Change your Attitude, Heal your Soul, Balance your Life. Uplevel YOUR consciousness. Find your way HOME through MAAPS.

Gestalt Therapy III: Peeling the onion



Continuing to look at mindfulness in relation to Gestalt therapy, with a brief application to parenting and mediation – as you read through this blog think about each point in relation to parenting, mediation, and other kinds of relationship building.

What and How questions are focal points of attention, rather than WHY, as in psychoanalysis.

When one person asks “Why did you do that?” about another’s behavior, it is often interpreted by the receiver as a statement concealed as a question. – indicating what the person did was wrong or incorrect.  It can be interpreted as an attack that provokes the other person to defensiveness rather than discovery.

What were you thinking with the right intonation can bring up defensiveness too – so keeping a neutral tone is helpful in the process.

The key is to focus on Discovery, self-awareness, and seeking understanding.

In this way Gestalt process is similar to the mindfulness process – it is a process of discovery and connection rather than right/wrong interpretation.

Furthermore, and more importantly from my perspective, Why takes you into your head and into the realm of intellectualism which removes you from  a place of sensory awareness – knowing.  The question Why takes a person out of the now and into a past or future time period.

It gives a person a false sense that they are working through something.

It may result in an insight but if that insight is not connected to the person in a form of an aha experience it doesn’t produce an actual change in their cognitions or behavior.  I have often heard individuals say I know that I shouldn’t do that but I do anyway or I know why I do that but it doesn’t stop me.  Those are Why insights.  They are interesting intellectually but not useful in  allowing integrated change.

Avoiding interpretation on the part of the facilitator is a central rule in the work.

The facilitator or Gestalt therapist endeavors to offer opportunities for the individual to become more intimately aware of his senses and to investigate and interpret their meaning personally.

Awareness is a function of one’s personal value.   By avoiding interpretation, the facilitator avoids applying his or her own bias to the situation at hand.

One can use questioning about how and what to help to delve into the unfinished business – or figure as well as the ground to help allow for paradigm shifting.  But what it Means is a function of that person and his relationship with himself and so is best found through his own intrapersonal (ego, id, superego, observing ego – or spirit, mind, body awareness) interpretation.

Another important focal point of attention is Anxiety. Here Anxiety is defined as a frame in time; it is conceived of as leaving the present, not being in the here and now.

It is a function of feeling out of power or powerlessness – One can only have power over a situation in the present, not in the future or the past, so focus in the present moment.

Perls also described holding the breath as a central component in anxiety; and breathing as a beginning force of accelerating working through resistance.  I view holding the breath as a way of refusing to continue living – in that moment – as the breath is a sign and symptom of life.  It is also a way that we can embed the issue into our consciousness in a stuck way.

Other essential metaphors are eating and digestion; these are treated as metaphors for what we do with every dimension of experience.  Do I bite into something, chew it up thoroughly, spit out what I don’t like, and assimilate what I find nourishing and healthy, or do I “swallow whole” what others have told me to whether I like it or not? (introjection).

When working with dreams in Perls’ view, every dream is an existential message about some important aspect of our existence.

Gestalt therapy works with a dream by asking the dreamer to identify with each aspect of the dream.  BE it, look at the dream from the perspective of each aspect of the dream; describe oneself as this element of it and act it out, in order to connect with and re-own disowned parts of our own experience and personal power.

Perls spoke of peeling the onion – these are the layers of inauthentic self:

On the surface is the cliché or phony surface layer – how one relates in the world that does not include their self in an authentic way.  Below that is the roles and games layer in which we pretend to be what we want others to think we are.

Underneath that is the anti-existence layer or phobic avoidance layer or what I think of as the layer of impasse – where a person retreats into non-awareness. This is an emptiness of games but it isn’t an awareness layer.

Next comes the implosive layer, where there may be a feeling of very tight, suppressed affect, where a feeling of tightness and tenseness pervades the room. This can feel very flat almost like a deadness.

Underneath that is the deepest layer where one encounters one’s authentic self.  It is the explosive layer, in which the person erupts into anger or grief or  joy and aliveness.

Here eruptions into tears and anger or a kundalini rising experience is common.  Often this is into the opposite of the person’s characteristic modality.  Someone who always cries contacts and expresses the underlying resentment and anger; or someone who always gets angry contacts long-suppressed grief.

In looking at the Gestalt process and peeling the layers of the onion of authenticity to get to authenticity – I see a correlation between that process and that of mindfulness paradigm shifting and figure/ground perception.  Authentic behavior is mindful, self-aware behavior.  It is free of habit reaction patterns and survivor scenarios and is placed in the time frame of the here and now.

The facilitator in Gestalt therapy is using various techniques and focal points in order to offer opportunities for learning through non-attached acceptance and neutrality – without biased interpretation.

This is a useful framework for mediation and parenting.

It’s fascinating how nicely it dovetails with a mindfulness approach in areas of relationship building, resilience building, and the development of individual self-confidence through connecting with one’s authentic self.

See you tomorrow.


Author: instinctivehealthparenting4u

Author, Integrative medicine practitioner, psychotherapist. Albuquerque, NM practice, focus on return to balance and the integration of spirit, mind, and body through meditation and mindfulness. Monthly trainings, & professional and personal development coaching. Find more on my website Read my books, Turning NO to ON: The Art of Parenting with Mindfulness, Turning ME to WE: The Art of Partnering with Mindfulness (, for increased internal wellness and alignment with your spiritual purpose, and to activate joyous love and light, bg

5 thoughts on “Gestalt Therapy III: Peeling the onion

  1. Pingback: Para mim, o id ego e superego são fundamentais para se entender a mente humana

  2. Pingback: leadership and inner strength of will « InstinctiveHealthParenting4u's Blog

  3. I wish to show thanks to you just for rescuing me from this issue. After browsing through the world wide web and seeing notions which were not helpful, I thought my life was gone. Existing minus the strategies to the issues you have resolved by means of your entire short article is a crucial case, and the ones that could have adversely affected my career if I hadn’t encountered your blog post. That know-how and kindness in controlling every item was precious. I am not sure what I would’ve done if I had not come across such a subject like this. It’s possible to now look forward to my future. Thanks so much for this professional and sensible help. I won’t hesitate to endorse your web page to any individual who should have guidance on this problem.

  4. Pingback: American ideals, Independence Day, and the Elevation of Consciousness | InstinctiveHealthParenting4U

  5. Thanks for the clear explanations on the layers of contact. You really helped with my school work

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s