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Impasse

Impasse – For My Students In Gestalt Therapy theory, the concept of impasse is controversial, even within the realm of Gestalt Therapy. And yet the experience that this concept points to and describes is, to me, the most crucial in relation to change and growth and to our connection to the reality of the immediate present. As I’ve indicated in previous entries, the “neurotic” personality substitutes ideas about self and world for direct experience of self and world. As such, self and world lose their felt sense of immediacy, of fluidity, of aliveness, and of unpredictability. We tend to see self/world in fixed, predictable ways, giving us some illusion of control and stability, while restricting us to fixed roles and prohibiting aspects of ourselves from expression, or even from our awareness. But as restricting as these constructions are, they do give us a belief that we know what is real, who we are, what other people are like, how things work. And we assume this to be bedrock upon which our lives are built and lived out. The reader can probably think of some of his or her own beliefs, but will probably be restricted in this exercise by those beliefs that are so basic that they don’t even come into question. Consider the old saying that “the last thing the fish sees is the water” – so completely surrounded by the omnipresence of the water that it is not even noticed! What then happens when this bedrock shifts? Usually the first response is to deny or avoid recognizing it. Or to explain it away in terms of the pre-existing belief system (“he’s only being nice because he wants something from me”). Or to divert, retreat, or in some way try to avoid noticing or acknowledging that the way we’ve always seen ourselves, others, or things is actually not true. The person who is suspicious of others’ motivation may be overwhelmed by an act of kindness. The person who lives by a strict code of morals may be surprised by his/her “immoral” thought and impulses. The person who always saw a parent as purely loving may be shocked and wounded by seeing their narcissism. And on, and on… When the bedrock shifts, so does the sense of standing on solid ground, of knowing how things are, of having a sense of predictability, AND OF BYPASSING WHAT’S REAL by substituting a conclusion that we’ve made or been handed. Our world is rocked, and we experience the dislocation, the disorientation. We mayor may not be flooded with emotion, but regardless, if we let the dust settle we begin to experience ourselves and our world differently. Old conclusions become less reliable, and we begin to use our “eyes and ears” to see and hear what’s actually there. That’s probably what Fritz Perls meant when he would encourage people to “Lose your mind and come to your senses”. But this new orientation can also become fixed and stale. We might now think that all people are really kind, or that our parent is nothing but a narcissist, or whatever the new awareness and creative adjustment involves. We must be able to be open to a continuity of impasse experiences. Nothing is truly fixed. We can rarely, if ever, see the totality of another person or of ourselves. Any new ground that we land on may well shift again. The search for new “Truth” or “Certainty” will lead us back to neurosis, to stuckness, and to a life lived in images rather than in the unpredictability of actuality.