However, it is also well known that people who repress their feelings totally can begin to behave bizarrely: this is often seen (and tolerated) in the pub or in social encounters outside the office.
From the coach’s perspective, when a client has been over-stressed for some considerable time, there is almost inevitably a ‘build up’ of emotions.
Often one senses that this might soon lead to some kind of outburst or express itself in a health issue.
What can one do?
There are two levels of helping.
The first is practical, teaching stress-relieving activities such as exercise and meditation. Often stressed people believe they ‘don’t have the time’ for such activities. The truth is precisely the reverse; the coach needs to persist to get a commitment to schedule in these activities.
Some time off work could also be suggested, but again, the client will no doubt protest, and it may be harder to get a commitment here.
The second level is more philosophical and deals with beliefs around emotions. These are often
polarized. Some people hold the view that complete control is required, the ‘cool as ice’ belief. In business, never show any emotions.
This goes with the unhelpful belief that if you do allow any expression of emotion, then these emotions may quickly overwhelm you and you may lose control completely.
Sadly, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as your emotions will ultimately ‘fight back’ if they are not allowed any expression and may well produce an explosive reaction at the worst possible time.
The polar opposite of this is the belief that emotions always have to be let out and that to show control is inauthentic or false.
Find the middle ground
Where is the wise, middle line between these two extremes?
The concept of ‘boundaries’ is helpful here. It is often used to describe a form of appropriate assertiveness towards other people. You assert yourself, but the other person’s boundaries are respected.
For me the key is for the individual to apply the boundaries that he or she would respect in someone else, to boundaries within him- or herself. You can explore with the client where these inner boundaries lie, and get them thinking about how they regard emotion as a result.
It’s helpful to remember that if you have boundaries that are too rigid, you don’t allow genuine connection or empathy. If your inner boundaries are too strong, you are not even able to connect to yourself, and you can never ultimately know what you want.
On the other hand, if you have very weak boundaries, both to others and yourself, you will be overwhelmed by the emotions which can be damaging and unnecessarily painful. When you have appropriate boundaries you connect and protect – the right balance. In this state, emotion becomes the client’s friend and not a potential enemy, threatening to make them look ‘unprofessional’ or, in the worst case, overwhelm them.
In summary, the boundaries between you and another person are the same as the boundaries between you and yourself.