Most likely, if we work together, there will be a moment when I will invite you to join one of my therapy groups. I will listen very closely to your reaction. This is because my invitation is not only an invitation to actually join, but also an invitation to deepen our exploration of your inner thoughts and feelings. The invitation becomes a metaphor for how you feel about being invited to belong to something, becomes symbolic of how you feel about emotional intimacy, and represents significant relationships from your past.
For example, sometimes when I invite someone to join one of my therapy groups, they are absolutely terrified of the idea of sitting in a circle and sharing with others. When I bring it up to them for the first time, they immediately feel anxious and overwhelmed with the idea. They may anticipate feeling unsafe, controlled or humiliated. As we explore this further, we come to fully realize just how powerfully negative the imagined group is in their mind. The group in this case may remind this person of their overbearing parent who took control over everything in front of everyone, and had to have the last word. This person may be reacting to the invitation to join the group with an old fear that they had in their family as a child. A fear that any intimacy in a group setting comes with a price of being controlled and feeling humiliated. What we come to learn from this conversation is that this person may be afraid of showing any vulnerability in relationships because it has not been safe before.
Others may be initially really intrigued by the invitation and immediately want to know more about it. Perhaps they were in the role of entertainer in their family and love to perform. Maybe they got a lot of attention, admiration and love when they were funny or joking around when with their family. Maybe they developed being in the role of entertainer in all kinds of groups. Belonging in a group to this person stimulates excitement with an imagined opportunity to have some fun or to show off how funny they are. This person may be afraid of showing their vulnerability in a more serious way because they are afraid that they are unlovable or will be neglected unless they are entertaining others.
Alternatively, some may be interested in joining a group, but are hesitant to join because they don’t want to have to share their leader (who may represent a parent) with others. Perhaps they didn’t feel they got enough love or enough of a feeling of being special from their mother or father, and were somewhat neglected in their family. Maybe their parents favored a younger sibling, and they imagine that they’d have to share the attention and love from the leader with their siblings. They may worry that their leader will neglect them, just as how their parents neglected them, and will have to either put up with crumbs of affection or will have to compete for the love of the leader.
No matter what a your reaction may be to my invitation to join one of my therapy groups, I have found that simply thinking about joining a therapy group has proved to be extremely useful to deepen and further our therapeutic work. Discussing your reactions to joining a group may help us to learn a lot more about how your past relationships have shaped your fears, your desire, your capacity and your interest for emotional connection and intimacy.