“Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options.” – Simon Sinek, author
“Daire readily admitted to being a workaholic.”
Daire was a 44 year old account running his own firm. He had been in operation for over 20 years. He had a stable client base of local customers who valued his services. Daire said his staff of five were longstanding employees and seemed to like working for him. He presented to me as a sensitive and caring employer.
Daire had a daughter, Daru, aged 15, from his first marriage to Davida. Now, he was with Danielle but they had no children together. Daire readily admitted to being a workaholic. He said he loved his work, deriving a lot of personal satisfaction from serving his clients.
“…these panic attacks were tied to what he called his forgetfulness.”
I had asked him to identify his top four values before coming in to see me. So, he had arrived with his list: his work – his family – himself – his friends.
When I asked him how I might serve him, he told me several stories of experiencing panic attacks in the last several months which were throwing his whole world in turmoil.
Daire had concluded these panic attacks were tied to what he called his forgetfulness. He offered several examples of forgetting things at work and at home which would result in a panic attack which left him discouraged and confused.
I asked him for his “most upsetting” example. He replied,
“Ken, the most recent one was probably the most traumatic for me! It happened at home the other morning when I was getting ready to go to work.”
“What happened exactly?” I asked.
“…they were there all the time! I felt so stupid!”
“Danielle and I were getting ready to leave for work and I couldn’t find my car keys. When I asked her if she had seen them anywhere, she reminded me we only have one car and I was the only one who drove it.”
“Then what happened?”
“I checked the table by the front door, my coat pockets, my briefcase….all the likely places… and could not find them. Then, as I looked around, I saw the mounting frustration on Danielle’s face and I started panicking.”
“What did you do then, Daire?”
“I remember I put my hands over my face and said to Danielle, ‘Don’t blame me…I will find them…just give me a minute…I will find them!’”
‘Then what happened?” I asked him.
“I kept searching frantically…checked my other coat, the kitchen counter and then the key hooks inside the front hall closet. That’s where they were! Where I had put them the previous evening…on the key rack in the closet…they were there all the time! I felt so stupid!”
Then, he added,
“I’ve been doing this a lot lately! And, it is driving me wacky!”
“Do you mean forgetting benefits and costs me at the same time?”
“Well, since we are biologically and psychologically wired to survive and you’re here with me now, it must have served you perfectly at that very moment, so let’s find out how.”
“Are you saying being forgetful serves me in some way? I don’t see it. It only embarrasses and humiliates me, over and over again.”
“Well it is doing that too! That’s just to keep you balanced…so you don’t get carried away with using it.”
“Do you mean forgetting benefits and costs me at the same time? That sounds crazy, Ken!”
“Yes, it does a little, but, once you understand what is going on, you will appreciate its perfection. Let’s go back to your moment of panic when you couldn’t find your keys.”
“Be in that moment right now. Close your eyes and be there with your hands covering your face. Put your hands over your face like you did at that moment and re-experience it.”
Then I continued,
“Daire, every person behaves, at all times, from within their values unconsciously. We are going to make it conscious for you so you can understand the value of your forgetfulness.”
“I gotta see this!” he replied skeptically as he closed his eyes and raised his hands to cover his face.
“As you are standing there in your home, face covered and Danielle watching you, what are you saying to yourself about yourself forgetting where you last put your keys?”
Daire goes quiet. I waited.
“She was always at me, judging me and demeaning me…”
After a bit, maybe 5 or 6 seconds, he said,
“I need to defend myself. I need to avoid her criticism.”
“So, you are protecting yourself at that very moment?”
“I suppose I am, aren’t I?” he replied a little surprise in his voice.
“Protecting yourself from what, Daire?”
“I guess her criticism and her judgement of me!” he responded.
“Do you struggle dealing with the criticism from other people?”
“Yeah, I guess I do! I certainly don’t like criticism at all!”
Was there someone before Danielle who you perceived was overly critical of you, Daire?”
“That would be my mom! She was a raging alcoholic in those days. She was always at me, judging me and demeaning me…even as a young child. I remember it … vividly!”
“Do you have a specific memory that stands out in your mind from that time?”
“I certainly have always had to set clear boundaries with my mom…”
“I do, Ken! I was about six years old and had just returned from school.
It had been math test day at school and when I walked in the door from getting off the bus, my mom started saying I must have failed my math test. She didn’t ask me how I had done, she just started attacking me. And, I started to cry.”
“How did you cope with that moment in your childhood? Daire, be in that moment right now and tell me how you were talking to yourself to manage your mom’s judgement?”
He paused before saying,
‘Well, besides crying, I ran to my room, slammed the door and hid under my bed for a long time. And, I remember thinking my mom is not fair, I think I did OK on my test and my mom doesn’t understand!”
“So, it sounds like you honoured your feelings and comforted yourself by crying; and you protected yourself by running to your room and hiding under your bed; and you empowered yourself by slamming the door.”
“I suppose that is true isn’t it? I haven’t ever thought of it that way before. I certainly have always had to set clear boundaries with my mom my whole life…that’s for sure!”
“Have you needed to set boundaries with other people as well?”
“…personal pride in your skills in being independent and having clear expectations of others?”
“Oh yeah! For sure! Whether it’s been demanding clients or my staff or even Danielle in relation to the importance of my work…my business!”
“Were there other occasions in your childhood, and perhaps later on, when you continued to practice setting boundaries with your mom?”
“For sure! During highschool and even in university, I was continually needing to empower myself in my relationship to my mom. She eventually stopped drinking. But, her criticisms continued, just in a little softer form…so I had to persist with her and still do.”
“As you think about it, would it be accurate to say that today you take some measure of personal pride in your skills in being independent and having clear expectations of others?”
“Ken, I have found it is critical to running your own business. It requires being straight but fair with people, both inside and outside your organization. Without that ability, I don’t think I would have come as far as I have.”
“I sure know how to self advocate having been raised by my mom. And, I apply it in most areas of my life.”
“So, you owe your mom for that, eh? If she hadn’t been so critical, you might not have learned to be your own person…that independent person you value so much? It really connects well to your highest values you mentioned earlier, doesn’t it?”
“You know, Ken, that is true. I sure know how to self advocate having been raised by my mom. And, I apply it in most areas of my life.”
“So, getting back to your panicking when you forget something, what is the benefit to how you deal with your forgetfulness?”
“Well, I suppose I become very solution focused, I try to resolve it immediately…so, I’m realizing now, I empower myself and set boundaries with those around me, like Danielle and the car keys.”
“I agree! You have been calling it panic, but it looks more like focused problem solving for an immediate situation that needs attention. Can you see that, Daire?”
“I can see it now…that’s for sure! And, it doesn’t seem so bizarre does it? What I have been calling panic looks like unexpected crisis management. When I see how it’s tied to my values and important skills I’ve used all my life, it seems pretty OK to me.”
“I would agree, Daire!
“This has been very useful, Ken!”
I appreciate your thoughts and comments.
“I tend to stay with the panic. I embrace the panic.” Larry David, actor