The contact boundary is where we meet and withdraw from our environment.  Contact Boundary Disturbance is a “habit in which a response (to avoid contact) manifests in the individual’s personality even though the original circumstances under which the disturbance may have had adaptive value are not present.” (Perls, 1973).  For example, if a client was punished or threatened with punishment for speaking out as a child, even though they will not currently be punished for speaking their truth, they still act in a habitual way of retroflection, or avoiding contact.

Contact Boundary Disturbances:

  • Introjection: Taking in whole something from the environment and it lives within us undigested.  “Undigested attitudes, ways of acting, feeling and evaluating, psychology calls introjects, and the mechanism by which these alien accretions are added to the personality are called introjections.” (??)
  • Confluence: Feeling no boundaries between one’s self and the environment.
  • Deflection: Turning away. Putting up shields.
  • Retroflection: Turns against one’s self as they would like to treat another.
  • Projection: Making the environment responsible for what originates in the self. (Perls p. 37).  Assigning our experience to another person. Denying an aspect of ourselves and putting it onto someone else.

“The introjector does as others would like him to do, the projector does unto others what he accuses them of doing to him, the man in pathological confluence doesn’t know who is doing what to whom, and the retroflector does to himself what he would like to do with others.” (Perls, 1973). 

Contact and presence allows the disruption to emerge. Without an agenda, we drop into deep presence and awareness.  From this meditative state, the experiment emerges naturally.  Once we become aware of the inspiration or insight for an experiment, we offer it to a client and see if they are open to it.  In every moment of an experiment, contact, presence, and awareness are the guiding forces. 

Knowing the contact boundary disturbance we’re working with is useful in determining how we want to design an experiment. While there are overlaps, I want to offer some real life examples in order to conceptualize this work.

Introjection: Moving out acquired misbeliefs.

Examples of experiments:

  • Putting the misbelief in a chair.
    • Notice what it feels like to get space from it. 
    • Take time sensing into the movement of energy. 
  • From here, what would you like to say to it? 
    • What do you notice as you say that?  
  • Go to the other chair. 
    • What do you notice here? 
    • Is there anything you want to say? 
  • Go back and forth.  
  • A polarity may emerge. Name and unblend the polarity.

Confluence: Setting Boundaries:  Discovering a sense of self separate from others.

Examples of experiments:

  • Getting other people energetically out of the room. Noticing what it feels like to be you and take up more space. 
  • Seeing the other person as 1 inch tall (NLP technique). 
  • Feeling into your energetic boundary. Feeling the earth supporting you. Feeling your midline. 
    • Then presence the other person, what would you want to say to them from here? 

 Deflection: Somatic Sensation: Turning towards sensation and experience.

Examples of experiments: 

  • Closing eyes and sensing into the body. 
  • With eyes open, turning away consciously, both practitioner and/or client. 
  • Exploring with distance.

Retroflection: Working with Inner Critic

Examples of experiments: 

  • Since a retroflection is a turning on one’s self, one option is to put the caregiver in a chair and have them say to them what their inner critic has turned inward.
  • Another option is to put the inner critic in the chair, and discover what it is polarized against. Then proceed with two chair.  
    • As you work with this, you may touch on introjected ideas that need to be cleared.

Projections: Finding Self-Responsibility

Examples of experiments:

  • When a client comes in talking about someone else, they must look into the mirror of relationship in order to find sovereignty. Sometimes, the reflection of the practitioner is enough for them to see it. If not, guiding the client into deeper contact with themselves. Then invite them to an empty chair exercise with the person.
  • Reframe language into ownership. Invite them to reframe language into ownership. 
  • Track where they leave contact with themselves and bring their attention there. 

“To the degree that our biologically based core needs are met early in life, we develop core capacities that allow us to recognize and meet these needs as adults…To the degree that our internal capacity to attend to our own core needs develop, we experience self-regulation, internal organization, expansion, connection, and aliveness, all aspects of physiological and psychological well-being.” (Heller and Lapierre, 2012)

5 Biologically Based Core Needs and Capacities (Heller and Lapierre, 2012):

  • Connection: Capacity to be in touch with our body and emotions. Capacity to be in touch with others. 
  • Attunement: Capacity to attune to our needs and emotions. Capacity to recognize, reach out for, and take in physical and emotional nourishment.  
  • Trust: Capacity for healthy dependence and interdependence. 
  • Autonomy: Capacity to set appropriate boundaries, say no and set limits, and speak our mind with our guilt and fear. 
  • Love-sexuality: Capacity to live with an open heart. Capacity to integrate a loving relationship with a vital sexuality.

When our caregivers are unable to meet our core-needs, we develop strategies that are based in a survival instinct.  Disconnection from our body, rejection of our emotions, believing our needs do not deserve to be met, need to be in control, difficulty setting limits, and being image focused are some of the ways we cope with the trauma of not having our needs met by our caregivers. This isn’t to blame our caregivers for how we are, but to empower us to see the way we adapted to our environment. When we can see where we learned to be the way we are, we can see our conditioned self more clearly. This clarity can help us amend our internal fractures. 

Each contact boundary disturbance has a positive expression. Once the gestalt formation is complete, a person has greater access to the following:

  • Positive Introjection = Being able to consider other people’s opinions
  • Positive Confluence = Being in love, intimacy, transpersonal connection
  • Positive Deflection = To ease tension, take a break, create sense of safety
  • Positive Retroflection = Increasing self-care, self awareness, introspection
  • Positive Projection = Intuition, sensing something about someone



Bowman, Deborah and Leakey, Trish.  (2005).  The Power of Gestalt in Accessing the Transpersonal: Working with Physical Difference and Disability.  The Gestalt Review, 10/1. (week 11)

Gendlin, E. (1978). Focusing. New York: Everest House.

Heller & LaPierre (2012). Healing Developmental Trauma:  How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship.  North Atlanta Books.

Mann, D. (2020). Gestalt Therapy (100 Key Points). Routledge.

Naranjo, C. (1993). Gestalt Therapy: The Attitude and Practice of an Atheoretical Experimentalism.  California: Gateway Publishing.

Perls, Fritz.  (1973). The Gestalt Approach and Eye Witness to Therapy.  CA: Science and Behavior Books, Inc.


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