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Layers of the Neurotic Personality

In the late 1960’s Fritz Perls spoke about something he called “the layers of the neurotic personality”. It was essentially a phenomenological description of the experience, identifications, and behaviors of people who have substituted what he referred to as “character” for the fluid self. Perls saw “character” as being a product of adaptation to the expectations and requirements of the external world. This adaptation then becomes frozen, or reified, so that it is not a temporary adaptation, but rather a “self concept” which the person believes is who s/he “is”. So, while Perls (and Gestalt theory) saw a healthy “self” as that which is always forming, changing, and creatively adjusting with that which is new, “character” is stale, unchanging, and persistent. And, Perls believed, character is primarily responsible for people’s need to come to therapy – since their unchanging view of self and world interferes with their capacity to fluidly engage the changing world in the most optimal manner currently possible. So, Perls’ focus turned to looking at how people experience themselves and others in this rigidified way; how they tend to act, feel, think of themselves, effect others, and satisfy (or even know) their needs. Unfortunately, when he spoke of this, he was not particularly consistent when speaking of the particulars of his schema. Perls was not someone who was able (or perhaps interested) in focusing on details, but rather was taken with large, paradigm changing ideas. (Thus most of the writing of the original text “Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality” was done by Paul Goodman – to whom Perls gave his ideas for...

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...