Gary injured his back working in the yard, which resulted in a long and difficult bout of sciatica, bad enough that he used a cane when walking. Sitting, standing, and lying down were all difficult to different degrees for reasons he could not figure out. He was also under a lot of personal stress. His elderly father was in and out of the hospital; each time Gary wondered if his father would live. And it was a busy time of year at the accounting firm where he worked.
Talking about his troubles wasn’t difficult for Gary: At this point he’d talk to anyone who’d listen. He felt scared and isolated in the pain he was experiencing. In counseling he wondered if what was happening was some kind of wake-up call. Were the forces in his life converging to give him a message about something deeper and important about how he was living his life?
As we explored current and past struggles, Gary was articulate and had given a great deal of thought to his history, strengths and challenges, important relationships, and concluded that he tried a little too hard to please others—he was a little too selfless, to his own detriment. Although his dad needed him, Gary was burning himself out and not sharing enough of the responsibility with his sisters. He didn’t want them to be burdened, knowing how much they were grieving about their father, and was usually too quick to say, “Oh, I can do that.”
Recognizing that Gary is strong interpersonally and kinesthetically, I asked him if there was a feeling or image that captured what he was experiencing in his pain and struggle. He closed his eyes and described what he called “a World War II guy who got shot up pretty badly.” The figure (him) was in a wheelchair and wrapped in white bandages from head to toe with only his right eye showing to the world. The image was less important to him than the feeling it conveyed about his experience being in the situation he was in.
As we continued to explore Gary’s struggles, we did it in the context of the bandaged figure. It guided his exploration and let him know when he was on the right track. For example, when he was talking about not burdening his sisters, the bandages stayed in place and were unchanged. When he focused on setting more appropriate boundaries for himself, however, there were fewer bandages and they were looser; he felt more present and connected in his life.
By connecting to this representation of himself, Gary was guided by something deeper and more trustworthy than just his words. He could fool himself, that is, talk himself into believing he was doing the right thing; but he couldn’t fool his inner kinesthetic experience.