful. Life is not make up of theoretical units, or units but is a complex interaction moving forward. Philip notes that,
‘In order to be present you have to appreciate that the present is an unknown… the ‘known self’ being a duplicate, doesn’t belong to the present. In fact its astatic construct can only survive if it it protected from the unwanted vagaries of experience’ (New World, New Self)
So be interested in ourselves and each other so we can be surprised and interested in what can open up. Anything given more time and attention is more spacious and detailed. The interaction between people is primary, while the two people’s experience of what seemed to happen after the event is secondary, after an interaction we might have different perspectives but there has been only one interaction. Gene, unlike Carl Rogers, argues that if the listener is able to offer the three conditions of Person Centred Therapy, unconditional and authentic positive regard, the process is therapeutic whether or not the speaker identifies them as being present at the time.
So today find a moment to consider if you are being the kind of interaction in which someone could flourish, then you are offering the chance for change regardless of whether the speaker can perceive it or not. It would eventually have an effect on them. If you are not enjoying an interaction ask yourself, are you being the kind of interaction in which you can flourish, I’m guessing not, better to have a pause and get help before continuing. All of this is clearly within a context of authentic, unconditional positive regard and having the intention to connect.