Louise, a coaching client, was in a state of confusion. She had thoughts and feelings that seemed to be in opposition with each other.
As I listened, she explained the circumstances surrounding her confusion.
Louise told me that she had recently been promoted to the leadership team. She had been recognized as a rising star. Her new opportunity came with a substantial increase in both compensation and responsibility.
While she was thrilled with the increased income, she was plagued with doubt in her ability to perform in her new role.
Louise had a new vision for her department. At first, she held back on sharing her ideas to get a feel for the other members of the leadership team. She was the youngest member and had replaced Larry, a retiring senior member who represented the old way of doing things.
Although everyone on the team was courteous, there seemed to be a subtle undercurrent that put her on edge.
The day before we met, the edge Louise had been feeling had come into stark definition. While attending a leadership team meeting, she was asked to update the rest of the team on key performance indicators for her department.
Although well prepared, she was practically overcome by anxiety as she delivered her report. During her presentation, two of the team members held a private whispering conversation at the end of the conference table.
Louise told me that she remained poised, a skill she had mastered in her childhood when being antagonized by her older brother. But while she presented as calm on the outside, she was seething inwardly and felt embarrassed by the obvious display of disregard and disrespect. She wanted to run out of the room but maintained her composure as she finished her report.
After the meeting she sat in her office, replaying what had just occurred. Marie was one of the two whisperers who had been so distracting during Louise’s presentation. Marie had been friendly and welcoming when Louise had first joined the leadership team. But Louise sensed that Marie wasn’t sincere. Now she was sure that her new friend was not to be trusted.
It bothered Louise that her emotions had almost sabotaged her ability to perform in the meeting. While she was pleased that she’d held it together, she felt like an imposter and worried that she might be in over her head. Who did she think she was? How had she convinced the decision makers that she was the right person to replace Larry?
Louise considered confronting Marie but decided to let it ride. She was concerned Marie may already be judging her as wrong or incompetent and didn’t want to give her any more ammunition. She wondered if Marie might be undermining her behind her back.
When she spoke with me during our coaching session, Louise told me that she was confused about her inner conflict. Why had she suddenly felt panicked when asked to present? She had stayed up past midnight the night before, preparing. Why didn’t she have the courage to confront Marie? Why did it upset her so much that Marie was holding a side conversation during her presentation? Why was she so concerned about what Marie and the other members of the leadership team thought of her? Why did she doubt her own competence?
As a coach, it’s difficult to not take sides with my clients. But to do so handicaps my ability to help them see the roles that they themselves play in their breakdowns. As long as a client believes that others and external circumstances are responsible for their reactions, they have lost their power.
I like Louise and want her to succeed. I was tempted to see the situation through her lens and could easily imagine her challenge. I was able to set my bias aside and got curious about her reactions. After Louise had answered all my questions about what had taken place, I attempted to help her sort out her confusion.
Looking at my notes, I reflected her story from a “parts” perspective.
Many of us naturally speak about the parts of us that influence the way we think, feel, and act. For example, there was a part of me that sympathized with Louise and wanted to defend her. But, fortunately, there was another part of me that knew she needed a new perspective.
“Would it be alright if I tell you what you just told me from a parts perspective?”
Louise agreed. She already knew how liberating it was to step back and view the parts of herself that influence the way she thinks, feels, and reacts. When we first started working together, she wondered if she had made a mistake when she hired me. She had expected me to tell her how to think, how she should feel, and what to do to get the promotion that she had just gotten.
But that’s not what I did. I’m not an expert in Louise’s life. How could anyone know better than Louise what she is dealing with internally? How could I know her values, her fears, her beliefs, her emotional wounds, and her essence better than she does? My job is to help her remember who she really is so she can show up as the best version of herself in every area of her life. My experience shows that tapping into the wisdom and power of the True Self is the key to true success.
“You’re in your new position at work. You feel proud of your promotion and the extra money. But a part of you doubts your ability to do the job. Does that sound about right?
“You’re excited about some changes you’d like to make in the department now that you’ve got some authority but there is a part of you that has you feeling cautious about moving too fast until you get a better feel for the rest of the leadership team.”
“Right,” Louise agreed.
“A part of you got scared when it was time to present at the meeting despite being so prepared. But you were able to deliver your report while appearing to be poised.”
I could see that Louise was replaying the meeting in her mind. She continued to affirm my observations with slight nods as her eyes looked off into the distance.
“When Marie began to whisper, your body remembered being picked on by your brother and you felt a very familiar embarrassment and anger. The poised part of you was pressed to its limits but you managed to survive the meeting even though you felt like running away.
The anger that you felt was the last line of defense for an embarrassed part of yourself that you’ve been trying to protect for years. If we could help you to resolve those old childhood feelings, none of the other strategies would be necessary.”
I stopped and waited for Louise to process what I had just shared. I could see her wheels turning until they got stuck.
“What strategies?” she asked.
“You have a calm, cool, and collected part that helps you appear poised when you are actually experiencing inner turmoil.
Being cautious and feeling out the rest of the leadership team before advancing your ideas is a strategy.
Spinning theories about what others are thinking, doing, and saying behind your back is a strategy.
Staying up past midnight preparing for the presentation is a strategy.”
Louise was able to see that her unhealed childhood wound was the source of her anxiety and self-doubt. We used the rest of the session to learn more about those parts of her that had developed the strategies that enabled her to be a top performer despite the wound.
Over the next few sessions, we continued to work with her Internal Family System of parts until she was ready to address the original emotional injury that had set it all in motion.
Gradually, Louise recovered her True Self and relaxed at work. She started to see Marie through a different lens as she noticed that she was genuinely kind and thoughtful. But that day in the conference room still bugged Louise so she asked Marie about the whispering.
She was moved to learn that Marie had been so impressed with her presentation that she whispered to her fellow team member, “Looks like Louise is really going to be an asset. She’s a breath of fresh air.”
The Personal Development Coaching relationship is confidential. What my clients experience and share with me, I keep to myself unless I have their permission to share their stories. The story you just read is a conglomeration of coaching conversations I have had with several different clients over the past few years.
I am able to help my clients in this way thanks in large part to the training I’ve gotten through the IFS Institute (www.IFS-Institute.com)
To learn more about how Personal Development Coaching using IFS can help you or someone on your team, contact me for a free 30 minute discovery session.