If you are having conflicts (on any level) with your aging parents, the founders of Gestalt Therapy, Fritz Perls and his wife Laura would have concluded that you have “unfinished business” that you need to address in your relationship with your parents. According to this brand of therapy, our goal as individuals is to become whole, but this can only happen by actively engaging in such conflicts. For Gestalt therapists, being whole is your birthright. The two primary questions Gestalt therapists may ask you to help you move toward wholeness are: 1) “What are you feeling?” and 2) “What do you want?”
So, let’s role-play Gestalt style for a few minutes. First, we need to create a “fantasy” about the reality of your conflict, in short, make up a possible conflict you’re having with one or both or your parents. I got it! Our fantasy is that “Mom always liked you best,” right. Many children grow up this reality—real or imagined—that their mom favored one of the other siblings. Alright, so you believe that your mother loves, likes or admires your little brother or sister more than you. Of course, you never said anything to anyone about this, but you have your evidence. So, you resent your mom and that sibling.
Let’s respond to the first question, “What are you feeling?” I’ll pretend to be you and list what I would be feeling if I were you in this situation. What you can do is make your own list of feelings. You may also think of a real inner conflict and list your feelings for that real situation. So, this is what I am feeling:
- Rejected (abandoned)
- Sad (maybe depressed)
- Incompetent (not as smart, good-looking, capable—inadequate)
- Afraid (that I am inadequate and others agree with Mom)
Let’s imagine that I’m 60-years-old, and I’ve felt these things ever since I can remember—perhaps at age 3 when Mom came home with the new baby. I immediately began to feel left out, abandoned, and I’ve spent my entire life competing with my sibling, trying to prove that I’m just as good, but to no avail in my mind. At age 60, I not only feel (a-g), I feel unhealthy because I carry these feelings around as baggage.
“Good work,” Drs. Perls would say that you’re investing in your movement toward wholeness.
Next question: “What do you want?”
- I want to not have all of this shit in my head when I’m helping my mom around the house
- I want to ask my mother if I’m right, but I’m afraid I’ve been right all along
- I want to be happy; I want to be okay even if I’m right about mom
- I want to work on (a-g) in therapy until I get everything (a-c) that I want
“Beautiful work.” You acknowledged openly what you are feeling—thanks for trusting yourself with me. The next step is for you to garner the courage to get what you want: talking with your mother and preparing yourself her response. If you decide to talk to your mom before you go to therapy then be prepared to share with your therapist everything you’ve shared with “yourself” to this point, and keep working on resolving your conflict—finishing your business. If you decide to see a therapist before you talk to your mom (or whomever), then use this new-found intention to finish your business from beginning to end. Write me and let me know what you decide to do and what happened as a result.
Finally, please know that whatever your conflict, there nearly 77-million Boomers living in the US today, and each of us have bags to unpack and business to finish. That’s quite a tribe, wouldn’t you say?