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‘Shirley’

September 2004

‘Shirley’ was a middle manager who came to me for therapy because she was being made redundant and her sense of self-esteem was rather low.

On the one hand she could see that her organisation was in turmoil. It was run by a Self-Referencing RED ‘king’ who recognised intellectually the need for the organisation to enter what Adizes calls ‘Adolescence’ but couldn’t bring himself to share control emotionally.

The result was an aggressive, almost brutal personal management style, an organisation that lacked the structure to support its expansion, and staff either leaving or being pushed out. (Ichak Adizes (1987) typifies this state as ‘Pathological Go-Go’.)

On the other hand, Shirley, who was one of those being pushed out, blamed herself for her redundancy. She told me she was under-confident with “people who matter” work-wise – eg: bosses – and did not project herself well. She had even “crumbled” under questioning at some recent presentations. Her fear of not living up to the RED king’s expectations turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy when she failed to meet certain targets. Despite the lack of management support and the turmoil the organisation was in, Shirley roundly blamed herself.

“I’m not good enough!” was her summation of her experience with this organisation and she was worried that she would take this attitude forward rather self-destructively into her hunt for a new job.

Resourcing Shirley
When I asked Shirley’s 
Unconscious Mind where the belief, “I’m not good enough”, came from she readily answered that it was her childhood stepfather, ‘Henry’.

It seemed that her mother, ‘Jocelyn’, had remarried just before Shirley had hit her teens – after living alone with her 2 daughters since separating from her first husband years before. Henry was a cold man, briskly efficient and demanding that everyone followed the rules – his rules. Shirley found herself shouted at frequently for not meeting Henry’s expectations.

Shirley grew to loathe the man to the point where she would leave the room when he entered.

Shirley knew enough about the Gravesian approach for me to explain that her RED vMEME had been repressed at a time in life when its role was critical in shaping her teenage Identity. She hadn’t been allowed to express herself freely. To be herself, rather than the rigid conformist Henry required, only brought vicious criticism. As a consequence, she didn’t learn to project herself well and she developed a fear of failing to meet others’ expectations.

Shirley also revealed that she didn’t feel like she had been loved or belonged as a youngster. This indicated damaged PURPLE. That Shirley had had a string of partners without ever settling into a relationship anything like long enough to get married also told of a problem in forming secure attachments again an indication of unhealthy PURPLE. (It was the famous ‘Love Quiz’ studies by Cindy Hazan & Phil Shaver (1987; 1993) which established that attachment experiences as a child strongly influence romantic/sexual attachment experiences in adult life.)

However, Shirley was reluctant to discuss her pre-Henry existence. Since her immediate needs centred around building her self esteem and self-efficacy so that she could find herself a suitable new job, I left off her childhood and undertook Penny Parks’ Resourceful You exercise (1994) with her. This involved Shirley visualising herself with every last little bit of potential developed – her ultimate phenotype!

When she realised that she could be competent, confident, assertive, powerful and impressive, she burst into tears with relief!

From then on, finding a new job seemed nothing like as daunting.

Acknowledging deep hurts
Shirley returned to see me a few months later. With her current relationship ‘on the rocks’, she felt unloved and, unable to cope with certain activities of her lover, ‘Simon’, and unwilling to go any deeper with the commitment.

After some discussion, I started Penny Parks’ Mistaken Belief Visualisation (1994) on the presumption that it had been Henry who had made her feel unloved.

Suddenly Shirley snapped out of her light trance and exclaimed: “Bloody hell, it was my mother as well!”

Now she was ready to talk about her pre-Henry existence when Jocelyn and her 2 daughters had been a tight single parent family unit. Jocelyn had doted on her children and spent lots of time on activities with them. Shirley brought out many memories of happy times with her mother, saying several times how much love there had been in the household.

Then Jocelyn had fallen in love with Henry and Shirley’s world began to change in ways she found bewildering. Jocelyn spent little time on activities with her daughters; now she saw Henry as much as she could. When they married and Henry moved in, Shirley’s life rapidly became one of firstly conflict and then repression. What made it so difficult for her to assert herself and the thing that hurt her so much was that Jocelyn always took Henry’s side – even when he was being outrightly nasty to the girls. Shirley felt betrayed. Not only did her mother clearly love this man more than her daughters; it seemed much of the time like she had no love left for them at all. Jocelyn did little or nothing to reassure her daughters of her affection for them.

No wonder the RED had failed to develop healthily. Not only was it repressed but the PURPLE foundation beneath it had been devastatingly undermined.

To enable Shirley to resolve her past, I used another Penny Parks exercise, the Trauma Resolution Experience. This exercise enables people to visualise how major figures in their past, such as parents, could have been and would have acted if they had been able to achieve their maximum potential. However, such was the intensity of Shirley’s emotions that I conducted a variation of the exercise in which she visualised Jocelyn’s and Henry’s ultimate phenotypes separately. (Ethical, since they had separated some years previous.)

At the end of this rather draining exercise, Shirley made a puzzling comment that puzzled me; she said she felt “much safer” now. I later learned that she went home, told Terry she loved him deeply and then gave him an ultimatum about changing those things she found unacceptable.

Four months later Shirley secured an influential position with a prestigious employer. She thoroughly enjoys the work and is making her mark on the organisation. And she and Terry are still together.

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