Case Example

I have a friend who has stood by me in my times of illness and loss over the years. Now my friend is struggling with a life-threatening situation. She is quite alone and depressed. I can't stand to be with her, I can't take it; I make excuses for being absent. I'm weak, selfish and cruel, (client)

In this case, the client's voice trails off and her body sinks into her chair, head down. She appears to be waiting with trepidation. The group goes silent and remains that way for several minutes. Then several members begin very actively helping with their rationalizations about how she need not feel badly and how her behavior was not so awful. Their momentum builds and they begin a lively discussion of the reasons why the group member should not feel so ashamed. Some relate stories about how they had dealt with such feelings.

As the activity continues I notice the protagonist, though trying to listen and understand what is being offered, appears uncomfortable. Her face is blank, with a distant gaze in her eyes as if of shutting off from what is being offered. I become aware of the increasing energy in the group and my sense of their rush to avoid their own deeper feelings by focusing on her. In addition, I am aware that there are still two participants who remain silent and likely disconnected from the emotional content in the room.

Step 1

Step 1 involves making a group process comment to bring attention to the "here and now" response to the sharing and receiving of shameful feelings.

TH: There seems to be quite a lot happening in the group at the moment. Mary risked showing us some of her deep feelings of shame and right now the group seems to be having some strong reactions. What can we make of these reactions'?

Step 2

Step 2 is working with the responses, either "silent" or "helpful," to assist individuals with their awareness of the feelings associated with their individual shame.

TH: Jim, as you relate your story you seemed to be very focused on details however, I am not getting a clear understanding of the impact of this story on you.

TH: Samantha, you have not spoken since Mary's feelings were expressed. I am wondering what you are experiencing?

TH: Rudy, you seem to really want to help Mary. How do you feel you are doing in that regard?

Step 3

In this step ask the individual for her experience of risking to share her shameful feelings with the group.

TH: Mary, it has been a while since you risked being open and vulnerable in the group. I am interested in knowing how you are feeling right now and if you are willing to say, how the responses of the group impacted you?

Step 4

In Step 4, work with the group to explore the process and the "here and now" experience of what has just transpired.

TH: We have spent some time now exploring and experiencing how it is often difficult to express deep shame and to stay present with another's shame. We have also seen how various reactions impact on a vulnerable member. What are you now aware of?

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