"I feel as if I'm drowning at work and at home." These were a client's first words, but to be honest she didn't need to enunciate them - her body language and the mounting pile of tissues told the tale. As the hour continued, the line 'I'm just a girl who can't say no' came into my head, but sadly without the innuendo or the smile. Her feelings of not coping are of course familiar to many of us at different stages in our lives and, I hesitate to say it, especially but not exclusively to women.
We are all capable of multi-tasking and keeping the juggling act fairly balanced, but from time to time, events, work demands, health issues, family responsibilities and must-do jobs can just overwhelm us. In that first session, I hardly had to ask any questions at all. I listened to keywords, like "ought", "have to" and "expectations". That last one provided a big clue - whose expectations? It was clear that this otherwise confident individual did not give herself the time to reflect on that and took on any and every task without discrimination, leading to constant overdrive and near burn-out.
I slowed down the tempo and tension by asking her to choose one small area of her working life for improvement. With some probing, she admitted it wasn't actually her job at all, but she had 'somehow taken it on'. Other examples emerged in a similar vein, at work, with colleagues, family and other commitments. By focusing, we were able to work on the real problems and the pressures behind the symptoms. Like so many, she had increasingly allowed her need to please others and an irrational fear of failure to take precedence over her own needs and sanity. Rather than instructing her to 'say no', 'not now' or 'not yet', I encouraged her to discover for herself during the few weeks of coaching, how to be kinder to herself, how to feel good again. This involved giving herself permission not to be her own worst enemy and learning to manage others' expectations without guilt.
The most positive outcome is not just hearing what people say towards the end of the coaching process, but from seeing the uplift in their body language, as, like this client, they again take better control over their own lives.
Our series of meetings with Caroline were exceptionally useful for us to get insight into the historical issues in the department. This is going to give us a common understanding and a firm base from which to build a working and productive relationship.