This client began, resume in hand, asking for help with career change, stress and relationship issues. She was a partner in a powerful firm but felt undervalued and under-compensated despite her rate of “deliverables”. As we explored her current status, it became clear that her style was “all business” with everyone. Certain in her intelligence, she would solve problems by offering the single solution apparent to her. She took no time to listen or collaborate, even in her personal relationships.
Examining Family and Systems Orientation
Her family of origin had much (if not everything) to do with her rigid style. Her father, an engineer, was analytical, certain of himself and believed in hard work. He died when the client was a teen; she was closest to him of the 3 daughters. Her mother was in a helping profession and “broke down” with emotion. This mother was easily overwhelmed when under stress and felt great helplessness. With each parent modeling only one extreme style of defining themselves in relation to the world, this client had to make a choice! What would she believe? What roles would she choose? She was also the middle of three sisters; the one closest to their father and the “designated son”. She learned to be “counted on”, analytical and individualistic because after her father’s death, “No one else stepped up to the plate”. Paradoxically, the loss of her father to cancer was one thing in life that neither she nor her father could control. When stressed, she tightened up her hold on herself and attempted to control everything and everyone around her. She called it her “survival mode”.
Creating her family genogram, seeing the patterns and labels in a full narrative was powerful for this client. She understood that her style of relating to people from a position “all business” was clearly developed through her family experiences. She was striving to be like her father, to create safety and reliability in the family. She watched her mother’s sense of helplessness and victimization, and swore that she would never be that vulnerable or paralyzed. In addition, as this style grew more and more expected of her, maintaining that stance was just as much about loyalty to the family role assignments as attributable to personality. In this way, she was carrying forward her father’s legacy.
In the course of exploring the family history and patterns – and her place in the family – she was able to create a plan for more effective leadership of herself and others. She empowered herself to broaden her interpersonal repertoire. She also began to understand how everyone on the team played a part; she began to assess issues from a systemic perspective. “When I label people as the problem, I have fewer options”. She allowed herself to be informed by and aware of both her emotional state and thought. She learned to respond to others with the same regard, valuing both their feeling and their opinions. She was no longer the only competent “player”. She observed, “They’re responding from their beliefs and experiences; we all have different realities”. She became a team builder, realizing “you can’t just shut one person out”. She developed an approach to problems which allowed for inclusion of others and creating collaborative “yes….and” solutions. She did not need to be polarized as she was in her family.
She found the changes in how people responded to her to be “amazing”. She was not only more satisfied and committed to her current position, but was recognized for her high level of achievement and team leadership. She was able to more effectively build her team and reported that “everyone is behaving so much better!” She of course understood that the changes were initially in her behavior. She felt “less spent”, more satisfied and genuine in her relationships and her work.