This article is a detailed transcript of a portion of an Interactive session. It gives a real-life feel for the operation of an Interactive Group. Throughout the transcript are my comments about what is going on. This occurred in a long-standing, cohesive group.
Melissa: I’d like to work today, and I don’t really know what to do or where to go. There are times I’ve thought about leaving the group recently because it seems like all of this work uncovers things for me, and then I don’t know how to deal with them. It seems like it gets very painful and I wonder, “Why am I doing this?”
Jay: You don’t know how to…
Melissa: Well it seems like, when people do their work, I’m very touched by it, I’m very into it, but it stirs up things inside of me, and then it takes days for it to go away. And so I don’t know what to do with it. So it feels like I need a break, a rest.
Melissa is voicing dissatisfaction with the group, always an important thing for group members to do. Since she brings it up, we can help her with it. Her empathy and identification with other peoples’ work seems to be triggering access to some of her exiles. However, she doesn’t know how to make therapeutic use of this.
Sharon: You know, when things are stirred up for you, we’d like to know about it. Why don’t you bring it up? You said you don’t know what to do with it. What about us? You’ve said you wanted to be more contactful.
Melissa: Yeah, but people don’t want to hear about this kind of stuff.
Sharon: What else do we want to hear about?
Sarah: That’s not true. I always want to hear about this kind of stuff. [general laughter]
Jay: We’re not talking about “people.” We’re talking about these people, right now. Do you think these people wouldn’t want to hear about it?
Melissa tries to turn the discussion away from her relationships with the people in the group by talking about people in general (although she is probably thinking of people from her past). I keep her focused on the group.
Melissa: I don’t mean to be insulting, but it feels like talking about it wouldn’t get rid of the pain.
Jay: Mm hmm. And that’s what you want to do, get rid of the pain.
Melissa: Yes, of course I want to get rid of the pain. I mean, I’m not trying to push it away. I can go into it, but I get stuck there. And so it doesn’t have value for me.
Sharon: Excuse me, can I say something here? All the pain you had in your life, there was nobody there, to just be with you while you hurt, to be a witness and to care, and to feel… bad because you hurt.
Melissa: That’s true.
Sharon: And just intellectually, don’t you think it would be a healing experience to talk to somebody who understood where the pain came from and who cared about you?
Sharon is suggesting that Melissa could experiment with reaching out to other group members when she is vulnerable and in need. Melissa’s needs were not met when she was a child, so she assumes she won’t get them met now. Sharon is pointing out that if Melissa could reach out and receive understanding and caring from the group members, this would be healing.
Melissa: I don’t have that connection somehow. Unless I go into this very deep place… [confused] I don’t know what I’m saying.
Jay: Go ahead, keep going.
Melissa: There are times when I’ve gone into deep pain here and I’ve felt the connection. I’ve felt the connection… [sounds surprised] I’ve only felt connected to Jay. I’m so afraid of offending somebody here. What I mean is…I just question why I keep doing this. Going into this pain. It’s awful.
Jay: And when you’ve gone there and felt the connection. What’s that been like?
Melissa: [pause] It felt healing, but…it seems like I have to go to this very young place to feel that. [pained]
Jay: To feel a connection?
Melissa sees that she has accessed this exile and received healing from her relationship with me.
Sarah: And if you have to go to the very young place…
Melissa: When I have to go to the very young place, I lose my adult self, and that’s very shameful. When anybody else does it, I think it’s wonderful. But for me it’s very shameful.
She now realizes that there is a lot of shame associated with accessing this early childhood memory. In addition to the pain itself, she seems to feel shame about being this regressed and vulnerable.
Jay: I like the idea that Sharon brought up of being able to connect with people. That’s really the key thing, because when you’ve done that, you felt some healing.
Melissa: And I think that only happens with men. I can make a connection with men. I can make a connection on an adult level with women, but I certainly can’t make a connection if I regress. That doesn’t feel safe to me.
Jay: So it feels like the next step in the work would be to explore where that comes from in your relationship with your mother, so you can work that through…and make connections with…
I am suggesting a specific direction for her work, namely to access the wound that seems to derive from Melissa’s relationship with her mother.
Melissa: When I hear myself talk like this, I make judgments of myself… that I’m this cold person. What’s the matter with me? This kind of thing.
Jay: You get into a lot of self-judgment.
This is an Inner Critic protector trying to keep Melissa away from her pain by judging her.
Melissa: But it’s hard. I can go into that place if I’m touched by somebody’s work, and I’m touched by everybody’s work. But I don’t even want to go there.
John: You’re in a very vulnerable place. Do you want us to be there with you?
Melissa: Umm, yes. I want you to be there, because it seems like the only way I can connect..
John: What do you need from us to help you?
John is reaching out to her and offering contact.
Melissa: And sometimes I resent the fact that I have to be in a vulnerable place to connect with anybody here. I resent that. It feels like I’m putting myself in a weakened position. It’s like I have to grovel, and I don’t feel like groveling.
Because of Melissa’s shame, she can’t hear John at first. She begins to use her usual anger defense against shame.
John: I’m asking what you need from me to help you stay with that feeling. I’m not asking you to grovel, I’m asking what you need to feel safe to stay there.
Melissa: You know what I need. [moved] I need to hear your voice.
Now she recognizes that he is offering to connect with her, and she is moved. When Melissa takes in John’s healing response, it allows her to access her exile more fully.
Jay: Say more.
Melissa: [upset] I need the sound of your voice to know that you’re there.
Jay: When you’re in that vulnerable place.
Jay: So that you know you’re not alone.
Melissa: Right. That’s what feels safe. I need to hear somebody’s voice. I can’t go there if I don’t hear somebody’s voice.
Melissa’s wounds include abandonment and deprivation. Therefore the healing response is for someone to be there with her.
Melissa: And I hear his voice now. I can hear men’s voices. And make a connection with a man. If I hear a woman’s voice it doesn’t feel safe.
Jay: It doesn’t feel safe. What does it feel like if you hear a woman’s voice?
I am moving her toward deeper understanding of the issue with her mother.
Melissa: It feels like they’re going to get angry. [more upset]
Jay: They’re going to get angry at you for being vulnerable?
Sharon: Like a judgment.
Melissa: They’re not going to be there, or they’re…
Sharon: They’re going to make fun of you?
Melissa: No, it’s worse. It’s more traumatic. Like they’re going to go berserk. [very upset]
Jay: You have a sense of going into that place and a woman going berserk on you. See what that stirs up.
Melissa: I had to protect myself somehow. It’s like I’m phobic with bugs. If a bug comes near me I have to [makes brushing away motion]. And that’s what it feels like. It’s going to come at me. [Ducks and protects head]
Jay: Something around your head. Like they’re going to hit you?
Melissa has accessed a memory of physical abuse. This is clearly related to her mother’s rage and physical attack.
Jay: If you get vulnerable, a woman is going to go berserk and hit you in the head…. [Melissa noticeably changes her affect.] What just happened?
Melissa: So I stopped myself from going in there. [pause] I’m getting cold.
Jay: You’re getting cold? Yeah. Feel scared?
Melissa: I guess so. And I’m aware that I’m still not interacting. I’m still not…
Melissa has stayed with her exile as long she can tolerate. The fear connected with the abuse does not allow her to go further. A protector comes up to get her out of her regressed state. Then an Inner Critic starts shaming her.
Penny: You are. You’re fine
Sarah: That’s not true, Melissa. You’re interacting from a very young place.
Melissa: But it feels like…is this the way I have to connect with this group? I have to go to this…
Various members: Today/ For now/ You may have to do that.
Ralph: And this is no worse than any other way of connecting.
By reassuring her that they aren’t judging her for being vulnerable, the group provides another form of healing. Instead of receiving anger or abuse for being vulnerable, she receives caring and support.
Jay: So how is it hearing these voices right now? Does that feel good?
I ask about her experience of receiving this healing response, to see if she is taking it in.
Melissa: It feels good hearing the men’s voices. You know what I mean, it’s like I connect with the voice.
Jay: And where are you right now?
Melissa: It feels very sad right in this place.
Jay: And what about your connections with us right now?
Melissa: I’m not connecting
Jay: What’s stopping you?
Melissa: Cause it’s shameful to be in this place. Very shameful. I resent that I have to be in this place. I want to get angry. I’m angry to be in this place.
She isn’t taking in the healing responses because of her shame. Usually an angry protector comes up to defend against shame, but today she just mentions it briefly and is able to stay with the shame.
Jay: Do you imagine that we feel ashamed of you in this place?
As a way of undercutting the shame, I ask her to focus on the group members, who are feeling accepting of her.
Melissa: No I guess not. I don’t know.
Jay: But in the shame, you close yourself off from us.
Jay: So if you’re willing, I’d like you to look around and just take us in. Just see what you see.
If she can really experience the caring and love from the group members, this will be healing.
[She slowly looks at each person. At the end she becomes very upset]
Jay: What just happened?
Melissa: Oh, this is awful. It felt so painful. I’m taking up a lot of time.
Various members: No you’re not Melissa. This is very important.
Melissa: I was connecting with Ralph and it felt very painful. [crying]
Jay: That’s right. What was painful about connecting with Ralph?
Melissa: I think I got in touch with this yearning. Like a young part of me.
When she looked around the group, she took in that people really cared about her, allowing more healing. She then accessed a young exile who yearns for connection. Though this also brought up shame, with the group’s reassurance, Melissa was able to stay with the yearning.
Jay: Keep going. And what was painful about feeling that yearning?
Melissa: When I’m in that young place, the pain is not having that, not ever having had that feeling, I guess. [more crying]
Jay: Not ever having had that connection?
Melissa: Right. So it’s very painful to have it.
However, along with the yearning comes the pain of her deprivation.
Jay: So would you be willing to go back to Ralph? Just talk to him about the connection you felt.
I move her back to Ralph so she can experiment with connecting with someone from this vulnerable place and receive more healing responses.
Melissa: Ooo [moved] You look a little like my father.
Jay: Tell him what that brings up for you.
Melissa: It brings up the illusion that I could have been protected, that my father could protect me. If he was there. I always had the illusion that if he was there… [sighs]
Melissa’s father abandoned the family early in her life, and she constructed a fantasy father who would have protected her from her mother. This may be why she finds men’s voices soothing.
Jay: Stay with Ralph.
[Melissa tries to stop the work again]
Jay: I don’t want you to stop without having the connection that you need, and it looks like you’re close to having it with Ralph, and I just want you to have that.
I believe that Melissa can gain more from the work, so I encourage her to continue.
Ralph: It feels like you’re close and you want to leave now. Don’t do that to yourself.
Melissa: Now I’m coming up. I need to make a connection with you on an adult level.
She can’t tolerate being blended with the exile any more.
Ralph: Uh huh.
Melissa: [memories come up about her father abandoning her] I always had this fantasy about him, though.
John: What’s your fantasy?
Melissa: That he would come and take me out of that house. [talks about how she almost traced her father as an adult]
Jay: So how’re you feeling with Ralph right now. Tell him.
I move her back to Ralph for continued healing.
Melissa: I’m feeling good with Ralph. But it’s his eyes that remind me of my father. [amused]
Jay: Ralph, how are you responding?
It’s important not to leave Ralph out altogether. Encouraging him to talk about his feeling response can make the interaction more real for Melissa. It can help her see that he isn’t responding like her parents did.
Ralph: I’m feeling very comfortable with you, and really identifying around that longing place. I know that space you’re in right now, because I used to be there. And I’m really glad you’re there. You have us all riveted. I want to kind of reach in and hold you in some way. I want to make your longing safe for you. [takes her hand]
Melissa: That would be nice to be comfortable with that. Instead of so scared of it. [Sighs] So that feels good. [group laughter]
Melissa has taken in even more healing from Ralph, now at a more adult level.
Melissa: OK. Now I’m connecting on an adult level.
Ralph: Even if you weren’t on an adult level, it would feel good. It would feel like a privilege if you let me hold your kid, just with my eyes.
Ralph reminds her that she doesn’t have to feel shame about being young.
Melissa: I find men so much more comfortable than women.
[comments from women in the group and lighter discussion of her childhood]
Melissa: I’m still so worried about everybody. I need to hear form Sarah and Penny. The feeling is that I’m doing something wrong, letting everybody know how much more comfortable I feel with men than with women. I don’t want to alienate anybody.
Melissa issue with her abusive mother is now activated in a lighter way, so she checks out with the women in the group to make sure their responses don’t match her fears.
Sarah: I want to give you some feedback. I felt privileged to witness your work. It felt wonderful to hear you say you felt connected to Jay. It just felt good that you could trust men. It all made so much sense.
[She gets similar genuine support and further discussion from Penny and everyone in group.]
Melissa finds out that the women aren’t feeling anything remotely like what she fears. Their respect and appreciation for her provide further healing.
Melissa has done a deep and powerful piece of healing work.
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