Feeling Unhappy with Life
I have often worked with people who whilst generally coping well with their lives, feel unhappy or unfulfilled and feel that something is lacking. Generally these clients don’t have a diagnosable mental health problem, though will often disclose that they consider themselves to be “worriers” and “too sensitive for my own good”. Often getting professional help for poor self-esteem and assertiveness can begin the process of turning things around.
James* was a client that fell into the above category. Married with two children in their early teens, he had a good job in marketing that offered him the opportunity to travel overseas, something that he valued. Despite being successful, in most respects, he found that he was becoming less happy at work, beginning to worry too much about stuff that hadn’t bothered him unduly in the past and becoming irritable with his family. He contacted me to arrange a course of coaching sessions, that he hoped would get him back on track.
Our First Meeting
During our first session we explored his satisfaction with the various aspects of his life that were important to him, e.g. his family, career, financial & social life. On a scale of 10, James scored 6+ in every area and we initially struggled to identify the first area to focus on. At the end of this session we agreed that James would carry out a couple of ‘homework assignments’. The first being an exercise that I undertake with clients to help them identify and prioritise their values, e.g. achievement vs autonomy.
I often find that many people have not given much thought as to the priorities of their values and as a consequence may find themselves ‘chasing’ something that other people value rather than what motivates them. As James had stated in our initial telephone contact that he was less happy at work, even though we found it difficult to pin down the reasons why in our first session, I asked him to take some time to notice what occurred during the upcoming week that might elicit difficult feelings for him.
In Coaching – Exploring Possibilities
During our second session we reviewed James list of values and we noted that some of the values that appeared near the top of his list, e.g. intellectual curiosity, appeared not to align with his behaviours/activities at this time. We also reviewed the situations at work that caused difficulties for him, something that we continued to note over the next few sessions.
Over the course of sessions 2 through 4 we spent time exploring how James could change some of his activities to be more in line with his values. He confided that he had always felt a sense of disappointment that he had not continued with his academic studies after his degree and gone on to study for a PhD.
At times he has wistfully thought of giving up his job in marketing and going back to university, but he believed that this was an impractical option given that he was the primary breadwinner for his family. Given that he saw no solution to this barrier such thoughts often led to feelings of dissatisfaction and unease. Rather than dismissing this possibility we spent some time exploring whether it was a practical option for him to complete a PhD, and surprisingly concluded that this might be possible, albeit that he would have to complete his studies part-time over a lengthy period in order to continue working and it would also mean making sacrifices in other areas of his life.
On reflection James concluded that it was probably not the best time to return to his studies but that he would review this decision when his family was older. We also explored how in the absence of starting a PhD he might satisfy his need for intellectual curiosity in a less demanding/time-intensive way. During the fourth session James reported that he was planning to study Spanish and had set himself the task of becoming competent over a three year period, in addition to meeting his needs for intellectual curiosity this plan was also consistent with several of his cultural values.
Finding New Approaches
Over the first few sessions a clearer picture of James’ difficulties at work emerged. Whilst it was evident that objectively he was successful and all the evidence suggested that he was well thought of by his colleagues and boss it became evident that he tended respond to situations as though the opposite was true and interpret what to an outsider appeared benign situations as though they presented a threat to him. As an example he showed me a copy of an email from his boss to all his direct reports (including James) that he believed contained an implied criticism against him. After exploring the facts of the case it became evident that this was an unlikely possibility. When I asked James what he intended to do to ‘check out’ his concerns he replied “nothing” and I gently pointed out that this course of action left him with no counter evidence to deny his unhelpful interpretations of events. We discussed how a more assertive approach to his difficulties might be helpful, agreeing that in some instances where the interpretation of a situation is ambiguous it’s better to gently check out the situation rather than stick with the worst case scenario. James agreed to check out his interpretation of his bosses email between sessions and fortunately was able to confirm that there was no criticism against him intended.
I saw James for a total of 10 sessions and during sessions 5 through 10 we agreed on various strategies that enabled James to check out his negative interpretations of events and as the positive data accumulated he became far more positive in his opinion of how other people viewed him and more willing to check out any ambiguous situations. He also embarked on his Spanish studies and reported that he was enjoying his evening each week at college.
Help for You
Like James, you may be experiencing similar general feeling of dissatisfaction in your life. If you feel that coaching or therapy might be helpful for you too then just give me a call or contact me here
* This client story is not based upon a single client but is complied from details of several different clients and all identifying information has been changed to protect anonymity. Nevertheless, the difficulties described and the course of therapy is typical.