Fear in coaching

October 9, 2006

Saw “V for Vendetta“, a recent, very political movie by the Wachowski brothers, creators of the “Matrix“. Excellent acting by mostly British actors.

An important message of this movie is about defeating personal, bodiless fear by facing the possibility of death – a specialty of existential therapy. (Interestingly, the fathers of ET, including Abraham Maslow and Rollo May, are also the fathers of executive coaching).

It made me think of the times when fear is a topic in coaching, and how it often is not addressed, because, officially, fear has no place in the modern corporate world. I wonder how other coaches address this issue of fear when it comes up. I suppose my preferred way is to give the fear a voice, or a shape, or a name so that it can be looked at and dealt with, at least partly, on the rational level.

But then, we know that existential fears go underground – only to surface in the form of bad dreams, lousy sleep, addictions and the like. Some methods from TA have helped me here – e.g. the drama triangle, or the parent-adult-child (PAC) scheme. They sometimes help the client grow up and face the part of their fear that is regressed.

In my practice, the most frequent fear is fear of failure – often expressed as fear of losing the appreciation of the boss, the peers or team members. Insights following an explanation of PAC have sometimes helped here. At other times, a roleplay or a constellation with chairs have been useful, whereby the client assumes the position of those he or she fears. The result is empathy, understanding, sometimes even compassion. If the fear is the result of bullying or mobbing, however, sometimes the client is in denial of a situation that’s gone bad. Here, too, a constellation can help him face the reality of the situation, and regroup his options accordingly.

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