Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale

On Entering a New Group

Entering a new group happens frequently in our lives. Whether going into the grocery store, joining a new class or being at a dinner party, whenever you are with a group of people, in any setting, there are group dynamics happening. Bringing awareness to how you show up in group situations can inform you not only about yourself but also about the group. By paying attention to how you enter a new group, you prepare for deeper understanding and potentially a more profitable engagement in the group.

Imagine, for a moment, walking in to a party where you don't know many people. Do you feel excited or anxious preparing for the party? Do you adjust your posture before arriving; do you feel a little taller, or shorter? Do you look for the host or people you know right away or do you engage with strangers? Do you tend to watch for awhile or jump right in to the middle of things? Think about whether there are expectations about how the party will be or judgments of those in attendance. All the feelings, postures, thoughts, emotions and interactions inform you about who you are in relation to yourself at a party where you don't know many people. How do these behaviors follow you into other groups you enter?

Physical sensations are often a good place to start this self-reflective practice. The body will reflect the present emotions as well as its history. When entering a new group, notice where there is tension in your body, notice your posture, when you feel like falling asleep, if your stomach is growling. Sometimes there can be physical pain to get your attention, or an unusual need to frequent the ladies room. These are all indicators of your internal state of affairs! Some unconscious historical affiliations may also be sparked. Taking a moment to pay attention to what is presenting on the physical level, will bring a connectedness to yourself that often results in more ease.

Next, observe your interactions. Do you tend to be silent, or silent on the outside but very busy inside? Do you draw a blank, wish you were not there at all, or get consumed with anxiety? Or can you not stop talking, interrupting, waiting anxiously for someone else to finish, so you can say what is so important? Do you want to hear more from the designated leaders, or wait to be asked before you will speak? Observing how you do interaction does not necessitate changing your tendency, but does bring you more information about who you are in relation to yourself in this particular group. Are your behaviors comforting to you; is there a way you are hiding behind your actions; have you consciously chosen how you are interacting, or are you coming from a habitual mode?

A defense is a method of protecting oneself, usually from a perceived attack or injury. As we go through our days, we employ a number of defense mechanisms to try to keep ourselves safe. Holding a hand over our eyes to keep out the glare of the sun can be a protective measure as can tension in the body, or how I interact with others. We all have our preferred defenses, and we can be pretty tricky about convincing ourselves we are not defensive. It may take a while to recognize, for instance, that how I hold my body, or how much I talk can be a way to keep my emotions checked as well as maintain separation from others. By monitoring our physical sensations and level of interactions, we can begin to get familiar with our patterns of defense. It is not so important to change these behaviors, but it is vital in the self-reflective process to be aware of my defenses so I can eventually choose whether the defense is where I want to be coming from and to discern whether the threat is real or imagined. When a person is in defense, they are less available for contact or connection with others. Think of a shield of armor as a common defense in battle. It blocks the defendant from sight and protects him from the threat of onslaught, but also is an impenetrable barrier between him and the offender. When I am familiar with my defenses, I can come to know when I am being defensive. When I am familiar with my defenses, I can choose to let down the impenetrable barrier, surrendering to my authentic internal state of affairs and thereby increase my contact or relationship with others. I may still employ a healthy boundary without being defensive.

How are you feeling about the other people in the group? The way people look gives much information, but your opinion or judgment is filtered through your own life experience. Are there certain people you feel an affinity with from the start; are there others that you find repulsive or distant from? Are there some who seem to be more like you or different from you? What is behind these differences? Pay attention to the internal judgments you create about others on first sight. Bringing attention to first impressions is valuable information about the template (the master pattern) of your relationships in the group. You may have feelings about someone but not easily find the association to any one else in your current life.

People in the group may remind you of someone you have known in the past and therefore you may carry over memories of that person on to the new person. There may be characteristics of others that remind you of some part of yourself.

In almost any group, there is a good possibility that the individual members of the group, or the group in its entirety, will remind you of your family of origin. Watch for how your personal reactions in the group may mimic how you participated in the dynamics of your family. At times these can be quite overt while at others times subtle; but undoubtedly, your family of origin will show up in the group. Here is an opportunity to bring understanding about where you learned your responsive behaviors, how you are triggered by others and so much more about your personal politics.

Raising awareness as to how we enter a group is the beginning of the self- reflective process. Notice how you are doing yourself; watch for the critical judge of both others and yourself and get familiar with the shadow material of entering. As you observe others in the group, use this information to learn about yourself. Get curious; be active in the process of entering and have fun with it!


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