The Enfoldment Principle

An article by Marianne Hill – Shadow Work Practitioner and Trainer

Over the time I have spent working with clients, groups and, more recently, running practitioner trainings, I have found an overriding ethic or principle has emerged, which guides me through the many different interpersonal interactions I have each day. I call this ‘The Enfoldment Principle’.

While the ideas behind this principle are not in any way new, unique or revelatory, my experience of living this principle has been transformational, both professionally and personally. In this article I will try to encapsulate in words the essence of this idea.

Unconditional Positive regard

As Healing The Shadow practitioners we aim, in the same way as nearly all other therapists, to provide a place of unconditional positive regard for our clients. We connect deeply with our clients and provide acceptance, care, even love. At the same time we understand that, in order to provide such a space we, ourselves, as practitioners, need to feel both safe and content.

So when holding space for our clients our aims are threefold: first, to provide a space where we connect deeply with the client and accept and welcome every part of them into the room; second, at the same time to hold our boundaries (for example, about the end time of a session); and third, to also state clearly what we want (for example, when and how we require payment to be made). Each of these three aspects is essential for the client to experience a deep and authentic level of holding.

The Enfoldment Principle

So what is the Enfoldment Principle? Very simply put, The Enfoldment Principle expresses the idea that it is not enough for this deep threefold holding to be extended only to the client – it is also necessary for the practitioner themselves to be receiving this level of holding. 

If this isn’t happening in a significant way in the practitioner’s life, the holding that the client receives may appear on the surface to be warm and accepting, but may actually be experienced on an energetic level by the client as fragile and unsupported. There is a lack of integrity in the therapeutic relationship, which may feel like the energy of “do as I say, not as I do”.

The Enfoldment Principle naturally extends to facilitating group workshops. It implies that when running a group, the group leaders need to apply the same level of holding to each other as they do to the group. This means welcoming and accepting all parts of each other in all their interactions, before, during and after the workshop, while also stating clearly what they want from the other facilitators, and what their boundaries are.

This extends further to the training of therapists, too. Here, the principle means that it is necessary that the trainee therapists are held by the trainers with the same unconditional care, support and love with which they are being taught to hold their clients. And it also embodies the idea that the trainers and training assistants receive this level of holding and care from each other.

I believe that if this enfolding principle does not run through every part of an organisation, the unconditional care and support offered to the clients will, in reality, lack depth and robustness, and is likely to be brittle and unsustainable.

Extending The Principle To Our Wider Life

Since this principle can be extended from clients to colleagues to co-facilitators and co-trainers, to assistants and trainees, it seems a logical next step to extend this way of relating to others in our lives as well: our families and friends perhaps, and beyond that  into all our meaningful relationships. 

A practitioner who lives a life where they both give and receive this level of holding in their personal relationships will be experienced by their clients in a very different way to one who aims to offers this level of care but doesn’t regularly and routinely receive it themselves.

Applying the Enfoldment Principle is a simple concept that becomes profound when it is lived and practiced. It takes unconditional positive regard out of the therapy room and applies it to ‘real life’ relationships, where things can be much more complex, and defence mechanisms abound in response to the real life risks that people face in their relationships. This is where a deeper level of growth and healing is possible for the practitioner.

And while we are in very different relationships with our partners, children, colleagues and friends to the relationships we have with our clients, the same principles can be transferred to these relationships, and adapted in a way that is appropriate for the different roles we have. The challenges in our real life relationships are often much greater than those we face in our relationships with our clients; this means applying the Enfoldment Principle to our personal relationships can be a lifelong journey. To put it another way, the principle offers us a direction of travel rather than a destination, and therefore will always be a work in progress.

For some practitioners the idea of extending the level of holding offered to clients into other relationships can feel both impossible and exhausting. This may be a sign that the way the practitioner is holding their clients is in some way costing them energetically; they are losing energy that is not replenished. And when this is the case, their practice may become unsustainable in the long term, as they may burn out and lose joy and enthusiasm for their work. This way of working is not a good for their clients either: they will sense their work is ‘exhausting’ the practitioner, and they may also sense the hidden resentment that goes along with this.

So we need to find a way of holding our clients that is genuinely loving and accepting whilst also not costing us. Quite the opposite in fact: if our work is to be sustainable and effective at the deepest level, our relationships with our clients need to be enriching for us and for our lives. This is a core component of the Enfoldment Principle.

As we discover and develop this enriching way of relating to others, we can extend it out into every part of our world, so it becomes a way of life and a philosophy to live by, rather than something that is ‘taken out of the box’ and applied only to work with clients. 

Applying this principle sounds simple, but in reality it is a radical and confronting practice. It rapidly highlights our shadows and wounded places, and offers profound opportunities for personal growth and healing. This requires regular in-depth supervision, continued professional development, and a commitment to our own personal therapy. In part this is because we can only offer this form of holding to others authentically, or indeed receive it from others, when we can give it to ourselves – and this is where the deeper work lies.

The Essential Nature Of Expressing Boundaries And Wants

Our objectives in relating to our clients in Healing The Shadow work are threefold:

Accept, meet and understand every part of each person.

Hold your boundaries clearly and firmly.

Ask clearly and openly for what you want.

The first of these objectives may appear, initially, to be the most significant, but in practice the second and third are just as important. It is simply not sustainable to just ‘accept and welcome’ everything. Practitioners also need to have their boundaries strongly in place, be willing to make clear and firm agreements, and be ready to hold people to account. Doing this requires that you value yourself, your time and your well-being, and shows that you care about yourself enough to make these things important. 

Having your boundaries strongly in place allows you to accept all parts of the other person while also feeling safe, protected and respected. Equally, as we are only human, we will find it impossible to completely accept another person if we haven’t put in place what we ourselves need in order to feel safe in that process. 

In a similar way, if we are to ask for what we want, we need to believe inside ourselves that our wants and needs are important. Only then can we be open with the other person about the fact that we too have needs, wants and agendas. Only then can we openly state these, asking for what we want (but not demanding) while also accepting that the other person may not always be able to give us what we want.

By including our boundaries and wants in our relationship with the client (in a way that is appropriate to the client/practitioner relationship, and in the context of unconditional positive regard) we will actually be in relationship with the client, not just ‘doing therapy’ or ‘playing a role’. This makes our relationship real, while still professional and boundaried. This keeps us alive and vibrant as practitioners, and is of great therapeutic value for the client.

Including our boundaries and wants in our other relationships, both professional and personal, enables us to feel safe and confident enough to accept other people exactly as they are. That way, we can accept all the different parts of the other person. And this keeps the relationship real, alive and vibrant whilst at the same time allowing it to be supportive and caring.

Of course, the range and nature of our boundaries, needs and wants will be very different depending on the type of relationship we have with someone – colleague, friend, partner, child – but the same guiding principles can apply.

At Healing The Shadow we have a framework specifically designed to help with this territory: the Five Fields Framework. This is used throughout our organisation to help everyone navigate the challenges of accepting and understanding each other while also setting boundaries and expressing wants. This framework supports us in sustaining vibrant, resilient, authentic and healing relationships with each other. As an extension of this, we have developed the Restoring Connection Process. This is a facilitated process used to explore conflict that arises between people in the Healing the Shadow community.

The Essence Of Shadow Work – Accepting All Parts Of Ourselves That Arise In Relation To Our Clients

So, in the Healing the Shadow community, we work at depth on our relationships with each other. Of course, as is true of all relationship work, to truly apply The Enfoldment Principle requires, first and foremost, an authentic and true connection with self. It also requires an understanding of some important ideas and beliefs that are the foundation of shadow work: namely, that we are all made of many different parts, and that when we choose to act from one part of ourselves in preference to another part, the ‘banished’ part can gain power in the background and can cause us problems at a later date.

So if, as a practitioner, we aim to provide unconditional positive regard for our clients, what happens to the grumpy or hateful parts of ourselves – the parts that might feel angry with a client for being late, or judge them for a behaviour they have come to us to heal? And what happens to the frightened child inside of us who is afraid of the client’s anger? What happens to those parts of us which feel abandoned when a client doesn’t show up for their session?

The simple answer is that before we can accept all parts of the client, we have to accept all parts of ourselves. We have to find a way to be compassionate towards these parts of ourselves that we would rather we didn’t have. We have to find a way to accept and hold all these parts of ourselves in love. If we don’t do this, if we try to banish these parts, they will come out in shadow ways, which will negatively impact on the client.

We need to listen to and accept these parts of ourselves in a way that doesn’t disrupt our relationship with the client, but rather informs and enriches our relationship with them. This work is a core part of the Two Year Healing The Shadow programme, and it is the key to becoming an engaged, joyful and fulfilled practitioner whose work serves the client at the deepest level.

For further information about the Two Year Practitioner Training please visit the practitioner training website

For further information about Healing The Shadow work, including details of group workshops, 1-2-1 sessions, couples work. Marianne’s Website

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