The Gestalt Chairs Technique

In order to complete the business of forgiving deeper offenses, your feelings must be acknowledged, expressed, and worked through. Ideally, the offender will listen to and feel the full extent of your pain, acknowledge that wrong was committed, and express sorrow—fully knowing what he/she is sorry about. The offender will not shut you down and minimize your feelings with comments such as, "Oh, I didn't mean it" or "I wasn't trying to hurt you—don't be so sensitive." Gestalt chairs can be used to process unfinished business with an offender who is dangerous, unavailable, or unable or unwilling to deal with your hurt. It can help you to process and complete your feelings, and also, perhaps, better understand the offender's position.

1. Arrange two chairs, facing each other at an angle. Sit in one.

2. Take two easy, deep breaths. Relax. Calm yourself as you prepare to get in touch honestly with your feelings.

3. Imagine the offender sitting in the other chair. Notice what it is like being with this person. Notice your feelings, the anger, and all the other feelings beneath the anger.

4. Begin a dialogue.

• Start by making a positive statement (e.g., "Years from now I want to have good feelings when I think about you, but right now I don't. My aim is to resolve this, not hurt you.").

• Explain what you want (e.g., "I want you to hear and understand my hurt and not cut me off with 'I'm sorry' or 'I didn't mean it' before hearing me out.").

• Tell the person what you are thinking and feeling.

• Describe what happened.

• Describe the impact of the offense, and especially your feelings (e.g., "I felt . . . ; Now I feel . . .").

• Remain seated. Think. Feel your feelings—the anger, the hurt, the sadness.

5. Change seats. Allow the offender to think and feel his feelings—his own hurts, disappointments, frustrations. Allow the offender to respond. Express the offender's perspective, including his view of what happened, his thoughts and feelings. Stay seated after talking. Think. Feel, as though you were the offender, all his feelings.

6. Keep changing seats until both have fully expressed themselves.

In your mind's eye, look at the person who is listening. Stay with your feelings until they are fully experienced and expressed. At some point, you'll probably want to:1

• Check to ensure that what is said was understood. ("Do you understand why this was difficult for me? Are you hearing that?" Then let the other person respond. Both can pose this question.)

• Ask the offender, "I'm trying to understand. What were you feeling? Why did you do that?"

• Consider injecting an opportunity for the offender to say those healing words: "I hurt you. I was wrong. I'm sorry."

• Consider if there were two angry or hurt people, not just one.

You might consider taping such a dialogue to hear the feelings better and further process the dialogue.

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