I coach and/or mentor a number of dynamic, successful, energetic and driven women executives and entrepreneurs.
When I ask these women why they have chosen me as a coach/mentor as opposed to another woman, several have replied: “You’re like the protective but strong big brother I always wanted.”
When I have asked them to explain, a couple women have replied: “You’re irreverent, funny, smart and when you hit me directly between the eyes with specifically and tactically what I need to do to become even better, I don’t feel criticized and don’t become defensive because you say what you say laced with love. And at all times I trust you to have my back and never hurt me just like the big brother, I always wanted.”
Recently I have noticed a similar expression on some of their faces.
They have smiles that are tense and not fully relaxed and that don’t touch their eyes. That is because their smile is meant to show friendliness and accessibility, but their eyes are always looking out for danger.
After I shared that I have noticed this and asked them what might be going on underneath, a few have explained why they don’t smile in a fully relaxed way.
They say it’s because their driven approach to success can trigger negative reactions from women who either think they’re being too uppity and aggressive, from similarly ambitious women who feel competitive or from men who are threatened by them – especially with their impatience with “boys will be boys” antics – and also don’t quite know how to compete against them.
The cumulative effect of feeling all of the above people being against them can sometimes lead to feeling terrified and paranoid, which they need to summon all their strength to suppress.
As we have talked about it more, some of these women have described how the above responses can also cause them to feel isolated. However, they remain undeterred and determined to accomplish the amazing successes they are nevertheless achieving and just accept that isolation is the cost of success.
Not too long ago I was meeting with one of these women, I will call Cindy, who again had that tentative smile with that touch of fear in her eyes.
I suddenly had an epiphany of what might be going on underneath her expression.
I told her, “I think I know what you’re most afraid of and it’s not about being criticized, controlled or judged. You don’t like any of those, but you’re unfortunately used to them and have defenses built up against them.”
Cindy stuck her chin out, narrowed her eyes and responded defiantly, “Oh really! So, what is it that I’m most afraid of?”
I looked deeply back into her challenging gaze, until I was holding onto her eyes with my own and said in a direct and determined tone: “What you’re most afraid of Cindy is feeling unconditionally emotionally and psychologically safe and that there is nothing you can do to earn it and there is nothing you can do to lose it. You’re afraid of feeling that because if you lifted up the carpet under which you have swept all the fear, hurt, pain and anger of a lifetime and began feeling them, you’re afraid they would wash you away.”
As she looked into my eyes, her defiant eyes rapidly turned into a deer in the headlights and then began to tear up and wash down her cheeks. She then collapsed to her side and fell down on the couch and just started sobbing.
She cried for five minutes after which she finished,sat up, looked at me through bloodshot eyes, a huge smile of relief and she felt ten pounds emotionally lighter to me.
When I asked Cindy what that was all about, she replied: “You just hit a nerve that goes back beyond anything I can remember, except that what you said is all true. I am so tired of never feeling completely emotionally and psychologically safe and so exhausted from always having to be in control.”
When she came back for our next meeting, she told me that the prior meeting had released something and freed her in a way that she wanted to keep feeling.
I reached into my tool kit that I developed over forty years as a psychotherapist and on intuition I suggested we try hypnosis to see if that might help us do even more to keep her deep wound open so that it could continue to drain the unfelt and unfinished emotions she had from a lifetime of keeping them stuffed down.
My version of hypnosis is very customized to whoever I am seeing. It has in common with many other hypnotic approaches having someone close their eyes, focus on breathing slowly, my counting backwards from ten and suggesting they feel more and more heavy and relaxed.
I then have them focus on their hands resting on their abdomen with their right hand (if they are right handed) be the part of their personality that is always trying to stay in control and being exhausted from doing so and their left hand resting on top of their right, tenderly massaging it and telling the right hand that it is safe to relax and give up control.
Something that I add to my technique is that I sometimes intuit something the person wants and needs to say but hasn’t been able to. When that happens, I tell them that I am going to speak as them talking to me and that if they resonate with what I’m saying, I ask them to lean into my words as if they’re saying them and feel them. Some people refer to this as “channeling” what they’re thinking but not expressing.
On this occasion, I had the most powerful intuition to speak the following words as if Cindy was saying them to me:
“Mark, I am starved to have a ‘good cry,’ but it is something I don’t know how to do. I know how to cry out of frustration and anger, which gives me temporary relief, but I don’t know how to have a good healing cry. I know good cries exist, because I had one in our last meeting and it freed me in ways that all the yadda, yadda, yadda from others or from me never have. I’m tired of all that yadda, yadda, yadda and I’m tired of always having to stay in control and never being able to fully trust anyone, including myself. I just want to cry, because I need to let go, and I don’t know how.”
As I was “channeling” Cindy, tears began to well up in her eyes and started to flow down her cheeks until there was a general outpouring of them.
I then brought her back from this hypnotic trance and it has had a lasting effect as if we freed her in some way.
It was then I realized that many women whose bottled-up fear, terror and anger have been released by the #metoo movement are glad that they can finally speak up and out, but many have revealed to me that they’re becoming tired of being so angry. Surely anger is better than fear, but over time it is nearly as exhausting.
It also made me realize that underneath all the anger that has come from that movement which is about receiving justice for all the abuse they have endured, is a deep abiding ache to feel emotionally and psychologically safe (as Cindy had during our hypnosis), because it is only then that they will feel truly free.
In addition to this, men need to realize that all the anger from the #MeToo movement is not just about retaliating and getting even with a world that has abused them, but about feeling emotionally calm and psychologically even within themselves so they can go to work without having to work around their fear, terror and anger and without having to keep their guard up all the time, which is exhausting and debilitating.