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From: Gus Kaufman, PhD., Senior PBSP Trainer
PBSP in Practice (January 2019 USPBSPA Newsletter)
After a brief refresher on basic needs including limits, with the example of a parent not letting a child run into a street with car traffic, I had the group split into pairs and do two exercises. In the first, one person holds out two fingers—index and middle—which are then gripped firmly by the accommodator. The first person then tries to open the two fingers with the accommodator holding them closed. After experiencing this briefly, the ‘client’ talks about what the experience of being limited brings up for them. Then the two switch roles. After all have completed, we have a group sharing.
For the second exercise, the same pair gets in arm wrestle position, but the person providing the limits uses two hands vs. the client’s one. The accommodator simply keeps the experiencer’s arm from pushing the accommodator’s arm over; they don’t push the experiencer’s arm down. Again the person whose turn it was shares what it was like to experience this limit. Then they switch, and after the second person experiences being limited and there is sharing in the pair group, we have group sharing.
From this group sharing and feedback received later when I saw one of the group individually, I learned that for persons who have been abusively restrained and violated, it is difficult to not have this experience be a repetition/re-evocation of trauma. Two women shared that they had to deal with a body reaction of panic by reminding themselves this was not that history, and that the person holding them was not an abuser. I thought of, and shared with this client Michael Lerner’s concept of ‘surplus powerlessness.’ It’s not good for people to be too far on the helpless end of the power-vulnerability polarity and to be mal-used. I reminded my client that her partner in the exercise was a benevolent person. She replied that his laugh and his smile had helped her not regress. In subsequent individual sessions she reflected further on the panic that had come up for her, and told of some of the history that had been summoned. Since this reflection was done in an atmosphere of acceptance and support, she was able to continue to metabolize the negative history and replace it.
My conclusion is that when I use this exercise again, before we commence the action I will suggest that those who have been restrained and abused in their histories feel free to either 1) not participate, 2) say ‘stop’ and ‘let go’ at any time and 3) remind themselves that the accommodator is not their abuser, and indeed feel free to ask the accommodator to state ‘I am not your abuser, I am (accommodator’s name) role-playing a positive accommodator for you. An ideal figure would never have restrained you abusively. Additionally, you can end the exercise at any time.”
I am also considering adapting some of the old negative accommodation exercises to help those who have been silenced and oppressed find their voice and power. More to come!
This is beautiful, Gus. As you know, I work a lot with clients using interactive arm and hand experiments and have created a partner practice from this work—Chi for Two—so I will chime in. There is such richness in exercises that replicate the embodiment that comes from pushing our limbs into the containers of womb and swaddling (arms, eyes, voice, and smell of primary caregiver). Because the first energetic relational dances form our nervous system patterning, any mindful exploration of limb movement pushing into a "container," especially one that is provided by an "Other" stirs our old nervous system patterning, creating a possible opportunity for re-training our patterning. When I invite my clients to push their palms into my palms, I invite them to discover their gut sense of the continuum of how much they would like to move me. Do they want to experience that they cannot move me because I am solid and consistent, or do they want to experience being able to move me a lot or somewhere in the middle.
Moving my hands a lot can turn into wrestling, which allows exploration, "on the right hand...on the left hand." Wresting invites right brain and left brain coordination because each side operates one hand. Ideally in early childhood, we can wrestle our way to internal clarity within the interactional dance of "Other" eventually learning to wrestle internally with curiosity, not negative self-talk and shame. PBSP offers experience of Ideal Other—positive accommodator—so we can re-train our patterns. Thanks for sharing your beautiful work, my friend!
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