An Interactive Group Story

Interactive GroupThis is the story of Sharon’s work in one of my Interactive Groups. Sharon is a recovering alcoholic who had been sober for over a decade with the help of AA and therapy. In that time, she had worked through enough of her issues that she was not in much emotional pain. She was a successful management consultant, had some close friends, and an active social life.

Her major unresolved problem was lack of intimacy. She tended to keep people at a distance and avoided a committed love relationship. Since her marriage ended many years before, she hadn’t allowed a man close.

We all want to be liked; we all want closeness with others.  To express these desires directly to other people puts us in a vulnerable position. We fear that they might not reciprocate, or they might even reject us or put us down. So we develop defenses against our own desires and the accompanying vulnerability. In an Interactive Group, I encourage people to reach out to connect with those group members they are drawn to—to take the risk to make themselves vulnerable in this way.

How an Interactive Group Helps

The group helps people to become aware of their defenses against vulnerability and risk. If they defend by being nonchalant, someone in the group will probably point it out. If they defend by being judgmental and arrogant or by being distant and cold, they will probably get feedback about it. This gives people a chance to discover how they are defending against their desires, and to try out different behavior.

When Sharon joined the group, she had a tendency to defend against her softness and openness. She didn’t feel safe to show her desire for other people for fear of being rejected or shamed. Instead she adopted an internal stance of arrogance and judgment. “There’s something wrong with you. I’m not sure I’ll let you in.” It was a way for her to feel better about herself.  She also pretended not to need others. “I don’t care. I don’t need you.”  She wasn’t aware of these attitudes and rarely expressed them, but it would leak out in little ways, and they kept her from being vulnerable.

As the group developed, Sharon got feedback from time to time when her judgmental style would leak out. She was very aware and dedicated to her growth, and she had a courageous way of acknowledging difficult things about herself without being defensive. So when she got this feedback, she was not only willing to acknowledge that she had been judgmental but also to explore what she was defending against. She often discovered that hidden beneath the judgment was a desire to make contact with the person.

For example, in one early group, Jill was telling the group about her anger and desire to pull away from a friend. When Sharon pushed Jill hard not to do that, I encouraged Sharon to explore why she was doing this. She realized that she saw Jill as doing something similar in group, and she didn’t want Jill to pull away from her. When she told Jill this, Jill took in the feedback, but then Jill also told Sharon that Sharon had told her in an aggressive manner that made Jill pull back.

Knowing that she felt good about Jill, Sharon was surprised to hear this, but she took it seriously and became interested in changing this way of relating. I encouraged Sharon to show her positive feelings directly to Jill, and she was able to express some affection in a soft, open way. This enabled the two of them to make warm contact.

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