Could a Hero Help You?
Today I worked with a client who had in mind that she wanted to learn to relax. I wanted to know whether something had happened that was causing her tension at the moment or whether this was a long-standing issue. She felt that she had always been of a “nervous disposition” and this had become more of a problem since the birth of her child a few years before. It seemed that others “knew better” than her what was right for the child and expressed as much in a domineering way. Standing up for herself was an issue with these people as was dealing with aggressive customers in the workplace. Her real fear was of being shouted at. I asked her if there was anyone in her life who modelled the kind of behaviour she would like to emulate, someone who demonstrated assertiveness. After some thought, she came up with a work colleague who when a customer was rude or angry, would state his unwillingness to engage with him or her until they could communicate in a productive fashion. I then asked her to close her eyes and imagine that there was some kind of screen in front of her on which she should replay a recent event she had told me about where her attempt to start a healthy discussion, had led to an outburst of anger from the other person. Once she had done that, I asked her to imagine the work colleague she had identified as having the kind of assertiveness she would like to demonstrate in that scenario and to watch how he dealt with it. Next, I asked her to imagine being in that scenario standing next to her “hero” so that she could feel his energy and begin to soak up some of his way of dealing with the situation. At this stage, she reported that she noticed her “hero” was standing up straight and that normally she herself would bend towards the person. For her, the upright posture indicated strength in the situation. I then asked her to re-run the event but this time being in it and stepping into her “hero” so that she could act in that situation with all the insights she had gained about his mode of operation and to run it as many times as needed to feel comfortable in that situation. I suggested she hear what she said, how she said it and notice her posture. Afterwards, she told me that she had been able to run the situation without any fear and that her “antagonist” had shrunk in size. She very clearly felt buoyed up about the possibility of being more able to speak her truth, at least with this person. Part of the work I asked her to do at home before her next session with me was to practise this with different situations. This starts to create a blueprint for the unconscious mind that the person has the resources to in this case, stand up for themselves and begins to take them out of their default way of dealing with such situations. This wasn’t all the work I did with this client during the session and there is still more work to do, but it is a powerful technique. We call it “hero therapy”. All of us have people we “admire” for the way they do certain things or indeed have memories of acting in the desired way ourselves in other areas of our lives that we can connect in with, bringing those resources where they are now needed in our lives.
Sometimes so that we can relax more on a day to day basis, it's more than a matter of having relaxation techniques. Sometimes we need to take a deeper look at the things that cause us upset so that we become more resilient.