The Courage to Join
‘I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow’.
A Poison Tree by William Blake 1794
In the poem, without addressing the anger the resentment grows stronger, ‘And I water’d it in fears’ and ‘I sunned it with smiles’, the speaker cultivates the anger/tree to destructive effect. Therapy is the communication of intimate thoughts & feelings in words to others who can hear and accept them. Disturbance arises when communication is blocked or suppressed.
A symptom, whilst already a form of communication, is encapsulated, somatic, behavioural – it is indirect, unclear, hoping to be translated and understood. We crave to be understood uniquely and paradoxically to belong. We need to have our differences validated and through challenge to be authentically accepted. The individual and the group exist in a complex power relationship of constraining and enabling. Contradictorily it is in this complexity that people feel whole, in being able to stay with the intricate convolutions of relationship the group member heals. Individuals grow from groups.
Belonging to the human group in the sanctity and safe conditions of the therapy room allows reparation. It is in relationship that most of us have been hurt and in relationship through the human laboratory of the group we may find the courage to be vulnerable and face ourselves. A psychotherapy group is a gathering of people who sit with the truth of their being and talk about it. Like a sacrificial crucible or recycling centre, if experiences are brought with sincerity, any suffering or confusion, identification or old belief can be examined and left behind. Every thought or feeling is a visitor, you just invite it to sit with you and allow curiosity to arise. If you can stay present, underneath the curiosity is the wisdom. Each emotion is a devout servant who can reveal an incredible amount of wisdom when thoroughly examined by oneself and others.
Each group member senses the group in their requirements of attachment and separation, a corollary of the individual and social paradox that cannot be resolved. They then express this connection verbally in narrative themes in the group. Each group member speaks on behalf of the group as a whole as well as on behalf of him or herself. As previous patterns of relating constellate inevitably in the group, the group repeats history and creates a unique opportunity for an alternative outcome. The present can be different from the past.
Our life stories are designed to dissolve our defences, they are like armour. In the group each member can sit with their distinct response to the shared issue, and allow their awareness to permeate their bodily reactions and thoughts. This helps let go of the past, otherwise defences operate at a very deep level and we react to others in unconscious ways often with prejudice and judgement. At the heart of this endeavour is kindness, learning to be compassionate with oneself. When you are tender inside everything rests, confusion, fear, everything that was perturbing the system rests, you have restored yourself to your true nature. You are in and of the human group.