It was not my first group. I had started coming to these weekends some months ago as well as doing some individual sessions. I started because I felt a lack of fulfilment in my life, despite my achievements.
As well as having a sense of nervous anticipation each time I came, I had begun to enjoy the groups. I wondered what this one would bring. Something always happened here, although it was never predictable. As the group assembled, I was pleased to see people I had met before and was curious about the new faces. I was especially pleased when Joe arrived, someone who had been on the weekend before last, with whom I had a particular rapport. I greeted him enthusiastically, but his greeting, though polite, seemed a little offhand. When I listened to him in the go-round, I could see he was very preoccupied with his own things, however this little event grew in significance for me. Something had already begun to happen.
I mentioned this almost in passing in the go-round, and realised I actually felt very tense about it. I was encouraged to stay with the feelings that were coming up for me rather than try to de-fuse the situation, which would be my usual pattern. I resolved to do this.
During the unstructured time, I was very aware of Joe's presence in the room. I began to realise that I was convinced that Joe's 'mood' was my fault. I felt bad and horrible but I didn't know why. I felt I had to do something about it, but didn't know what. I was fearful, anticipating a blast of rage at any minute. I tried clinging to some people, which helped for a while, but I realised this only staved off the feelings temporarily. I realised how I clung to people and things in my life for the same purpose.
I lay down and allowed myself to experience the feelings I feared. My body began to shake, and then waves of fear seemed to pass through me, like a convulsion. I felt tiny, very vulnerable, and in danger of destruction. The facilitator put her hand on my belly, where the convulsions seemed to have their origin. She also placed some cushions around me, in case I should thrash out. I felt as though I was inside my mother and ought to be safe, but I wasn't. I was surrounded by fear and there were great waves of blackness coming at me from nowhere, without warning or explanation. I felt utterly powerless and terrified. I felt I was in danger of disappearing, simply ceasing to exist.
I couldn't bear this state of affairs. I attempted to exert some control over my environment by assuming that I was the cause of the problem. Though onerous, this position offered the hope of 'doing something about it' rather than just feeling intensely helpless and hopeless. So I set about my task of MAKING THINGS BETTER for Mother, a habit I carried forward in life and spread to my other relationships as if it were my destiny. As I lay there on the mattress, I felt as though all the times in my life I had acted out from this experience stood out, as if underlined in Day-Glo highlighter. Someone covered me with a blanket and gave me a teddy bear and held me for awhile. I fell asleep.
There had been a lot of other things going on in the group room at the same time, which had all but faded from my awareness as I went deeper into my own exploration. As I came round now I noticed someone talking avidly to a cushion, with a couple of people with him, whom I presumed were involved in some way. Someone was having a massage, and a couple of people were painting a picture together. Someone was doing a sandplay. In the far corner, someone was making loud guttural noises. I felt drawn towards a classroom situation that was happening up one end of the room where someone was attempting to be teacher to a group of especially spirited 'youngsters'. I joined in and spent some time allowing myself to be a 'totally impossible' schoolchild, something I had never dared to be in real life, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
I felt very aware of my new discovery for the rest of the weekend. I noticed how I felt different in the room, as if I was more able to let people be, and let me BE separate from them. I was able to participate in other people's work in what felt like a very new way for me, from a position of strength and separateness rather than my desperate need to KEEP MOTHER CALM because my life depended on it.
I painted a picture of my experience and put it on the wall. Some people said it looked like something to do with the cord, but that wasn't really the point. For me, just the act of painting had been grounding.
I left the weekend feeling more able to face my own experience rather than spend a lot of effort trying to change it. Because the knowledge of the origin of one of my basic life decisions came up from so deep within me, I felt sure I would carry this through to my everyday life.
Some days later it came to me - I was born in a war zone, there was danger everywhere. My mother whilst carrying me was fearful, and my father was in danger. They were certainly preoccupied with their own things!
The following concepts and aspects of the work are demonstrated in the above illustration:
transference (onto group member)
time to 'stew'
spontaneous body processes
group as rich environment
acceptance rather than change (of one's experience)
varied modes of expression
go-round and unstructured time
© Juliana Brown & Richard Mowbray 1994