What’s love got to do with it?
Close to burnout
Client A is close to burnout. Part of the reason is that he constantly over-stretches himself to meet other people’s requests for help, their demands for task-fulfilment (whether in A’s remit or not), their apparent need for protection from the consequences of their own behaviour, or the assumptions that A makes about their expectations of him. He never feels good enough. A’s childhood was one in which his needs and voice weren’t acknowledged by his parents. The only way he ever felt approved of or accepted was through his intellectual ability and achievements. Emotions were considered irrelevant in his family, and he felt neither loved nor lovable. He attempted suicide in his teens.
Client B alienates others with her ‘honest’ but brutal and judgmental behaviour, has very high and unforgiving expectations of herself and of others (her language is peppered with ‘should’ and ‘have to’), she often feels isolated, and consistently unappreciated and unvalued, and at the same time is never satisfied with her own performance. She leaves roles or is ‘invited’ to leave (both of which happen relatively frequently), and realises that her reputation is becoming career-limiting. Her personal relationships have (unsurprisingly) also been difficult. She yearns for peace and ease with herself. She reports that as a child she was starved of love and grew up in a family where ‘good’ was never good enough.
Love and self-love
Both are senior, bright, talented people, with much to offer. Both have now reached a point at which they realise that their own behaviours are getting seriously in the way of their leadership, and they want to understand how to manage themselves differently. Both have been deprived of love in their formative years – and both evidence little capacity for self-love as well as a powerful need to be valued and approved of by their external environment.
Wellbeing, career and self-protection
Besides the negative impact on their wellbeing (exhaustion in a life that has little space, pleasures or joy in it, in one case, and a relentless drive to squeeze ever more achievement from self and others in the other, and deep-seated unhappiness, in both cases), each is also damaging their career prospects, unconsciously constraining themselves in a trap of attempted self-protection. What has turned out to be a trap, however, started as a means of self-protection which was perfectly appropriate at an earlier stage in their lives.
Messages and loyalties: a new freedom
For both of them, the coaching enquiry into deeply-rooted messages and loyalties that were once appropriate but no longer are, is both painful and cathartic. In their own ways they each experience a liberation, a freedom in an awareness that gives them choices that they hadn’t offered themselves before. They begin to learn about compassion for others, appropriate responsibility for self and others, and – critically – self-compassion. It’s a slow journey, and it’s not easy for either of them to let go of the old patterns that they have held on to in an attempt to keep themselves safe. Hard, too, is the acceptance that it’s appropriate to pay attention to themselves without self-judgment. But they learn, each in their own way, that there is strength and safety and a new-found sense of wellbeing in learning self-love, learning how to listen to their own needs, and self-acceptance.
The health and vibrancy of their working relationships change. Client A begins to find his (assertive, clear but not strident) voice, to be heard, and to find a new sense of belonging. Client B learns to listen to herself and to others with greater presence and with less judgment, and so to discover new richness, breadth and depth in her working environment.
Time will tell what the impact will be for their longer-term career fulfilment and for the effectiveness of their leadership. For the moment they both appear to me to be more balanced and more at peace.
Love has everything to do with it
Each of them is bringing more presence and self-love to work. A new, more settled, state seems to be emerging as a status quo, a way of being. It seems to me that love has everything to do with that.