Unlocking Compassion: 8-Step Gestalt Empty Chair Practice

_BL00 - Unlock Compassion 8-Step Gestalt Empty Chair Practice

By The Mindful Leader Team

The Empty Chair Technique is a valuable tool for self-exploration and emotional healing. By engaging in this experiential exercise, you can gain a deeper understanding of your inner conflicts and emotions, paving the way for personal growth and positive change. It is a talk therapy exercise commonly used in Gestalt therapy which was developed by Fritz Perls in the 1940s. It is designed to allow you to express your thoughts and feelings as if you were talking to a specific person but in a safe, neutral environment.

In this article, we'll explore how you can apply the Empty Chair Technique to work on a challenging relationship with someone like a boss, friend, relative, or coworker. 

Empty Chair Technique in Practice 

When applied to work on a challenging relationship with someone, the Empty Chair Technique can be a valuable tool for gaining insight, resolving conflicts, and improving the quality of that relationship. It can lead to a greater sense of empathy and compassion for the other person.

Here's how you can use the technique in this context:

  1. Preparation: Find a quiet and comfortable space where you won't be interrupted. Set up two chairs facing each other. In this scenario, one chair represents you, and the other chair symbolizes the person with whom you have a challenging relationship.
  2. Identification of the Issue: Take a moment to reflect on the specific issues or conflicts you have with this person. Identify the emotions and thoughts that are causing distress or tension in the relationship. It might be related to a specific incident or a recurring pattern of behavior.
  3. Imagining the Other Person: Sit in one of the chairs, representing yourself, and imagine the other person sitting in the empty chair. Try to visualize them as vividly as possible, considering their expressions, body language, and tone of voice.
  4. Express Your Feelings: Begin a dialogue with the imagined person in the empty chair. Speak openly and honestly about your feelings, thoughts, and concerns related to the relationship. Express yourself as if the person were actually present. Be authentic and specific in your communication, focusing on "I" statements to describe your feelings and experiences.
  5. Switch Roles: After you've expressed your perspective and emotions, physically switch to the other chair, symbolizing the person you're in conflict with. Try to see the situation from their point of view. Respond to what you've said from their perspective. This role reversal can provide valuable insights into their motivations, feelings, and thought processes.
  6. Dialogue Continuation: Continue the dialogue between your two roles as long as it feels helpful. You can go back and forth, expressing your thoughts and emotions, and trying to understand the other person's perspective. This process can help you gain a deeper understanding of the underlying issues and barriers in the relationship.
  7. Resolution and Reflection: When you feel you've explored the issue thoroughly and gained insights into both perspectives, return to your original chair. Take a moment to reflect on what you've learned. Consider how this newfound understanding can lead to constructive changes in your relationship.
  8. Action Steps: Based on the insights gained, consider what practical steps you can take to improve the relationship. It might involve initiating a conversation with the actual person, setting boundaries, or altering your approach to communication.

Final Thoughts

The Empty Chair Technique in the context of a challenging relationship can be a powerful tool for self-reflection, empathy, and compassion-building. It allows you to express your feelings and concerns openly while also gaining a more profound understanding of the other person's point of view. This, in turn, can lead to improved communication, empathy, and potentially the resolution of conflicts. It's essential to approach the technique with an open mind and a genuine willingness to work on the relationship and find common ground.

Have you tried this practice before? What do you like best about it? What do you find most challenging about it? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Looking for more practices to incorporate into your day? Check out our Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course for more mindfulness training. 

Elevate your meditation practice with the power of community through Meditate Together

1 comment


Love the Empty Chair- have used this myself and facilitated it. Thanks for Reminder.

Also I had a great Mindfulness class with you all. MSBR! I am on the mailing list. 

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