Focusing and relationships
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: June Webb, MA, PG Diploma, Reg.MBACP.
5th September, 2016
So many of us long for real intimacy, to be known and to know, yet we also fear what this means; being vulnerable to being hurt and the fear of hurting others. We are bombarded by media images which portray the human body as an object, a marketable product or an image of ‘perfection’ to be desired or aspired to ‘own.’ We may be the recipients of critical comments or judgements about the way we look. Inevitably, perhaps, we begin to relate to ourselves as objects and sadly, for some, treat others this way as a ‘means to an end.’ This somewhat tragic experience of being human is not inevitable. There is a way of loving ourselves as we are without changing ourselves superficially, and of being able to love others and be loved. Change will be involved, but it will be on a profound inner level. We become more aware of what we already possess.
Focusing is something we do naturally but often it is buried under the mind’s sometimes overwhelming dominance of our experiencing in life. Anxiety, worry and over-thinking sabotage our bodies’ sensing of a whole situation. Focusing is similar to something called mindfulness which you may have heard of. Mindfulness helps us to observe our thoughts and feelings in an attitude of detached curiosity. This is useful in helping us to distance ourselves if we are too emotionally close or overwhelmed. Focusing is different in that it provides a space for our body to tell us what is going on without the mind taking centre stage. We still use our minds but we listen to our body as a whole.
This might seem strange – how can our bodies speak to us? Well, they already do in simple ways, such as when we forget something and we ‘sense’ something is missing but we can’t think or recall what it is. If we stop trying to think we often find that we then remember. We may walk into a room and ‘sense’ an atmosphere in the room, our body as a whole is responding to a context. Try it for yourself. Imagine a person or situation that you find difficult to be with. Perhaps you find you are feeling tense or craving for a cigarette or chocolate bar? Our bodies respond to the ‘whole’ of a situation. The lack of clarity can be made clearer by the focusing process. We ask ourselves, “what is between me and feeling really good right now?”. We don’t try to answer this with our minds but wait for our bodies to respond.
As with any experiential process, trying to explain it in a few words inevitably means something is always left out. If you have ever tried to describe the beauty of a sunset you will know what I mean. Each person also has a unique process and way of experiencing focusing, so there is no ‘wrong’ way to experience it. Eugene Gendlin developed the phenomenon of focusing following research into what ‘successful’ clients did differently in therapy from other clients. Based on his research he published widely including a popular paperback on focusing in 1978. Notable others have developed this work, Inner-Relationship Focusing by Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin and Biospirituality by Peter A Campbell and Edwin M McMahon, where those of any faith background or none are welcome to experience a life changing process through the ‘felt sense'.
About the author
I am a focusing-oriented psychotherapist working with individuals in therapy and providing training to groups who are interested in learning more about focusing. I am based in Norwich.
If you are an individual or a member of a community or church group or charitable organisation and feel that focusing could be helpful please contact me.
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