Olivia Stefanino's client learns the source of her fear of being “found out”.
A high-powered professional who looked the part in her power suits, Alana admitted that she had a deep-seated fear of being “found out”. Looking at her, it was almost impossible to believe the words that were coming out of her mouth – but hers was a story I had heard many times before.
Fear of not being good enough drives many men and women to work harder and harder in a bid to quell the gnawing anxiety that dwells at the pit of their stomach. Many stories involving workaholics are similar to Alana’s – and very often the cause of this form of perfectionism stems back to childhood.
In Alana’s case, she was the last of three children – and being nearly ten years younger than her youngest sibling, she had grown used to being labelled a “mistake”. Telling me she was sure that her parents had loved her, Alana at first dismissed the notion that being called a “mistake” may have given her a skewed view of herself. By the end of our session together however, Alana was not only able to see the connection – but had also learned how to deal with it.
Alana confessed that at work, she believed everyone else knew more than she did. She was constantly stressed as she felt she had to prove herself. With a wry smile, she said, “Perhaps I feel that I have to prove myself in order to justify my presence. It’s as though I feel that I have to earn my place in the senior management team.” Even as she was speaking, Alana was able to see that the feelings she had hidden deep within her sub-conscious mind didn’t actually sound rational when they were given airtime!
Recognising that she was getting close the source of her deep-seated anxiety, Alana was eager to explore further – wanting to heal her feelings of inadequacy once and for all. I asked her to close her eyes, and after leading her into a deep state of relaxation, I directed her sub-conscious mind to go back to the first time that she had felt inadequate and powerless. Slipping easily into a light state of trance, Alana first remembered a time when her brother had threatened her with violence if she told her parents what he had been up to with his friends.
“OK, forgive him and let the memory fade,” I said gently. “Now travel back to the time when you first felt powerless.” Alana’s face began to crumple and tears welled at the corner of her eyes. “It’s my first day at school,” she said in a child’s voice, “and I don’t want to be here. There’s so much noise and everyone is laughing and it looks as though everyone has made friends and I feel very lonely and frightened. I’m asking Mummy to take me home, but she’s shaking her head and she’s going to leave me here.” Alana nodded when I asked her if she felt abandoned saying, “I don’t want to be here – I don’t feel safe but there is nothing I can do about it,” she said.
I moved her on in time and Alana admitted she still felt frightened – but that she had learned that if she was ‘good’ the teachers would be nice to her…and if she did everything her friends wanted, they would be nice to her too. The seeds were sown. Alana had learned that in order to survive she needed to be ‘good’ – and that putting others first kept her safe. It was at this point that Alana had started to lose her identity and learned how to be the person that others wanted.
Awareness of the root cause of her problems was the key to her healing – but in order for her to move on, I needed to re-connect the adult Alana with her childhood self. Still in a light state of trance, I asked Alana (still in her child-self) to imagine she was standing in front of a long mirror.
“Now,” I directed, “look in the mirror and you will see the grown up version of you.” Alana did so – and told the adult version that she needed her help and protection. “Invite the grown up to step out of the mirror,” I continued, “and give her a big hug!” Tears streamed down Alana’s cheeks and I asked her to imagine that both parts of herself were merging to become one.
I finished off the session and brought Alana back to waking reality. “That’s incredible,” she said smiling and crying at the same time. “It’s strange, I feel like a grown up at last!”
* Olivia Stefanino is a leadership development consultant and executive coach, who works with blue chip organisations, SMEs and individuals. Download your free e-booklet Ò128 ways to harness your personal powerÓ at beyourownguru.com.