Since her childhood my client has been ashamed whenever her parents told her she was ‘oh so sensitive and touchy’. The inner state of shame and guilt of being too something, they couldn’t deal with, has never left her. Today, as an adult and mature executive, it still freezes her. On the outside, she says the right things to people when they accuse her or someone else on her team of being touchy, but on the inside, she still feels those old and well-known emotions of shame and anger. “Why do I even have to deal with this?!”, she asks me and wrenches her face in irritation.
And yes, she is an expert in empathy, in listening, in taking other peoples’ emotions on, feeling them herself. She is a master at that. She is the go-to person that other people turn to for help, for a piece of emotional advice in how to deal with a difficult situation or a distressful colleague. She is a rock! At the same time, she is a great leader solving issues, dealing with all sorts of stuff, cherishing other people, making them feel better, understanding them, and being supportive....
Until it has just become too much…
-provoked by a team member’s resignation, a person she has supported unconditionally during the past two years. What a shock! The feelings of anger and disappointment were very apparent this day.
Shadows disappear when lit upon
However, it turns out to be a great starting point to deal pro-actively with the frozen emotions:
We looked into WHY it is such a big issue for her to being sensitive. “What is the worst anyone could ever say about you?” I asked (not that they ever would, because she is skilled at avoiding it…). “I would hate being seen as weedy, weakly, a crybaby”, she said. “I like to take responsibility and get things done instead”.
This is what I call a Shadow (thanks to Debbie Ford and her shadow work). These are aspects of ourselves that we dislike so much (i.e. our weakness, lack of responsibility), that we’d rather go to the other extreme (i.e. being responsible, efficient) to hide the first. Owning both parts, including the lack of responsibility – at least to herself – and the weakness and the fact that she sometimes need help from others – is a relief. Nothing less. This is when we start owning all aspects of ourselves and admit that we do not have to be lonely and strong, but we can be supportive, empathetic, great listeners AND still have needs, that we want to have fulfilled. Needs like, someone to talk to about emotional stuff, be supported, to be cared for. To be respected.
By acknowledging that in the past years, she had been quite careless and irresponsible with her own emotional needs, putting them aside, she gradually started to understand, that she is able to be and hold both aspects of herself: She can be both strong and weak, feel a lot and be insensitive (to herself at least) at the same time. We all are the full spectrum of emotions, and by owning the full range, we become much more robust.
With these new insights into her own emotional geography, she could make better decisions, that felt much better to her. She knew how to deal with her team member and her boss. She left, proud of her sensitivity and with a plan of not letting it overwhelm her.
This is what I call Power: When we know ourselves from the inside and are able to navigate our surroundings with ease and with stamina.