You are here: Balance Your Success »

Tag : hope

Change Your Negative Life Story

I try to teach my clients and those close to me that negativity is a learned perspective. When we are growing up we are all exposed to views of the world that are not objective or reasonable. Anthony, one of my group clients grew up with parents from two different countries who met in Europe during the last world war. Even though they have been living in the United States for over 50 years they still consider themselves to be suffering from prejudice from American neighbors and former co­­‑workers. Anthony grew up hearing Americans are greedy, selfish and biased against all foreigners. His parent’s pessimism pervaded much of their thinking and he was often told to shy away from anything unfamiliar. Basically their view of life was to take no chances and never stray from family as “outsiders” could not be trusted. He realized as time went on that his parents assertions were mainly based on their own insecurities and unwillingness to trust.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Despite knowing this reality as an adult he has remained an untrusting person, very afraid to take chances and afraid that he will be ridiculed if he reveals his true nature to anyone. His first wife eventually left him as she could no longer tolerate his unhealthy attachment to his parents and his un-willingness to make friends and socialize.

      Anthony, interestingly, is a member of one of my group sessions where 4 of the 10 members were born in other countries and all immigrated to the states in the last several years. Anthony was initially surprised that these individuals did not experience the bias he expected. In fact three of them were recruited by American companies, helped to find housing and were graciously received by their colleagues. They had difficulty of course, adjusting to a new culture but none spoke of the bias that Anthony had been taught to experience. It wasn’t just the fact that members from other lands had a different experience that eventually made the difference in his world view.

        What changed his pessimism into a reality based view of life?                                                     First and most importantly he developed trust in myself and group members. As he said “I can see and really feel how you all care about each other, at first I thought you were all playing a role but over time I realized you were complete strangers at one time, from all over the world and now you have come to truly like and respect each other, you’re like a family of friends”.

        Eventually, based on this established trust, Anthony was able to systematically examine his views of life and their accuracy. He essentially was able to obtain a consensus view based on objective feedback rather than the hard wiring he adopted from his family. This is the critical juncture for change. We can only change our old story by having the courage to take in objective feedback in the present. I have seen this process result in profound changes in many lives. It is not simple or easy, it requires the courage to change based on your faith in the well meaning of others trying to help you move forward in life while leaving the biases of the past behind. Anthony and many others who are truth seekers, what I call “spiritual learners” arrive at a place of comfort within and with others that is truly life saving. One of my previous blogs describes the “spiritual learner” concept and chapter 16 in “The Curse of the Capable-With an Open Heart and Open Mind-The Spiritual Learner” is a more complete reference for you as well.


Where to turn for help!

       In recent weeks I have had several clients ask me what the difference is between executive coaching, psychotherapy, positive psychology coaching, and supportive psychotherapy. In general many people don’t know the difference between coaching and therapy and find it difficult to decide who to call to successfully reach their goals.

     Due to limited space I cannot describe the differences among these modalities in detail but let me outline a few key distinctions that may clarify the direction you might want to pursue.

   Psychotherapy that explores how the past relates to the present is called psychodynamic, basically exploring the cause and effect of life circumstances. Supportive psychotherapy is more present based, does not delve into the past because the client may not be resilient enough to cope with deeper work, or because the individual does not require more than a supportive relationship to attain their desired outcome. Certified coaches and positive psychology coaches’ focus on present issues related to lifestyle, work situations, health, and personal issues with clear strategies to achieve positive results.                                 

Many clinical psychologists use both psychotherapy and coaching modalities. They decide through a comprehensive evaluation which modality is best suited to a client’s needs and capabilities. Several psychotherapeutic methods focus exclusively on the present akin to the present focus of coaching approaches. Certified coaches are also trained to focus on present oriented strategies and are taught to refer clients to licensed mental health clinicians when history seems to interfere with current functioning.

     In my view there is one major issue that differentiates practitioners and the approaches they use: when to explore the past and when to focus exclusively on the present and future. I have found over the years that clients are often indecisive as to which direction they should pursue. I have interviewed people who think they want coaching when in fact they really need to work out historical hurts that are hampering their current life. On the other hand I have worked with people convinced they need to be-labor the past when they really need to be strategizing on how to establish a healthier lifestyle in the present. Unfortunately if you place yourself in the hands of an inexperienced practitioner you could be headed down the wrong path for a very long time, wasting your resources while experiencing a disappointing outcome.

     So what are the indicators telling you which way to proceed? If you have written a story about yourself that is negative in nature it will dominate your life experience and rob you of ever reaching your potential. If you received an adequate amount of empathy early in life, emerged with a positive story about whom you are and what you are capable of, you don’t need to focus on the past. My golden rule is if the past is interfering with the present it needs attention, if the past is not a factor in terms of current dilemma’s then it is not necessary to focus on history.

   How do you know if the past is interfering in your current life? It is quite difficult to determine alone, as one of my European clients recently remarked, “The camel never sees its own hump”. Ask those close to you if they see a pattern in your behavior. Patterns, good or bad, reveal historical learning’s and certainly reveal the story you have written about yourself over time.

     A client of mine was referred a few months ago by his HR department because he was having difficulty working for a female manager and was not advancing within his department. According to the HR representative his manager is a person who speaks with authority, is known for being a powerful strategist with a no –nonsense approach to those who work for and with her. My client wanted a brief coaching experience to develop better strategies to cope with what he considered her “cold, arrogant and uncaring behavior” as well as his belief that she was limiting his potential. He wanted strategies to address his superior successfully but had little interest in exploring his past or considering how his personal roots may be related to his current perceptions.

    Ultimately he humored me and told me about his family background. His alcoholic mother, an attorney who was noted for being feared in court as well as being feared by her passive husband was the dominant figure in his early childhood. My client grew up feeling anxious in his mother’s presence due to her unyielding perfectionism which was made worse by her lack of affection. My client witnessed his father taking a helpless stance and retreating with obvious dissatisfaction. You get the picture as to how his old story could dominate his current thinking and perceptions. Without re-writing his fictitious account of himself, particularly the chapter that indicated he would be humiliated in the presence of strong woman he would be doomed to continual anxiety and doubt about himself.

     Often there is resistance to exploring the past for fear that one will get lost in an un-ending maze and never emerge with clarity. Conversely there is often fear from those who dwell on the past that they will be expected to change and be held accountable if they move forward. There is a time to encourage people to take action, to develop coping strategies to improve their lives and there is a time to re-visit the past and discover and conquer those aspects of our histories that are inaccurate and holding us in a fixed, unproductive position.

   A seasoned clinician can help you determine the direction that is best for you. Remember, we often want what we don’t need and need what we don’t want. I encourage those of you who realize you’re not reaching the place in life you truly desire to seek consultation in an effort to obtain objective feedback to gain clarity regarding the dynamics that may be holding you back from the happiness and satisfaction you deserve. If I can be of help in your pursuits please feel free to contact me directly.