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Honoring the Old...
Nurturing the Young Part 1
By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D
Our first task in
approaching another culture is to take off our shoes, for the ground we are approaching is
Was it so long ago that you cant remember what it was
like, your first day in group, the days and weeks leading up to it? The mixture of hope
and fear, raised expectations tempered with skepticism born from years and years of high
hopes dashed by the futility of self-sabotage. Can you remember the questions that
ran through your head? Whats it going to be like? Who are these people whose world
Im about to enter? And why would I openingly and willingly allow them to enter into
mine? Arent they going to hate me for disrupting their group? How do I not make a
fool out of myself in front of these strangers? What are the things that Im suppose
to know, but dont. How will I know what to do, what not to do, and when to do and
not do it? What are all the unspoken rules that everybody knows but me? Who talks to whom
and when? What do you talk about? What dont you talk about? Is anyone going to help
on now, think back? Dont you remember the dread that consumed you, the idea of
having to develop relationships with total strangers, the absolute terror provoked at the
thought of putting your emotional and spiritual well-being in the hands of these creatures
from a parallel universe. All the risk. Will they like me? Will I like them? Will they
accept me? Detest me? Or worse yet, ignore me? Will they care about me, but then again,
will they even welcome me, forget care about me? Im sure you chuckled at that
thought--being welcomed and embraced. I can hear it even now, the cacophony playing in
your head, Im not worth caring about, Im not smart enough, interesting
enough, attractive enough. Im not..., Im not..., Im not..., blah, blah,
in. Making a place for yourself. Being accepted. Being liked. Ultimately, being cared
about. Come on now. Fess up You must have worried a little. You must have given some
thought to the very first problem that was awaiting your solution as you joined the group.
How do I get them to like me? How do I get them to let me be a part of what they already
have going on? How do I go from being an outsider to an insider? Do I even want to try?
at least one of the following thoughts run through your head? Were not allowed
to have outside contact, so I cant go out to dinner with them one-on-one and charm my way into their hearts. Were not
allowed to date them, so I cant seduce my
way into their souls. Were not allowed to talk about our lives outside of the group,
so I cant impress my way into their minds.
Were not allow to talk about our problems, so I cant arouse their pity or tend to their wounds so that I can ingratiate my way into their good graces.
you comforted yourself with the idea that there were still other tricks of the trade that
you could use that would enable you to gain
entrée into their hearts and souls. Afterall, you were then and still are now more than a
one trick pony. Hey, you invented some of those tricks yourself. Im sure at some
point you must have thought, Ive fooled my share of people over the years. I
know how to create the impression I want somebody to have of who I am. Strong, in control,
unemotional, bright, articulate, insightful, well-informed, having it together, chatty,
kind, compassionate, mixed with just the right amount of levity. Yea, keep it light.
Dont upset the apple cart. Dont rock the boat. Dont do or say anything
sure at some point prior to joining the group you must have thought, This is group
therapy, right? All for one and one for all. Ill act the way youre suppose to act in a support group. Lets
see, supportive, selfless, positive, sympathetic, empathic, you know P.C., baby, just
keeping it real. I can always fall back on ole faithful, I care about
you. And if somebody starts crying or is otherwise upset, well, lets see,
Ill tell them that I feel your pain. Afterall, it worked for Clinton,
honest with me now. At some point, the idea must have crept into your consciousness that
the best way to fit in would be to clean up your act. You know, put your best foot
forward, smooth off the rough edges. Wear clean underwear, a nice pressed shirt. Compliance. Conformity. Let somebody else take the
risks. As for you, just go along to get along.
occurred to you, Im sure, that all you needed to do was hide what you didnt
want them to know about you. Come on now. Dont look at me that way. You know exactly
what I mean. Compartmentalize. Evade. Name, rank, and serial number only. Keep the focus
off of the present moment. Hide behind a curtain of helplessness, add just a dash of
chaos, topped with just a subtle hint of hostility. Tap dance, just keep your feet moving.
Keep your feelings to yourself. Say and do the right thing, stick to the script, for
Gods sake, dont ever deviate from the script.
this was group therapy you were starting, but, all those things about who you were, all
those things that brought you so much pain and caused you so much shame, well, you decided
it was better to just let sleeping dogs lie. You kept those skeletons buried deep in the
back of the closet. That which you didnt want the group to know, you just checked at
the door, week after week, month after month, year after year.
gotta admit, I admired your determination. No matter how many avenues of retreat I
blocked, you always came up with another path. You clung so tenaciously to your old ways,
your loyalty knew no bounds. So it didnt surprise me that you initially focused on
what everybody needed from you. That was a sure winner, a tried and true method of
appearing as if youre connecting without really having to connect. Take the focus
off of you and your emotional discomfort all the while ministering to everybody
elses emotional comfort. You had a lifetime of practice with that approach. Same old
tired formula--give without taking, give but block any attempts of reciprocation, give
until theres nothing left to give, and then pick yourself right back up and give
some more. That had to be good for a few votes of inclusion, one or two kernels of
acceptance. Afterall, giving melts even the coldest, most distant of hearts. Wink.
if fitting in and making a place for yourself wasnt big enough of a problem, you had
to be questioning what joining this group would do for you. When you stopped to think
about it, just what were you going to be getting out of it? Does any of this have a ring
of familiarity to it? Sure, I knew what Steve promised. I read all the materials,
but afterall, look at what Im putting myself through. The money, the time
commitment. I feel like I have to organize my entire life around this therapy. I agreed to
be here every week. But suppose I dont feel like coming one week. Suppose I want to
do something for myself. And whats this bullshit about this is not just your therapy, for you are an important part of
everybody elses therapy? Afterall,
this is my life, my time, my money, therefore my
therapy, yet I feel like Ive given away so much of me just to join this group,
but to whom and for what? Complete strangers, thats who! Wheres my say, my
voice. Isnt that what this therapys about, my choices, my empowerment?
did you fight it, tooth and nail, to the bitter end. You armored yourself in every way you could against the
demands of becoming a member of the group. You fought for your say, your own wacky way
of being in the group. But what did that fight get you? Did you get any closer to anybody?
Did you get any closer to yourself? Did you get any closer to your higher power? You were
well defended, plenty protected. Dont you remember? Your defiance coupled with your compliance served you well, my friend?
This idea of having to talk to everybody in the group. I called it, involvement, presence, initiating, reciprocity,
here-and-now, self-examination, reverence, self-disclosure. Forced to focus on you and only you. I can only imagine what it must have sounded like
in your head. Involvement, presence,
initiating, reciprocity, self-disclosure, here-and-now, present moment, reverence,
expressing feelings. Yea, right! Lets see if Steve can make me. Go ahead, make
my day. Ill tell you this right now. No one can make me do anything I dont
want to. Let em try. How tough can any of them be?
will is battle tested. They dont know
how long I stonewalled it with my wife. Ah, those were the good old days. The more that
was demanded of me, the more I withheld. Thinking back about all the ways I defeated her,
all the times that I took her best shot and gave it right back. Oh, you should have seen
her. How mad I could get her. It was a thing of beauty. It gives me goose bumps just
thinking about it even to this day. Let them try and make me. Let them try to get me to
jump through their hoops.
you werent openly defiant, you were passively going through the motions. But that
outer shell of compliance didnt fool
anybody. It only served to separate and further distance you from the group. I know
thats what made you feel most comfortable. But the group knew how lonely you were.
The group knew how scared you were to admit to yourself and to them how badly you wanted
to be a part of things. Instead of admitting it to yourself, you shut the group out. You
kept everybody at arms length. All in the name of holding onto a piece of turf that
was no longer worth holding onto. But you
persevered. And when the group didnt fall for the nice guy act, when they kept
insisting that you get involved, you went to Def Con
No more Mr. Nice Guy. You tried, you really,
really tried, but you said the group just wouldnt give you your space. So you
came out swinging. You squeezed off a double barrel blast right between the eyes. You
unleashed the holy trinity--anger, judgment, and
blame. You showed them who they were messing
with.You dusted the group off the plate.
the way you did it was slick. You set it up so that your anger was seemingly justified. Yes, I did say that you were suppose to express your
feelings. But...how you did it, how you set them up, it was a thing of beauty. When no one
was watching, you switched the tables. You made the group out to be the perpetrator, the
victimizer. You gave them an education in how they let you down, had done you wrong.
who could quibble with your logic. Afterall, who did these people think they were? You
looked at your life and compared it to theirs. It made perfect sense to you. You took an
inventory of what you had accomplished and stacked that against what they had to show for
their lives. You concluded that you didnt really have anything in common with the
other group members. Why he was a recovering alcoholic, emphasis on alcoholic. She was out of work, emphasis on loser. Look at how that one dressed, emphasis on call the fashion police. Look at the rock on that
ones finger. Youre a professional and where did he say he went to school? Excuse me!
know you gave the matter a lot of thought, focusing on who they were, never able to get
over how long they had been in the group. They must have had something awful wrong with
them to be in therapy for so long. You on the other hand, you just wanted to learn, to
grow, to be more of who you already were. But what was with the rest of them? Why did that
one cry all the time? Excuse me, but wasnt she just a bit too needy? Sure this was therapy, but my God, give
me a large break. And that one never said anything. Why did she even bother? She must have
really been dependent on therapy. Not me kiddo,
Im in and outta here, lickety-split. Boy, this one just didnt get it. Give me
five minutes with him. Ill gladly tell him exactly what his problem is and save
everyone else the trouble. The one with the big mouth. Did she ever shut up? Did she ever
stop complaining? I can see why no man stays with her. And him, brother, that shirt and
those shoes. Attention, thats all hes after. But I wont be falling for
that trap. Let the other bozos get sucked in. Hey, call the bomb squad on that one in the
corner, the one no one will sit next to. Talk about angry, defensive, hostile, a ticking
time bomb, a heat seeking missile just waiting to acquire a target. Well, it wont be
to figure out how you could possibly make a place for yourself in the group, that was in
your face from the get go. Afterall, hes so... and Im only... Shes so
much more... and Im so much less... Hes so witty and me, I always get the
punch line to a joke wrong.
It seemed like the role you had been auditioning for your whole life had already been
taken by somebody else in the group. Now how would you ever be able to make room for
yourself in your new family? Pardon my
elbow in your ribs, but, Im suppose to be the caretaker in this family. Hey you, Mr. Teflon. Listen buddy, no ones ever been
able to make anything stick on me either. Well just see whos going to be the
hero of this clan. Roll over Beethoven, Im
the problem child in this crowd. Sure, you do
that victim thing really, really well, but, Ill see you your victim thing and raise
you my self-righteousness. And you, Carnak. Oh
great one. So knowing and so wise. Ill have you know that Ive read all four
volumes of Chicken Soup for the Soul. So put
that in your smoke and pipe it!
you ever have guessed that you were that competitive? Would you ever have guessed how
entering new relationships could get all those juices flowing? Comparing and contrasting.
Evaluating. Keeping track of how you matched up against everybody else. Keeping score.
Listening to what was said and thinking, I feel so dumb. I dont even know what
to talk about. Grading and ranking each comment you heard while thinking to
yourself, I could never come up with an insight like that. Making sure you
kept track of who talked to whom and sighing to yourself, It seems so easy for them
but the cats got my tongue. Timing how long who talked to whom, fretting to
yourself, Ill never get a chance to talk with those two going on and on?
It never escaped your notice when somebody ignored you, observing to yourself, He
talks to everyone but me. How many times did you lament, What am I, chop
liver? Does he think hes too good to talk to me? Not once did it escape your
notice how those two were always looking at each other the way they did, leaving you to
question, Does she like him more than me? And of course you always saw the
bossy one as a challenge, Ill show him who the boss is. Remember how
lost you felt as you watched everybody turn to her for comfort, leaving you to question
With everybody always sucking up to her, what possible use can I be to anybody in
long did it take for you to figure it out? How long did it take for you to wake up to what
was really going on? At first, you just didnt get it, what your compliance, defiance, hostility, withholding, and
distancing was about. I never could get you to see that digging your heels in, both your passive compliance and active defiance, your judgmentalness, the
never-ending comparing, it was just your way of protecting yourself, to insure that you
would remain separate and uninvolved? How long did it take before you connected to that
place within yourself, the place that was ground
zero for the internal battle field, the push and pull, the approach and avoidance, the
underlying source of the war that waged on and on in your head--whether to actively
participate or merely quietly observe, become a part of the group or remain an outsider,
trust or withhold, dig your heels in or surrender, ultimately, to join or drop out of the
did you finally realize that those devices were merely coats of armor designed to protect
yourself from the far greater truths about yourself? How lonely it was for you to be an
outsider in the group. How terrified you were of the depth of your feelings. How badly you
wanted to be accepted and cared about. How paralyzed you felt to even consider
surrendering a fraction of your willfulness. The terror you felt about losing your sense
of self if you became actively involved in the relationships of the group. How awkward it
felt to not have a clue as to how you should
participate in the group. Did it surprise you at all, how desperately you clung to all of
your tried and true ways for fear that you would appear inept and inadequate in front of
other people? Did you ever appreciate the irony, the paradox of what you were going
through, joining the group to transform yourself but actually using the group as a forum
to hold onto every last fiber of who you were? Did you ever imagine the depth of fear you
had about letting another human enter your life and actually care about you? Could you have ever imagined how
vulnerable you felt when challenged to expose those parts of yourself that you felt so
much shame about? Did you see the connection between
your overintellectualized approach to the process and your overwhelming dread of giving up
your independence, jeopardizing your autonomy, and surrendering your will?
on top of layer of fear. Thats all it was. Experiencing your vulnerability.
Admitting your fears. Taking ownership of your humanness. Letting go. Trusting at least
one other human being. Living life without your willfulness. Touching parts of yourself
that you so long ago abandoned. Bumping into bruised, wounded parts of yourself that you
had left for dead. Awakening the neediness you had detached from three lifetimes ago.
Looking to others to do their part, to fulfill within you the longing for meaningful human
connection that you had gone so long without. Appearing unsure of yourself, that horrible
sense of inadequacy bubbling to the surface. Not knowing where you fit in, doubting that
you ever would or could or would even want to.
you were hiding from more than your fears and insecurities. There was a level beneath the
fear that you didnt want to get near, to touch, to taste, much less feel. The
self-loathing, all the judgments you held about yourself, dreading to see certain parts of
yourself in another person, not wanting to experience them within yourself. How could you
possibly face the music? Afterall, you had spent your whole life running from yourself,
from the feelings, from the ugliness of your
humanness. You had numbed yourself to your own self-inflicted wounds. Why would you stop
now and [re]claim those orphaned, cast aside aspects of who you were, as being truly and
wholly you, with a group of strangers looking on, no less?!
had no trouble understanding why you would back away from the journey. It was easy enough
to read your mind. If healing meant exposing my emotional and spiritual wounds for
all the world to see, no thanks. I think Ill go back to the safety of reading my
books, doing my private meditations, take in the occasional lecture, sprinkle in a
workshop here, an audio tape there. Hey, those twelve-step groups may be the way to go
afterall. At least there I could hide out and do as I please. There must be some other way
that doesnt hurt so much, that doesnt make me experience what hurts. Why now that I think about
it, my last therapist wasnt really that
happened, didnt it? I told you it would but you didnt believe me. As soon as
you walked into that room for the first time, boom, you entered the twilight zone.
Fifteen seconds after walking into the group, your unfinished business reared its ugly
head, your past came to life in glorious, wondrous 3-D. It was almost as if you had
developed double vision. I saw you trying to rub the blurred images from your eyes. You
couldnt get the ringing in your ears to stop. Listening to that woman speak, all you
could hear was your sisters voice. As you layed your eyes on that man in the corner,
you superimposed the image of your first husband on him. Shaking hands with the gentleman
sitting next to you, this creepy feeling came over you, it was almost as if your father
had arisen from the dead and taken up membership in this group. A mustache here, an
inflection in the voice there, perhaps an arched eyebrow, similarity in tone of voice or
age. Whatever the cue, no matter the stimulus, that room quickly became populated with the
significant people from your past and present.
the more crowded the room became, the more anxious you felt. The more anxious you felt,
the more you disconnected from what you were experiencing. The more you disconnected, the
less aware you were of the grip your fears had on you. Run. Hide. Disappear. Whistle while
you walk past the graveyard. Detach from your body. Withdraw into the safety of your own
mind. Joke. Talk non-stop. Speechify.
Intellectualize. Comply. Deny. Throw a
Tupperware party. Minimize. Defy. Rationalize.
Use Groupspeak. The list would be shorter if you
just told me what you didnt do to create a space of emotional comfort and safety for
you in the group.
happened is easy enough to explain. But no amount of explanation could bring you the
amount of comfort that taking flight brought you. Simply, you, in that room, no longer
were grounded in the present moment. In those first fifteen seconds, your hopes, your
expectations, became polluted by your fears, by the memories, by the reactivated emotions,
by the blurring of your past with your present.
was as if each person in the group had an angel from your here-and-now sitting on their
right shoulder, a ghost from your past sitting on their left shoulder. As you looked at
the man sitting across from you, you could hear the angel on his right shoulder say,
Welcome, Im happy to have you here. But then you saw the ghost sitting
on his left shoulder beckon towards you and say, Get involved with me and Ill
abandon you, just the way your mother did. Next to him sat a woman, nodding in
understanding as you told your story. The angel on her right shoulder said, I
understand what youre going through. Ive been there myself. However, the
ghost sitting on her left shoulder motioned towards you and said, Make yourself
vulnerable with me and Ill betray your trust, just the way all your lovers have in
the past. Then there was the gentleman in the corner, much more reserved, but no
less welcoming than any of the other group members. The angel sitting on his right
shoulder said, Its cool that youre here. I hope we can play
together. But that pesky ghost sitting on his left shoulder winked at you and said,
Look to me to fill your emotional needs and Ill shame you just the way your
so it went as you looked around the room. You were greeted with messages of warmth and
welcome from the angels perched atop the right shoulder of the group members. However, you
received a far different vibration from the ghost perched atop the left shoulder of each
group member. Fall for my charm and Ill abuse you, just the way your uncle
did. Get involved with me all you want. I still wont give you what you
want from me, just like your father. Try to get close to me and Ill
treat you as if youre invisible, just like everyone else in your life has treated
was no way of stopping what you were experiencing. Your only choice was to stay connected
or run from it. It overwhelmed you, just as it overwhelmed everybody else who had preceded
you into that room. Everything was activated. Each and every last one of your personal,
interpersonal, and spiritual wounds were stimulated. You tried to grin and bear it. You
tried to ignore it. You tried to make it go away as best as you could, just as you always
had done. But all to no avail.
were warned. We prepared for it. But still, it took you by surprise. You had emboldened
yourself with the thought that you had already worked through, most, if not all of those
issues. You had assured yourself that you were invulnerable. You believed that you were
immune to experiencing the frailties of the human condition. You convinced yourself that
you had managed to drown it all out. But there they were, those monsters staring you in
the face one more time, laughing and taunting you, letting you know that they werent
through with you, even though you had sworn that you were through with them. Walking into
that group room for the first time, it all came rushing back, awakened by the opening
bell, surrounded by all your reincarnated ghosts, haunted by the voice of Karen Carpenter
singing in your head, Weve Only Just Begun.
now its about to begin once more for somebody new in your group. Whether this is
soon to be your first day in group or youre already in the group, preparing to
welcome a new group member, theres much self-examination for you to undertake in
order to safely and successfully integrate a new member into your group. If you dont
take the time to [re]connect with your first experience in the group, if you dont
take the time to [re]connect with what it will feel like for you to welcome a new group
member, then youll miss an important opportunity to be present to all that you can
learn about yourself and how you experience starting
and deepening a relationship.
a new member into a group can be an overwhelming experience for all involved. Although the
above piece was written from the perspective of a new group member, everyone in the group
will experience significant aspects of what I just wrote about. Theres absolutely no crime in having such an
emotionally provocative experience. The crime is not attending to the experience, not
noticing what the experience awakens in you, and not using the group to explore your
awareness of what has awakened within you as you go through the experience of either being
new or welcoming a new person to your group.
is welcoming and integrating a new group member into the group such a rich experience,
pregnant with opportunity? Entering a relationship, any relationship is a simple act that provokes so much from within. A simple act that awakens the ghosts from your past,
evokes the pain from your emotional and spiritual wounds, and stimulates the most
vulnerable aspects of who you are as a human being. A simple act that superimposes the sum total of your
past onto your present. A simple act that
separates you from your authentic Self and
spiritual center. A simple act that transfigures
two kind, friendly souls into defensive, frightened, judgmental combatants. A simple act that transforms an otherwise competent,
self-assured adult into a state of insecurity and self-consciousness. A simple act that brings forth from within every
tactic of evasion, control, and denial that you have devised to prevent you from
experiencing the intensity and rawness of the moment. A simple act that teases, tantalizes, and frustrates
the core of who you are as a human being--a person longing for meaningful human
connection, coveting the acknowledgment and acceptance of the people in your world,
craving emotional fulfillment, hungering for the admiration and appreciation of others,
all the while demanding power and control of your universe.
the obstacles to welcoming and integrating a new group member into the group are not
insurmountable. If each group member acts in a responsible, conscious fashion, a new group
member can be safely and successfully integrated into the group. What is the
responsibility of each group member, whether theyre joining or welcoming somebody
new to the group?
and every one of you has a very simple responsibility to fulfill. Act congruent with the Group Therapy Contract. Acting
congruent with the Group Therapy Contract is the
single most important determinant of your success with group therapy in general as well as
safely and successfully integrating a new group member in particular. Because congruency
with the Group Therapy Contract is the single
determining factor of your success with safely and successfully integrating a new group
member, its important that you understand completely and wholly every aspect of the Group Therapy Contract. Therefore, it is each one of
yours responsibility to read the Group Therapy Contract completely, thoughtfully, and
thoroughly. It is each one of yours responsibility to ask me any and all questions that
you have about whats expected of you and what it is that youre agreeing to.
Why is acting congruent with the Group Therapy
Contract the single determinant of your success in group therapy? The Group Therapy Contract is the internal compass of
the group process. The Group Therapy Contract
always points in one direction, due North. The needle of the compass never strays, never deviates from that due North direction.
When youre incongruent with the Group Therapy
Contract, you can conclude one very simple fact--youre not headed due North. And
if youre not headed due North, its unlikely that youre going to get to
where you claim it is that you want to go. Theres only one reason why you would not
be heading due North at any time in your group therapy experience. That reason would be
because you havent fully embraced and incorporated the backbone of the Group Therapy Contract into every choice you make. The backbone of the Group Therapy Contract is the foundational value system. I know. I know. Foundational isnt a word. But work with me on
The foundational value system is like the rudder of a
ship. Without understanding, embracing, and incorporating the foundational value system into your active participation, youll have as much
success participating in the group as you would steering a ship at sea without a rudder.
There are five values of the foundational value
system. The five values are: 1.) reciprocity; 2.) presence; 3.) beginners mind;
4.) reverence; 5.) honoring the old...nurturing the young. Let me emphasize the following.
Understanding, embracing and incorporating these five values into your active
participation is critical to your success and the success of every group member.
were focusing on how to safely and successfully integrate a new group member into
your group, I want to first discuss with you the value honoring the old...nurturing the young.
Honoring the old...nurturing the young is one of
the five values of the foundational value system.
Its importance to each and every one of you is that it provides a blueprint for how
best to integrate a new member into the group. As a way of explaining honoring the old...nurturing the young, lets
first look at honoring the old and then,
well look at nurturing the young.
The first element of honoring the old is honoring what the group means to the current group
members. Nobody participates in any kind of experience for any length of time without
developing a strong attachment to that experience. Its unlikely that any of the
current group members would come out and say it, but, I think if you asked them, they
would begrudgingly tell you that their group, the role that the group plays in their
personal transformation, and the people in the group are important to them.
as a new group member, have only one obligation. Treat your time in the group with the
utmost respect and honor that it deserves. You, as a new group member, need to honor what
the group means to the people whose lives youre about to join and treat the group
with similar honor. The best way you can do so is
to honor your commitment to every aspect of the Group Therapy Contract.
The second element of honoring the old is being respectful of the journey that the current group
members have already embarked upon. Youre about to say hello to a group of people
who have been blazing their own trail and in so doing are enabling you to begin your
have always thought it important to honor and respect those people who have blazed a trail
that has enabled me to pursue the path I am on. When I think of the qualities that those
people possessed, being out there ahead of me, making my way all the more easier, I am
new group member, you need to be mindful of a simple fact. The current group members have
been involved in the group for quite a while. Its easy to question that, even judge
it. For its only human to minimize and discount things that are potentially scary to
you. So you may find yourself judging the group and its current members. Afterall, there
must be something really wrong with anybody
whos been in therapy for a long period of time or there must be something wrong with
the therapy itself. Yet, if it wasnt for the courage of each group member, if it
wasnt for the vision of what they want their lives to be, if it wasnt for
their commitment to that vision, there wouldnt be a group for you to join.
me share with you what I have learned about the comings and goings of people in long-term
group therapy. People do not continue in long-term group therapy because theres
something wrong with them. Believe me, the sense that
I need to be fixed, wears off very early on in ones therapy. People continue in
long-term group therapy because they have a vision of what they want their life to be like
and they believe that long-term group therapy can play a significant role in facilitating that
transformation. It takes courage to ride the
emotional roller coaster ride of long-term group therapy, not dependency on your therapist. It takes commitment to shadow box with your ghosts and
demons, not an addiction to being in therapy. It
takes hope and faith to actualize the totality of your dreams, not perpetually being stuck because one is a terminally broken patient
who cant survive without therapy.
Honoring rather than judging what the current group
members membership in this group means about who they are will enable you to more
easily adapt to the culture of the group. Celebrating
what they have accomplished on their own journey of personal transformation will open
your eyes to whats possible for you. Experiencing and living gratitude for what opportunities are being
created for you because of the trail they have blazed prior to you joining the group will
enable you to open your heart to receive all that the group members have to offer you.
The third element of honoring the old is acknowledging to yourself the value of what the
current group members have to offer you. The current group members have imperfectly, just as you will, wrestled with much
of what youre about to take on yourself. You, as a new group member, will be
continually tested by the demands of participating in group therapy. Your courage will be
tested. Your openness will be tested. Each and every week your commitment will undergo
much trial and tribulation. Your limits and faith in your vision will be tested as well.
a journey, when done by yourself, can be lonely and overwhelming. Thats one way
people benefit from group therapy. They dont have to go through it alone. The
lessons that you need to learn can be greatly enriched by what the group members own
experiences can offer you. The current group members have learned, mostly the hard way,
much about themselves and much about group therapy. They have equally so ignored their
fair share of things that they need to learn. Theres much for you to learn from the
wisdom of their hard fought lessons. It will be up to you, as a new group member, to
either be open to those offerings or turn your back on them. Until you acknowledge to
yourself the richness that is embedded in the collective experiences of the current group
members, it will be impossible for you to open yourself to their gifts.
The first element of nurturing the young is modeling behavior thats congruent with the Group Therapy Contract. The Group Therapy Contract is a carefully crafted
blueprint for how to succeed in the group. The new group member will be looking to you to
see if you have embraced all aspects of the Group
Therapy Contract or merely pay lip service to it or even openly defy it. If you
actively model congruence with all aspects of the Group
Therapy Contract, the new group member will see that the contract is more than just
empty words. If you ignore the Group Therapy
Contract, their doubts and suspicions about the Group
Therapy Contract will be confirmed and theyll dismiss its importance, just as
The behaviors and attitudes that you model will establish the norms for the new group
member. The new group member will be watching you, watching to see how much or how little
the group means to you. The new group member will be gauging how seriously you treat your
time in the group. If you take the group and your participation lightly, so will they. If
you take the contract of the group lightly, so will they. If you take the people in the
group for granted, so will they.
remember, as you sow, so shall Ye reap. If you
want your group to remain strong, if you want your group to safely and successfully
integrate a new group member into the group, the responsibility falls upon each and every
one of you to properly model the behaviors that will insure the new group members
success. That will require each and every one of you to step out of your zone of comfort
and deal in new ways with the stress that integrating a new group member creates.
The second element of nurturing the young is being mindful of the drama thats about to unfold
over the next few weeks and months for all those involved. You have previously gone
through it yourself. No one can possibly know better than you how difficult it is to join
your group. No one can possibly know better than you how much easier or how much more
difficult you can make the new group members life as they tackle the job of joining
the group. Dont treat the changing of the guard lightly. It deserves your fullest attention, your heightened sense of presence, your complete involvement, and your most conscious participation.
is the drama thats about to unfold? Youre about to start a journey with
somebody new. That somebody new comes to you because they want something better for
themselves in their lives just as you did when you joined the group. In joining the group,
the new group member is going to feel overwhelmed by all the emotions that are stimulated
by being an outsider confronted with becoming an insider. On the other hand, the current
group members, in welcoming a new group member, are going to be overwhelmed by all the
emotions that are awakened by having their safe world turned inside out.
not suggesting that anybody should ignore the understandable human feelings that
youll experience stimulated by welcoming a new group member or being the new group
member. Quite the contrary. In fact to do so, would run counter to the Aspirational
Contract of the group, to examine and express how
the present moment is impacting each group member. Its only natural to feel
uncertain, even frightened about a new group members entry into the group. Its
only human to approach a new group member with a raised eyebrow, a furrow in your
forehead, an Im from Missouri and youre
going to have to show me attitude.
No, nurturing the young, is not about ignoring or
being immune to whats happening to each group member. I would be disappointed if you
didnt take the time to consider what impact having somebody new will have on you and
the way the group conducts business. How could you possibly not feel threatened by a new
group member, all the questions that such an occasion must raise? How will they fit in?
How will they change the chemistry of the group? What role will they play in the group?
What impact on my role in group will their presence have?
fully expect each group member to have questions, even reservations about any new group
member. Who is she? Will I like him? How is she going to fit in? Is he smarter than me? Is
she more successful than me? Is he more attractive than I am? Will I have to compete with
her for my favorite group members attention? Does he have more problems than me? Is
her past more f---ed-up than mine? Will everybody else forget about me? Will the group
ever be the same? Will I ever feel as comfortable in the group as I do now? Will I still
have enough time to talk about whats important to me?
the current group members have already lived the experience of being new to the group,
many slept their way through it. For those of you who slept your way through that
experience, you should read and re-read the above account of what being a new group member
is like. Whatever your perspective, whatever your level of awareness, whatever the depth
of understanding you have about what it means to be a new group member, welcoming a new
group member is nothing that ever becomes old hat nor should it be treated as such.
The third element of nurturing the young is
responding to the new group member with openness and
empathy. You need to take the time to consider what the new group member is
experiencing and approach them in that context. If you have trouble recalling your first
days in the group, read the first half of this pamphlet and familiarize yourself with many
of the issues that I raised. I promise you its an accurate portrayal of what you
went through when you joined the group and its an accurate portrayal of what
youll be going through as you welcome your newest group member now. Think about some
of the following issues. How can you best welcome them? How can you best include them? How
can you best teach them what you already know about the group? How can you support them
through their time of transition? How can you do all of this and still attend to your own
experience? I concede that yours is not an easy job that lies ahead, but it is a job that
you have prepared for.
you stop and think about it, honoring the
old...nurturing the young is what your group therapy is all about. Its about openly, yet, respectfully exploring the differences and issues
that exist between people. Its about living
congruency between your words and actions. Its about giving voice to your authentic Self without disrespecting others in so doing.
Its about opening yourself to new
experiences without having your fears stop you short of your goal. Its about letting go of your old ways of protecting yourself
and finding new ways to live in your world, perhaps in a more vulnerable state than you currently do. Its
about letting people be where they are, even if where theyre at brings discomfort to
you. Its about surrendering the willfulness of my therapy and embracing the humility of our
therapy. Its about letting go of the entitled demands of me and learning how to live in the cooperative
energy of we. Its about falling down and picking yourself up rather than blaming everybody
else for your struggle. Its about confronting the hard things in your life rather
than running from them.
you can see, honoring the old...nurturing the
young is more than just a value of the foundational
value system. Its the solution to the most challenging task of your group
experience--welcoming a new group member. The first few weeks and months after somebody
new has joined the group can be a turbulent time for the group. How the new and current
group members work through the issues stimulated by their initial experiences with each
other will set into motion long standing patterns of behavior that can either enrich or
impoverish each one of yours group therapy experience.
that I am better able to discuss with you the other four values of the foundational value system of the Group Therapy Contract, I have written a second
pamphlet, Honoring the Old...Nurturing the
Young: Part 2. Please read Honoring the Old...Nurturing the Young: Part 2 carefully, thoughtfully, and thoroughly.
chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your
children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs
free. Learn how
to in Dr. Frischs, Psy.D. Recovery book series.