Expectations and disappointment
Laura’s life was a chaotic one. Her father never wanted children and did not know what to do with them when they arrived. Her mother had been devastated by the contempt that her own parents had for her. She had children to provide her with the love she could not get from her parents. She had no love, or anything else to give them.
As the middle child, Laura was singled out to be the household worker, while her older brother was the “Star” and her baby sister was exempt from responsibility because he was just little. Mother never helped Laura with her chores, she criticized her accomplishments as she was criticized by her own unloving parents.
Laura grew up with the feeling, “My mother isn’t there for me.” She felt emotionally abandoned and victimized. But that wasn’t what brought her to counseling. She came because was angry at her boss. She was getting herself into trouble and couldn’t understand her overreaction to her current supervisor. He was new in the position and inept. He overreacted to situations he couldn’t cope with. Laura overreacted to his overreactions. She was on thin ice and didn’t know how to make it thicker. These were her early recollections.
Therapist: “What is one of the first things you can remember?”
Laura: “I remember my teacher giving me a B in art because I was not living up to my potential. Other kids, who could not draw at all were getting A’s because they were ‘trying’. In seventh grade, my favorite English teacher told me she was sure I could do better if I tried. I wanted to please her. She was the only one who really showed any faith in me. I raised my grades from a 70 at the beginning to a 95 in the fourth quarter. She called me into her office and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t give you an A this term even though you deserve it. We have a rule that no one can improve by more than fifteen points in one semester, but I’ll see that you get an A next term.”
Laura found this ridiculous policy infuriating. It didn’t give her the encouragement she needed, it was totally discouraging. Between her anger and her discouragement, she was in a lot of pain. This is the pain that comes back to the surface when her boss’ ineptitude keeps her from doing her best work.
Laura: “I was stunned. I couldn’t say anything to her, but I was boiling inside. There was nothing I could do about it.”
Here again, Laura felt that she had trusted her teacher to help her improve her situation at school if not at home, but her trust in “helpers” was betrayed yet again. It was too much. She, too, concluded that she had to go it alone, that she could trust no one but herself.
Now, twenty years later, when someone tries to “motivate” her at work, her old feelings of being set up for betrayal and victimization well up inside of her and she lashes out angrily at a “supporter.” Laura’s Homework is to catch herself overreacting to her boss’s good intentions to motivate her. He is trying to motivate her as he learned to do in Business School.
Laura can choose to think of her boss as an imperfect human being, which is what he is. He is not her school teacher, and she is not his student. She can shift from these carryover attitudes from the past to a more realistic assessment of the situation in the present. He is not merely a “helper,” he is more than just a role-player, he is an independent entity, no more and no less human than she is. As an equal member of the human race, she can choose to take his attempts to encourage her at face value, or she can choose to motivate herself some other way. These are choices that she did not have as a discouraged, disheartened child.
It is true that many helpers do not help. As an adult, Laura can use her judgment to tell which helper is worth listening to and which one is not. She no longer needs to be the prisoner of her childhood generalization that all helpers are alike, that they do not help and that they make things worse instead of better.