Taking responsibility using Gestalt Therapy

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The word responsibility is so broad and it is so important in our lives, be it because of its presence or its absence. Most of the time we associate the word responsibility with the should dos, the obligations, the following of patterns or accomplishing specific things. All of them are indeed a part of the term and are all very valid, though often abstract. Nonetheless we don’t think enough about how responsible we can be of ourselves or of what we feel. About the responsibility behind the daily decisions that we make, of the things that we choose not to share, how we experience things, what we want, think, do – with ourselves, with others, with our wellbeing, with our life…

Responsibility can be understood in so many ways, but this time around I’m going to stick with the definition of us being responsible. Of what? Of ourselves, through a subjective and personal view. Allowing ourselves to see how favourable taking full responsibility can be.

Gestalt Therapy emphasises that the patient should be responsible. In fact, it is one of the basic principles of this therapy, that also takes greatly into account acknowledging and the present moment.

During therapy it is always shown to the patient, with the intention that it can be integrated and that (s)he can take full responsibility and do things in a different way to what they have been doing until this moment. If we don’t feel responsible, all of the weight falls onto someone else, on the world around us, and so on. This makes it extremely difficult for the patient to get out of the spiral that they are spinning in. The feelings of impotence, frustration and hopelessness will just become stronger.

I’m going to take you through some examples that clearly illustrate how we allow ourselves to fall into having the world satisfy our own needs and how we can improve by taking full responsibility, owning our limitations and seeing what part we are playing in what we do and in what we don’t.

“You should make me happier. Society is to blame. It’s alcohol that makes it all so blurry. Why should I even try if I’m not going to find anything anyway? This is just who I am. You do it because I don’t know. I don’t care, whatever you prefer. He treats me as if I was stupid. I am doing this for your wellbeing. She is so weird. Do you see what you made me do? Yes, yes, whatever you prefer”.

Here is a more empowering version: I don’t feel happy. I don’t share some social values so I will do it in my own way. I don’t want to invest time doing this. One moment, I still don’t know what I want. When I listen to those things I feel silly. I want you to do it in this specific way, even though I am aware that you want to do it differently. It is very different from me and it makes me feel uncomfortable. I have felt insecure and have reacted. I know that this is not good for me and I still want to do it. Love, I don’t feel like doing this today…it bothers me, it hurts me, it worries me…

It is not easy to take full responsibility of myself and everything I do/say/feel, without bringing another person into the equation, without waiting for something external to change, without me doing anything for it to happen.

How is responsibility actually present in our day to day? How do we manage to not be responsible? For example, delegating things that we don’t enjoy automatically, through rebellious acts, waiting for others to say or do something, to see things. Waiting for the external world, the circumstances, our life, to change. Not taking ourselves into account, looking somewhere else and carrying problems, situations and emotions that don’t belong to us. Making excuses and inventing justifications.

What happens when we live our lives in this way and stop truly seeing ourselves? We can even think that it is easier and more comfortable, that we are living in a better way. It can really seem to be like that. If I don’t look closely at what parts of me are in everything around me, I won’t see things that I don’t like or things that make me sad. I won’t have to face my demons and question myself, nor suffer for those things that I dislike. I won’t have to recognise myself in the things I thought belonged to others but that in reality, belong to me.
If I take back control and make myself responsible for whatever happens to me, I open myself to more options. I can be more free to move, choose, act, feel… I can have more power and control over what happens to me, over my life…I also give myself the opportunity to be more aware of myself, of what I face every day, of how am I sabotaging myself, why and I doing it and what are the effects of it in my life.

If we don’t take charge of what corresponds to us, we will have a feeling of impotence, everything will be foreign, because we will be releasing our power and responsibility. We will become dependent of what comes from the outside, as mere observers, without feeling that we can intervene in our own history. Without being aware of our own capacity to change things, to follow our needs, what we want for ourselves and for our wellbeing. From there, we can also favor the wellbeing of those we love. We are obsessed wanting others to change, to do, to act, so that we feel better, when in reality the main key is within us.

One thing that seems so “clear” for us, like responsibility, something that they try to inculcate since we are small, something that has often made us proud, that we have asked for so many times and, specially have asked for, is something that we can always find inside of each of us, influencing us at all levels in a very significant way, with us barely noticing.

It is not easy to change, improve or transform things, but starting to see things from within, will give us clues and valuable information about ourselves. And, with that, we can do all of those things that are needed to be every time a bit better.

It is so important for us to establish limits with others and with ourselves. Being able to establish limits in the relationships with others is something that we are juggling with since we are children. Limits have to do with respect towards ourselves and towards all of those around us. Needs, likes, ideas, opinions, wellbeing, personal satisfaction, self-esteem, security and, in general all of those things that we are is being protected with appropriate limits. Some of those limits can be. Not this, this way, this is not what I need, now is my moment, what I really need is this, not that, and so on.

To be able to establish limits, first we have to be aware of what’s happening to us, of what we want and what we don’t, of what we feel and take full responsibility of all of it. Sometimes, without even realizing it, we give in. And this surrender of our power happens so slowly and in such varied ways, that we end up forgetting that in the beginning it belonged to us and that we want it back.

Setting healthy boundaries requires a deep personal work of awareness and responsibility with ourselves. Awareness in knowing clearly what we want and what we don’t and responsibility to be able to deal with it.

There are so many reasons why we have such a hard time setting limits, but, at the core of all of those explanations that we give to ourselves and that may seem logic, there are always very basic feelings and emotions, such as fear, guilt, shame, and concepts that are so important, like insecurity and self-esteem among others.

It is not an easy task to fully notice when a person or a situation is absorbing us. This is why it is so important to pay close attention to the sensations that his leaves us with. That well that feels so empty after having said yes to what we didn’t want to, after obeying or not saying anything, after carrying with something that is not truly ours, that we feel that doesn’t resonate with us. It is an unpleasant feeling that becomes bigger in our core, in every part of our body and that gives us information that something is definitely not okay. It will be then a good moment to stop and think where are we stuck and how can we go beyond it so that we clearly see our limitations in setting boundaries.

Being able to establish relationships with others, by putting ourselves in the first place, allows us to be more in contact with our true needs and to feel better in our own skin, because we take full responsibility of our own wellbeing. From there on, we can establish relationships that are more genuine, healthy and satisfactory.