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“My mother is a sociopath”. ” You are either a slave or an enemy.”

These comments come from an article with Tamara Mellon in The Times magazine, 19th October this year. What has this got to do with me? Even worse, why did these comments resonate? (and that’s me in the role of the mother I’m talking about, not Tamara herself.)

Many people know that July 2012 I broke my elbow (in three places, going down a hill, on a charity ride!), and that it was a huge physiotherapy and physical recovery to get my arm moving again and strong. It has taken me much longer to make sense of my emotional and psychological recovery (or adjustment, or some other word yet to be thought of…)

After my accident, we needed to cancel our two week family holiday and we stayed at home, my husband looking after me. When he went back to work, I felt abandoned. Even I knew cognitively this was not the case, he was just going back to work. I also found it excruciatingly painful from a psychological point of view, not just physical, to put myself in physical pain to stretch my arm with the physiotherapy exercises. These two things made it crystal clear to me that something else and deeper was going on, as well as recovery from a broken elbow.

It took a GP who pointed about that I was talking negatively about my arm and its recovery, to help me get real. I wasn’t keen on anti-depressants so we talked about other options. I visited her for a second time and she had done some research, with a couple of options for therapists with expertise in trauma. I picked the one I liked the look of and was nearer and set off! I have received counselling in the past for bereavement and other issues; this was the first time I was willing to see a psychotherapist and call it that. It’s now about a year since we got started.

Lots and lots of my therapeutic journey has been about my relationship with control. How much I need to feel I am in control and how insecure I am when I don’t feel I am. And of course, it’s obvious now –  after my accident it was like going back to being a baby – there was very, very little I could do for myself, certainly at first. I was not in control. And a lot was evoked from that time, needing attention.

It’s not been comfortable realising how much of my blueprint is about needing to be in control. A breakthrough came in my therapy this week. I was brave enough to mention the Tamara Mellon article, and say “I think I am like that too with my important relationships, there is a part of me that wants them to be a slave, and when they don’t comply, they become the enemy and I distance myself”.  And taking into account other changes that have happened since my accident, which include my much stronger needs for belonging and being part of something again (I currently work for myself), and more connection in all my relationships, once again, even I can see, that this binary way of relating – Master/Slave – and if I can’t get to be the Master (and in control), I hate the lack of control so much I will distance myself and exit – that this is counterproductive to what I so deeply want to achieve.

So this week had a real lightbulb moment for me. I’m in these horrible patterns of Master, Slave, Enemy, Distance and Exit. So what do I do, what are the replacement patterns I asked? (I know, you might expect a therapist or coach to pass it back). I did get some answers though. I was already doing it. Oh. The very act of my behaviour in the session showed I could do something else other than that pattern. And had I heard about the paradoxical approach to change – apparently Gestahlt based. (Yes, I am willing to learn more about this.)  Apparently it’s all about understanding our starting point “A”, rather than working out how to get to our destination of “B”. Understand “A” better and “B” will somehow automatically emerge, or somehow seem less important as a problem. And if we don’t take time to understand “A”, how can we get to “B” anyway, as we don’t know our starting point. Which means there are lots of nice challenges here for me and my change management background, and the mantra of starting with the end in mind, having a vision of where you want to get to and so on!!

So let’s come back to the beginning.

What else broke with my elbow? I would now argue my mask and illusion of control. The mask which helped me hide behind the idea that if I think I am in control, I am able to protect myself, get what I want and keep myself safe. That may be partially true but it is now clear that my behaviour – Master, Slave, or Exit – is not serving me well with my personal and professional goals for connection in relationships, belonging and being part of something, and collaborative partnership. And I want that more now, much more than the illusion of control.

So do I feel happy with my progress? Yes I do! Does it matter that I don’t know my destination? Sometimes, but much, much less than it did.  Other ways of looking at things are emerging. And yes, of course, there is more to do. However, each step seems to help me with the ease and confidence to just stay with now, notice when I do what I do, maybe explain it to people (one of the fastest ways I know of getting it from out of the shadows!) and just really enjoy what is good about the current moment. And there is someone else who needs acknowledging in this blog entry for me, once again, it is Brene Brown. I felt shame taking my topic to my therapist this week. But it is my belief in Brene’s research about vulnerability and shame (try her TED talk!), as well as my own felt experience when I have the courage to try it out, that what Brene says is true. Shame cannot survive when there is empathy. As well as the empathy within my therapeutic relationship, I am so appreciative of having had a helping hand from the GP I saw  (it was a locum one, my own one was away). I think it would have been too hard a step on my own.

Gill How

Helping leaders grow, step up and deliver outstanding results


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