book of the same title. Both of these men were referring to the phrase Fritz Perls used to describe the continuum of awareness of the human psyche, essentially a phenomenological description of the experience, identifications, and behaviors of people. Each layer has it’s place in our every-day lives, both in terms of normal and abnormal functioning.
The first layer is called the Cliché layer. It’s what we do when we go to a party, or meet someone new, or pass the time with strangers in an elevator. It’s small talk – good for breaking the ice and beginning the process of getting to know another in a safe and non-threatening way. Small talk is essential. Imagine what social life would be like without it, where everything uttered had to be profound, filled with meaning, deep.
Next is the Role layer. Mother, scientist, psychotherapist, banker, baker, shoe maker … . It’s what we do to make a living, add meaning to our lives, and define ourselves within our society. Our role at any given moment is how we want to be seen by others. It can be something to hide behind, to use as a kind of social armour. “I’m a business woman” feels powerful to some women, whereas “I’m a housewife” doesn’t.
This brings us to the Phobic layer. This layer holds our deepest fears, and is often why we hide behind our roles, providing some “felt” protection from those fears. For instance, if I think that being simply a housewife makes me less than other woman who have careers, then I might “elevate” my status to “mother” because that is a role that is respected. It’s important to know our fears; otherwise we will not be able to be master of our own fate.
Why? Because underlying the Phobic layer is Impasse. The Impasse layer is where we come face-to-face with our fears, overcoming them, or at least forming some kind of truce or alliance. This is the layer of growth and self-discovery. It’s the place of magic, of creativity, and is ruled over by the Muses. When we are able to penetrate this layer, we gain access to our own greatness, because this layer opens the door to our core – to who we really are at any moment.
The core layer represents our true emotions, our real response to the world at a given instant. Perls identified four main emotions – anger, sadness, sex and joy, and maintained that we were either in one of these states, or we felt nothing except deadness.
Pearls referred to the first three layers as the Constructed Self in terms of how we armour ourselves emotionally, and maintained that we must have the courage to Deconstruct ourselves by entering Impasse before the deadness at our core can be turned back on.
For a summary of this theory, read the above-mentioned booklets, or go to http://gestalttherapyinstitute.org/layers-neurotic-personality/.
Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit www.thejoyofliving.co for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.