She is a woman in her early fifties. Her question concerns the problems she experiences in working together with her co-director. It causes her a lot of stress. The co-directorship is the result of a recent reorganization. Marian describes her colleague as an authoritarian, manipulating personality, who is ambitious and not friendly. In our first session we make an inventory of Marian’s values; they consist of cooperation, openness, supportiveness and recognition. So, her values turn out to be the opposite pole of the values she attributes to her colleague. Marian says she wants to learn how to deal with this.
We start with one of her own values, i.e. ‘being nice’. She says she likes to be nice to others. Moreover, it turns out to be a survival mechanism that predominates in stressful situations. In the second session we examine what purpose ‘being nice’ has served in her life up till now.
Marian will now choose a different position in the room (sitting, or standing up) which she feels is suited to the part of her we now want to address. By literally ‘giving a voice’ to this side of herself, a number of things will become clear. She tells us why this part is present, and what it has meant to her. It will also become clear why this part is defending her, and against what. In her case, the origin could be found with her parents, who were quarrelling all the time. She wanted to protect them, and herself, from this, by putting an emphasis on being nice. In this way she becomes aware of the fact that ‘being nice’ is an important part in her, which she has developed strongly.
This part of her has been listened to carefully, and Marian has experienced how she feels when it is allowed to take up all the space. That helps in becoming aware of it, and recognizing it, in daily life. After all, we are often dealing with subconscious patterns of which we can become more aware.
The next session
We pay attention to her vulnerability, which was protected by the survival mechanism of always being nice. If she is able to consciously take care of her own vulnerability, this will remove the sting from her conditioned behavior. Her nice side can stop working overtime and will be able to relax more.
This process by itself creates an opportunity to examine the less developed, ‘disowned’ part in a next session. This part is exactly the opposite of ‘being nice’ (and therefore the other side of the polarity), and we can label it as ‘setting limits’. It is given its own voice, too, and it will become clear that this part is definitely there, but hardly gets a chance to express itself. If it is allowed to be more present, Marian will have less stress and more energy.
Learning from experience
By consciously learning to feel and experience both sides and becoming aware of the differences, Marian has more choice now to be nice or to set limits.
Presently it becomes clear that her collaboration with her colleague is improving because she sets more limits, which makes her more autonomous. She chooses not to discuss the teamwork itself with her colleague, because she feels he will not be willing to do so.
In the end, she prefers another position to her present one, because working together with her colleague continues to be a problem. But it is now an aware choice, not one made out of powerlessness.