What can Gestalt Therapy tell us about kindness?

I wonder what ‘Kindness’ means to you? I’m sure this word conjures up images, memories, feelings, thoughts or judgements. Some of these may be, comforting, meaningful, or possibly soothing. Some may be neutral or negative and some hurtful or disappointing. It is a word which points to an experience. 


Each person knows the experience of kindness in their own way: they know it through their minds in the thoughts and images that come up when it happens, and they know it in their bodies through the sensations, feelings and emotions that arise in relation to kindness. What we learn about kindness usually happens through experience we have in relationships with other people.


Kindness is a deeply personal experience and it’s also a social one. There are lots of conversations happening about kindness at the moment while collectively we contemplate how to re-build after COVID19. In recent years the Kindness Innovation Network by the Carnegie Trust has promoted kindness as a social good. Initiatives like these present a challenge to ideas that in a competitive world kindness is a weakness. Evolutionary and child development research increasingly point to the idea that ‘we are not survival of the fittest, we are survival of the nurtured’ (Cozolino 2014).


Personally, I love to get to know more about things by reading, thinking, finding out about the research, and joining in discussion. But what can be even more enriching, enlivening and potentially transformational is to explore deeply what my embodied experience of that thing is.


In gestalt therapy we can take concepts like kindness and learn more about how we live or don’t live them. If, like many people, you are someone who yearns for more kindness in your life, we can explore what that yearning feels like. We can find out if there are things that get in the way of receiving kindness when it’s offered, or things that stop you noticing it at all. We can work out what you need to feel more able to let it in.


Maybe you’re one of the many people also who would like to be kinder with yourself. Most people in the Western world have a well-developed inner critical voice. This critic can sometimes be brutal and unforgiving and over time, tiring (to say the very least!). In therapy, we can explore how this voice developed and experiment with nurturing and strengthening your ability to be kind to yourself. This isn’t necessarily always easy as it can mean facing into painful experiences.


Or possibly you would like to create more shared experiences of kindness with other people. In that case we can look at patterns that might hold you back from offering kindness, or things that might get in the way of finding people who offer it to you. 


On the other hand, some people feel trapped in patterns of showing kindness to others to their own detriment and need to discover their capacity to create healthy boundaries with others.


Since we learn about experiences of kindness in relationships with other people as we grow up and into adulthood, we also need to re-learn and re-experience kindness in relationship too. This is what therapy offers. Research shows that in order to create new neurological pathways (linked with new experiences and abilities) we need: a sense of safety, non-judgemental curiousity, playfulness and plenty of repetition (Cozolino 2014, Siegel 2007). In therapy we can spend some time developing enough safety for you to explore. The regularity of meeting means there is a chance to repeat positive learning experiences and develop curiousity and playfulness.


In my experience, gestalt therapy offers a great way to know yourself more clearly and deeply, face into the difficulties life presents and grow.





References: 

Cozolino, L., 2014. The neuroscience of human relationships: Attachment and the developing social brain. WW Norton & Company 

Siegel, D.J., 2007. The mindful brain: Reflection and attunement in the cultivation of well-being (Norton series on interpersonal neurobiology). WW Norton & Company.


Kindness Innovation Network Carnegie Trust: https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/project/kinder-communities/


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