This is my second blog looking at the process of focusing, first developed by Eugene Gendlin and then expanded by Anne Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin into what they call Inner Relationship Focusing. I have personally found this process extremely helpful and have taught it to many of my clients:
Why do I feel like this? What DO I feel?!
Our emotions or feelings can be confusing and at times, overwhelming. They can overtake our whole person and sometimes cause us to do and say things (or not do and say things!) that we later regret. Why do I feel so angry at her when she has apologised and tried to put things right? Why do I feel so sad about leaving my old job when I have a wonderful promotion opportunity? What do I need to say to my boyfriend when he arrives late, yet again?
The process of accessing our felt sense (see previous blog) enables us to make sense of this confusion and perhaps begin to see a way through. This blog looks at the second key part of the process of focusing – that of offering our felt sense “engaged, accepting, inner attention”:
Sit down and get to know it!
This stage involves spending a bit of time to sit down to get to know it better. ” By bringing a kindly and interested curiosity into a relationship with the felt sense, we are open to sensing that which is there but not yet in words. This takes time – it is not instant. It can be a bit like coming into a darkened room and sitting, and as your eyes get used to the lower light, you sense more there than you had before.
We are not trying to change anything, we are simply accepting our felt sense is here, just as it is, right now.
Yet there is something more than just accepting. In this interested curious inner attention, there is also a confident expectation that this felt sense will change in its own way – something that Eugene Gendlin called “making steps.”
What is “making steps”? An example
This is a really interesting part of the process. Our inner world is never static. When we bring awareness to it, it unfolds, it becomes its next step.
Fiona is focusing, let’s say, on a heavy feeling in her chest which she feels is connected with a relationship with her mother. Her mother made a comment recently about how she feels that Fiona spoils her two young children. Fiona had laughed this off and has been telling herself that this is not important, but the feeling of something wrong has persisted. Now she sits down to focus.
She brings awareness into the throat-chest-stomach area of her body and she soon discovers this heavy feeling which has been around all week since her mother’s visit. She says hello to it. She describes it exactly as it is in this moment: “mmmm, it’s heavy… quite solid… especially across my chest, my heart area.” Then she sits with it to get to know it better. She is interested and curious.
After some moments, she can feel that this part of her is angry. “How dare she criticise my parenting skills?” it says. Ordinarily she would be tempted to tell herself that being angry is inappropriate, but this is Focusing, so she just says to this place, “Thank you, I hear you,” and keeps waiting. Interested and curious for the “more” that is there.
In a minute she begins to sense that this part of her is also sad. “ She didn’t expect sad. She can even sense tears pricking her eyes. She asks for more information: “Tell me a little more about being sad.” In response, she senses that it is something about her own childhood – something about not being heard, not being supported by her mother when she herself was small. A rush of memories comes, all the times both her parents worked late in the family business and left her with her two much older sisters, all the times she wanted to tell them about her day in school, only to be met with busyness and irritability and not feeling that she mattered.
Now our Focuser is feeling relief in her body. This has been a step . The emergence of sad after the anger was also a step. The Focusing process is a series of steps of change, in which each one brings fresh insight, and a fresh body relief, an aha! Is this the end? She could certainly stop here. But if she wanted to continue, she would go back to the “something about not being heard” feeling and again bring to it interested curiosity.
The option of new behaviour
Focusing brings insight and relief, but that’s not all it brings. It also brings new behaviour. She may need in future, to challenge her mother if she makes comments about Fiona’s parenting skills. She may need, at an appropriate time, have a talk to her mother about how she felt as a child – about how the focus on the business meant family life took a back seat at times.
It may also be that other areas of her life were bound up with this “not being heard” feeling, and they too will shift after this process. This new behavior happens naturally, easily, without having to be done by will power or effort.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.