Margot was looking for love and wanted to get married. At least, that’s what she said. She was a good-looking woman, with a good education to boot. But she could not attract a man. And she knew exactly why: “I’m too mistrustful – I know, it’s been explained to me. I’ve been in therapy. I know I project these feelings. I interrogate men, I radiate suspicion and it’s a put off.” This girl really knew herself and what she needed help with.
I started to mentally put together a program to help Margot keep her mistrust in check and put a stop to her self-limiting behaviors. As I was thinking about it, this is what she said to me: “So…do you think you can help me to become more mistrustful? I mean, trustful, sorry. Can you help me appeal to men more?”
So…what did Margot really want? And how do you handle a client who consciously says they want something, know all of the barriers that stand in their way, but is still unable to get to the place they want to be – in this case, in a committed, stable relationship?
What would you do in a coaching session to help Margot?
Well, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes…it just ain’t. Margot definitely wanted me to help her to become more mistrustful. “Margot” I asked, “what if I told you I don’t think you are mistrustful enough?” A smile flickered across Margot’s face, a definite sign that I was on to something.
During following sessions, I suggested to Margot that she find discreet ways to interrogate and test men carefully. She fought against me tooth and nail, often laughing, trying to convince me that my plan was spiritually ugly; that I was encouraging her to be closed off emotionally; that I was perpetuating her emotional unavailability. At each turn, I argued that she had to be more careful; the way she had been hurt in the past was ugly; you can’t return to a state of innocence – you have to be very, very careful.
The more I adopted Margot’s negative position and even added to it, the more she was able to argue against me, instead of struggle against herself. At a dinner table across from a new date, she felt less agitated because she wasn’t so busy struggling against herself. She could allow herself to feel guarded and remote with a new man without feeling bad about it, so she was more at ease. This made it possible for her to get to know the man she later married.
Sometimes, clients need help accepting their seemingly unreasonable, negative and quirky thoughts and behaviors. It feels counter-intuitive to suggest to clients that their negative feelings and behaviors may actually be productive and important, but it works to partner in a positive way with these strong forces. When these clients are helped to embrace their negativity and intransigent view of the world, they can move ahead.