STRAIGHT TALK FOR POLYS: The Gestalt Model by Sasha Lessin, Ph.D
Assert what you want and need. Take responsibility for what you want.
Contact your beloveds authentically. Express feelings directly, without blame.
Distinguish what you actually do from what you try or want. Understand how you
limit yourself. Honor your natural rhythm of contact and withdrawal.
Speak up; don't wait for your partner to invite you to talk. Encounter each
other. Express upsets, unfinished business, resentments, demands,
appreciations. Speak for yourself.
Make "I ..." statements. Accept no shoulds from your lovers or anyone else.
Address each other directly. When you talk to your partners, look at and see
the effect you have on them. Adjust what you say to their ability to hear and
understand you. When they talk to you, notice the effect on you. Say how you
feel about what they said to you. Share reactions, not interpretations or
generalizations. Notice--and comment on--your body signals. Comment on their
body signals (when, say, they yawn or wiggle while you talk). Focus on subtle
interruptions of your own and your partners' attention; bring them into the
Stay aware of (and share) your sensations, emotions and perceptions. Feel and
show your pain and pleasure. Express your needs; don't manipulate, explain,
justify or judge. Reveal your internal rehearsals--what you think about saying
before you talk--to your partners. Notice what you choose to conceal. Remain
You experiment, in the communication exercises to follow, contrasting
indirect and direct communication. First you're deliberately indirect, using
questions to avoid expressing your feelings, so you can heighten your awareness
of any habitual avoidance of directness you may practice.
Then you change your questions to self-expression and also tell your
sweethearts, when they ask questions, to tell you the self-statement behind
Notice questions you or your partners ask that start with the word "Why ..."
and replace "Why..." with reactions, resentments and demands. Change "I try to
..." or "I want to ..." to descriptions of what you do now. Likewise, convert
"I can't ..."--where you use "I can't" to limit yourself and blame the limit on
others or the world--to affirming statements about your choices now.
When you talk straight, you own your projections. You say how the impulses
and traits you dislike, resent, overly admire or react emotionally to in lovers
are your impulses and traits too.
Honor your lovers wishes to be left alone. They needn't respond to you. Get
their okay before you touch, hold or support them. And honor your own rhythm of
contact with and withdrawal from them.
Do no violence to self, partners or property. Maintain each other's
confidentiality. Say nothing that undermines each other.
When you're inattentive, close your eyes. Fantasize going away. Feel, hear,
smell, taste and see where you imagine you go. Then return to the present with
your partners, open your eyes and notice how the present differs from the
fantasy. Think of what you lack in the present that you had in the fantasy.
Tell your partners how you could create what you lack now. Create it.
A coed, eyes downcast, asked me softly, "What do you think about abortion?"
"I'd like to know where you're coming from, asking me that," I replied.
"I ... I'm pregnant. I'm deciding to abort or keep the baby. I need to talk."
This interchange shows the importance of distinguishing genuine requests for
information from manipulative questions. If I had responded with my views on
abortion, I might have missed my questioner's underlying statement about what
she needed for herself.
Genuine questions usually start with "how" or "what". They don't conceal the
personal interest of the questioner in posing the question. Genuine questions
don't contain hidden messages, nor imply criticism.
CHANGE QUESTIONS TO SELF-EXPRESSIONS
Manipulative questions are what you learn to ask to get the other person to
respond to commit her position while you carefully hide yours. I learned as a
child that when I did things my father disapproved (things he didn't know about)
that if I asked him questions he enjoyed answering, he wouldn't find out what I
had been doing. If I kept him talking, he would explain and entertain instead
of criticizing what I said. With questions I could safely assess his position.
His answer to "Do you have any more chores for me to do?" would let me know
whether I could safely ask for a quarter to go to the movies. Such indirectness
The exercises below help you notice your habitual use of questions to hide
your thoughts and feelings from your beloveds. The exercises also alert you to
how questioners get you to respond and miss noticing what the questions
communicate about the askers.
Ask your partners very personal questions. Instead of answering, they respond
to you with other questions. You reply to their questions with other questions.
Keep questioning each other like this for five minutes. Remember what you've
asked of each other.
Assume each of your questions imply two statements--a statement of what you
guess your partners will reply and a statement about yourself and your interest
Guess their replies to each question you asked.
Tell them your interest, where you're coming from, when you posed each
question. Say the feelings, thoughts and personal interests behind the
questions you asked. Make the "I" statements--how your questions reflected your
wants and needsimplicit in your questions.
Hear your partner's guesses and personal interests in the questions they asked
Notice and tell each other how you feel as share underlying statements without
WHY QUESTIONS CRITICIZE. BECAUSE; THAT'S WHY
"Why?" "Cause!" "But, Why?" "Because, because."
Questions beginning with "why" imply criticism and lead to never-ending chains
of explanation and verbalization Instead of posing "why" questions, communicate
directly and cope actively.
CHANGE "WHY?" TO "I DON'T LIKE ...
For purposes of this exercise, critically notice something in your partners'
behavior, mannerisms, demeanor, attitude, status, appearance, dress or position.
Ask, "Why do you act, look, sound, dress, sit," etc.,--the way you regarded
Your partners reply, giving an answer which begins with "because ..." to each
"Why ...?" question.
Whatever answer you receive, question it with "Why?" or "How come?"
Your partners answer you with a "Because ..." answer. You respond with a
further "Why?" Keep asking "why" questions till your partners runs out of
Notice how this interchange with your partners makes you feel.
Now communicate your criticism as a direct statement.
Contrast how you feel receiving direct criticism and criticism disguised as a
Did you discover the infinite regress of causes in your dialogue? If so, what
is your payoff?
FUTURE-PACE QUESTION AWARENESS
Notice, in spontaneous conversation, a question your lovers ask you which you
intuit hides feelings.
Request they share the statements behind the questions.
Tell one of your partners to roleplay you and give the reply s/he imagines
you might. Have her/him alternate roles and enact a dialogue between the two
"TRYING" IS LYING; "WANTING TO" IS CONTRAFACTUAL TOO
"I'm trying to stop smoking. Tomorrow, I'll try even harder."
Write five sentences beginning with, "I'm-trying to . . . " and five
sentences beginning with, "I want to . . .
When you make statements of volition ("wanting to" or "intending to") or
attempt ("trying to"), you avoid fully experiencing present reality. What you
are currently trying to do (pay your bills on time, stop smoking, etc.) differs
from what you actually do. What you want or wish to do (go to Europe, write a
bestseller, etc.) are also not what you are doing.
In cases where you are actually doing what you say you are "wanting to" or
"trying to" do, you can speak more directly (without unnecessary words) by
dropping "trying" or "wanting to" from your utterances. Change statements of
"trying" and "wanting to" to statements of present facts. Experience the
factsyou're not doing what you try to do, you lack what you want--directly,
rather than through the filters of "trying" and "wanting".
Change your "trying" and "wanting to" statements above into statements of
current fact. Relate the value of this procedure.
CHANGE "CAN'T" TO "WON'T" AND TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR LIMITS AND OBSTACLES
Think of five things you'd like to do or ways you would like to be with your
lovers that are within the realm of human possibility yet seem beyond your
capabilities. For each of your five limits, write a sentence beginning with, "I
When you hear yourself say you can't do something you might like to do, tune
into how automatically and passively you accept the limits implied in your
"can't" as a fact of the world or something inevitable.
When your "can't" sounds like an unconscious limit, overcome it by, first,
accepting it. Realize you impose the limit on yourself.
Then you can either keep the limit, as wise for now, or you can transcend it.
In each of the five "can't" sentences you wrote, change the word "can't" to
"won't." Read each aloud, emphasizing the "won't."
Relate to each limit. Do you still feel limited in the same way? How can
you overcome any of your limits? How have these exercises affected your
awareness of your limits?
STRAIGHTEN YOUR CAN'T: Transcend a Parentally Transmitted Limit
Think of a limitation you place on yourself ( a "can't") in relationships as
the result of a negative or destructive message given you by a parent. What is
the message your parent gave you on which your "can't" is built?
What did you want your parent to think, say, feel and do?
Become an ideal parent, one who thinks, feels, does things that would convey
ability--rather than limitsto your child. As this ideal parent, say aloud what
you're like; state your existence.
As ideal parent, tell your child the message s/he needs to hear to feel
supported and love and nurture herself or himself.
Now be your other ideal parent. Describe your being-in-the-world.
Communicate with your child.
Now become yourself as a child with your ideal parents. Create a fantasy
celebration among you. Imagine playing and talking with your ideal parents.
See the reflection of you and your ideal parents on a clear lake. Feel the
sun shining on the three of you. It sends you three a special beam of energy;
it envelopes you in soft golden mist. Breathe in the sunshine and feel love and
support from your ideal parents, from the lake, from the sun and from the
If you have any residual negativity or parts of your "can't", imagine holding
them to the sunshine. They vaporize. Only golden sunshine remains. Go outside
and experience sunshine.
Personify and dialogue with the limit, "can't," as though that limit were a
CHANGE "BUT" TO "AND"
Write, then say aloud three sentences about how you feel toward your lovers.
Put the word "but" or "however" in the middle of the sentence so it lessens the
impact of the first half of the sentence. (Example: "I love Mom, but I hate her
nagging" changes to "I love Mom and I hate her nagging). When you use "and"
instead of "but" this way, you let yourself feel the full emotional impact of
both halves of your sentence.
Notice how, when your change "but" and "however" to "and" and say the
sentences aloud you experience fuller expression than you had on both sides of
"but" and "however" before you replaced them with "and."
CHANGE "IT" TO "I"
Here is where it is; Now is when it is; And you are it.* [*Erhart, W., seen on
a poster in the 1970s]
When you use "It" instead of "I" or "You," you diminish the impact of your
utterance. Get in touch with how this feels by exaggerating the use of "it."
For five minutes, speak with your partners and begin each sentence with "it".
Now have the same conversation, using the same sentences you used before,
change each "it" to "you."
Change "you" to "I." Where you changed "it" to "you", see if you can
meaningfully put "I" in its place.
USE "SHE" AND "HE", THEN USE "YOU"
Turn your back to your lovers to experience the discomfort of being spoken
of as a "he," "she" or a named object. They speak about your qualities,
characteristics, attitudes and traits as though you were not here. Let each of
them have a turn with their backs turned to you, as you speak of their
idiosyncrasies, as though they were absent.
Notice how you feel when you speak about (instead of to) your partners and
how you felt when they spoke of you.
Turn around and face your partners. Speak directly to them; say "you"
instead of speaking about them as "he,", "she," or a named object. Give each
direct feedback on how you perceive them.
Compare your feelings getting feedback directly versus overhearing yourself
being discussed as "her" or "him." Compare also how you felt speaking with your
backs turned versus facing each other.
CHANGE "YOU" STATEMENTS TO "I" STATEMENTS
A "you" statement is a disguised "I" statement which makes blame easy, hides
feelings, and distances and manipulates the person addressed. Example: "You're
an angry grump."
Write five statements to each of your partners, beginning with the word
For each statement you have wrote, write the underlying "I" statement.
React to the hypothesis that statements about your partners hide statements
about yourself, citing your experiment with the statements above.
Become, as an actor, the personification of the traits and qualities you
cannot stand your partners and would hate to find in yourself. Pretend you are
the way you'd hate to be. Express the emotions you have as the hated part.
Experience the energy you feel as the embodiment of those traits.
Derive a way in which you can harmoniously integrate positive aspects of
these traits into your life.
When you are healthy, Naranjo says, you live by the following.
Live NOW, concerned with the present, rather than the past or future.
Live HERE. Deal with what is"present, rather than what is absent.
Experience the REAL. Do not replace your body experience with what you
Come to your senses. TASTE, HEAR, FEEL, and SEE your life right now rather
than mainly thinking about it or analyzing it.
Directly EXPRESS your needs without manipulating, explaining, justifying or
Fully let yourself feel and show your PAIN and PLEASURE.
Make your own CHOICES. Accept no 'shoulds' from others.
Take RESPONSIBILITY for your actions, feelings and thoughts.
BE who you are.
[*Sources: Kepner, E., "Gestalt Group Process" and Ronall, R., "Intensive
Gestalt Groups" in Feder, B. (Ed.), 1980, Beyond the Hot Seat, NY:
Brunner/Mazel;Naranjo, C., "Present-Centeredness" in Fagen, J., (Ed.), 1970,
Gestalt Therapy Now, NY: Harper; Stevens, J., 1971, Awareness, Moab: Real People