On my way to walk this morning, I saw my neighbor Katherine in her signature pink sweatshirt. Both of us were glad to have company for the walk. The weather was exceptionally nice for a Seattle morning; the temperature was mild, and the sky was clear with the golden rays of sun sparkling on 84th avenue, my usual walking route. After a small talk, I asked Katherine how she was doing at the new job she had started recently. “I am not there yet; I need to start making some boundaries for all my responsibilities, my work, my children, my parents…” she started. My question just hit the center of her biggest challenge!
“It seems everyone needs me all the time; all of them got so dependent on me,” -Katherine sighed. “What feelings come into your mind when they ask for your help?” I asked. “I get anxiety that they can’t move ahead without me unblocking them, and it will stay like this until I do something.” I gave a “really?” look at her face. She read a challenge there, “I don’t know though what is underneath that feeling,”- she added. I figured Katherine could use some coaching. So I asked, “You might be reacting to that anxious feeling, and as you react, the problem diminishes, and the anxiety lowers. Does this sound familiar?” Yeah, that sounds right; Katherine nodded. “What if you don’t react right away?”
Katherine took a moment to ponder upon my question. “How about a fear of not being needed” I nudged– Katherine was quick and honest, “that might be it,” she nodded as her voice sounded deeper as if she was validating it with her internal feelings. With her permission, I gave her a short overview of our usual way of making us “rescuers” for others around us for the next few minutes. When we are in the “rescuer” position, we see others as helpless and incapable. In this model, the downside is we have to keep “rescuing” as the “poor” helpless ones become more and more dependent on us. At times we, the rescuers, feel like a “victim” of all these “responsibilities.” Katherine smiled in agreement but still looked tired.
I asked her, “What would be a different way of helping and supporting those you care about?” “I guess I could coach them, ask them what help they need from me, give them mental support assuring that they can solve it independently,” she uttered introspectively. Wow, Katherine seemed to be my ideal coaching client! “You know, it makes sense logically, but how do I implement this?” she said with a great dilemma in her mind. Being someone in her position only a few years ago, I empathized with Katherine. I said, “The answer is ‘Baby step.’ It took you 30-40 years to be this way; it will take a while. Take one small and sustainable step at a time”. At this point, I invited Katherine to notice her feelings inside her body. “More relaxed, I am breathing better,” she reported with a genuine wide smile.
We realized it was already time for us to part as we neared Katherine’s house. Katherine thanked me generously for the walk ‘n talk. I was glad that my coaching gave her a starting point, and not to mention felt quite good to have practiced the talking points for my upcoming workshop.
Related read: The Power of TED