Therapy Tuesday: Gestalt Therapy – Part 4 – Perception

The previous posts lead to this one, the same way that a Gestalt therapist helps a client take the pieces and build the picture.

Proximity: Are you in an area where something traumatic happened?

Similarity: Is it the same time of day? Are the same people present?

Continuity: Are things beginning the same as they did when the event happened?

This does paint a picture of how an anxiety attack can be triggered. Even one of these items will raise a warning in our awareness that we are in danger. That fight-or-flight response kicks in, and there goes the anxiety. (Just a side note, the fight part of that response triggers anxiety just as much as the flight side.)

The thing is, it doesn’t matter if it’s only one part of a traumatic event. That one part is enough, and your reaction is completely valid. You are responding to something that happened to you.

Just for example, there was a man I was very afraid of. I will not risk traumatizing anyone by explaining further except to say that I was not harmed by him, but the danger he posed was quite real and sent me into a PTSD tailspin for months. I was barely able to work at that time because of what he had done. 

I saw him at a store one afternoon. The store was not part of what happened. It was morning and the triggering event was early evening. But he was there. I froze in my tracks, my heart racing. He didn’t see me, thankfully. My reaction was not to the present situation. My reaction was to the past. Just as MOST of my reaction to what he did was my past rearing its head. I left the area, putting as much distance as possible between us, but also understanding that my panic was completely valid – no matter how safe I was or how different the situation was.

Our brains are designed to function this way. At one time, these perceptions were what kept our species alive. Did you know that in the distant past, we would have been the ones most likely to survive instead of the ones fighting to function?

A Gestalt therapist will take these perceptions, help you validate them, and then help you step beyond the past with them. It was my experience with this type of therapy which helped me control my reaction when I ran into that man at the store.

I was able to separate the past from the present by looking at proximity, similarity, and continuity. Once I could put myself, mentally, in the present, then I was able to choose a wise course of action. A confrontation would have been bad, but removing myself from that place meant seeking safety, giving myself space to gather my thoughts, and avoiding a situation I didn’t have to be in.

Next week, we’ll get into what happens once you separate the past from the present and how the healing begins.

 

 

 

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