One evening I met up with a good friend, Katherine, at the dog park. I could tell that she was not herself. She was fighting back her emotions by looking up at the sky, but then began to sniffle. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Why did the self-assertion visualization technique not work,” she said. Confused, I asked what she meant. “This technique was supposed to help me to deal with difficult situations, and I was badly treated at work today and have been condemning myself for not reacting.”
She burst out crying, saying: “Throughout my whole life I have not been seen or heard. I feel invisible. I see how others get what they want, and I don’t. Why couldn’t I speak up for myself today at work? I am a hard-working employee, yet am still treated with disrespect. ”
She frowned and continued, “A month ago I watched a video about a technique on visualizing religiously. I went through the whole scenario and practiced how I would stand up to my boss, who often demeans me in front of my colleagues. Since then, I thought I had adopted a new attitude of self-assertion. I thought I could finally be seen and valued for who I am.”
I asked her whether anything had happened today. “Yes,” she said angrily. “My sleazy colleague, known in the office as the opportunist, got the promotion which I felt I deserved. I thought that I could use the visualization technique to deal with conflict. I was so geared up to speak up and to test the technique. When the time came though, no words came out. Instead, I felt the blood draining from my body. I just went cold and thought I was going to faint. I leant up against the photocopier for support and just felt numb. Thoughts flooded through my mind. “Why did this happen? I asked myself. I worked so hard for this position, even doing unpaid overtime.”
I tried to help by suggesting that when we are flooded by emotions we tend to operate irrationally, resorting to fight or flight mode. We are programmed to avoid pain so, by adopting a positive attitude or a visualization technique alone cannot adequately deal with the situation. We need a tool that does not require thought, just action. Katherine became eager to hear more about how to do this.
Phil Stutz a leading psychologist states that it comes down to our behaviour. When we are emotionally triggered, a positive attitude is not enough to confront a situation, because an ‘attitude’ in itself is simply a thought being controlled by the limitations in the mind.
When Katherine became frustrated, her positive attitude vanished. She went into default mode which was to be stuck in how people have treated her up to now. I proposed that she needed a tool that could be programmed and used without triggering fight or flight in her. A tool that when activated, prompts her to behave in a way that works just like a light switch, instantly taking her out of the pain and darkness and into the light where the solution is.
Closing her eyes and trying to take in what I was saying she said in desperation: “I need help!” I touched her softly on the arm and encouraged her to shift beyond her comfort zone and to explore new ways of acting. I believe this would break through the invisible walls that keep her stuck in negative reactions. We made a plan to help Katherine.
In ‘ The Tools’, Phil Stutz and Barry Michel attempt to transform problems into courage, confidence, and creativity. Based on this, we set out the following three step plan.
Step one: To pinpoint what she was avoiding. This meant getting out of her comfort zone and exposing herself to feel pain or fear. She was asked to identify an activity she despises. It was to speak up for herself.
Step two: here, she had to visualize herself escaping from her comfort zone, then speaking up in a difficult situation. To do this Mel Robbins talks about feeling excitement about something you are afraid of, or feel pain about. Katherine started to see the confrontation as a challenging new way of being and felt excited that she was to be a hero in her own story.
We then worked on her emotions. As she allowed them to emerge, she began to accept her fears and pain. She closed her eyes and converted her fears of silencing her truth to feeling excitement at the prospect of speaking her truth. She then allowed the emotions to be fully experienced by doing the following activity.
She visualized the pain in a cloud and welcomed it. She imagined walking into the cloud and feeling excited that she, the heroin is facing the pain head-on. As she then embraces the pain, the fear, or the villain, these becomes transmuted into excitement that new opportunities will arise when she speaks her truth.
As she walks through the cloud of pain with ease and love into the emerging sunlight, she begins to feel free to follow a new path and give herself the courage she has been striving for. Step three was about learning to confront difficult situations in a calm, non-violent way. She felt excited at being able to learn a nonviolent communication technique by Marshall B. Rosenberg, and was going to put this technique to the test:
When I see/ hear / imagine…(She describes the scenario) I feel/ am…She shares feelings) because I need/ want…(She states her need) would you be willing to…? (Says what she wants)
Initially, she managed to practice these three steps in relatively safer environments, such as at home, on her husband. He wanted her to clean his shoes when she was busy and she used the tools effectively to make her point and stand her ground. The tools seeped into other areas of her life too, like being able to confidently explain to friends that she was unable to socialize with them when she was tired.
By speaking her truth in the three-step process, Katherine challenged her colleagues and came to realize that her work environment was not conducive to her upholding her values. Over time, she uncovered a lot of foul play in the office and eventually decided that she did not belong there.
Avoiding issues were now seen as a challenge instead of a threat. She had gained confidence and found disagreements a lot easier to deal with, finally succeeding in confronting her boss and colleagues about their condescending behaviour towards her over the years. She left this toxic environment, and as her confidence grew, she was able to apply for a better job, negotiate better working conditions, and a better salary.
She now finds herself speaking her truth at home, in social settings and of course, at work. Family, friends, acquaintances and her colleagues respect her a lot more for her honesty and feel they can trust her, as they know exactly what she is thinking.
If you are experiencing a similar fear to Katherine, remember to 1. Pinpoint exactly what you are avoiding. 2. Change your perception of the thing you are avoiding, from fear and pain into an exciting challenge. This means facing your anxieties head on as a hero or heroine by embracing the pain, loving it and knowing that it can set you free. 3. Practice communicating in a non-violent way. In this way, you can glide through the cloud of fear and pain that has engulfed you for so long and to finally walk peacefully to the sunlight, where new-found courage and confidence await you.