How I Work With My Coaching Clients

I was recently interviewed by another life coach about how I work with my coaching clients, and thought you might find it interesting. The interview focuses on healing emotional trauma:

As always, I’d be interested in any feedback you have via a comment.

What I Have Been Dealing With This Week

Stress can make you sick, and being sick all the time is stressful. I can see how that can become self-perpetuating. One of the antidotes to stress is to share what’s going on for us with other people. A burden shared is a burden lightened. This goes against my suck-it-up-boy programming, which is another reason to do it, to break the emotional isolation cycle.

Time For A BreakSo here’s what I’ve been dealing with in the past week:

  • Serious doubt about whether I can pursue comedy right now, given my current physical health situation. I’ve done a couple of open mike gigs lately, and they went well; but I just didn’t enjoy them. I might have to stick to watching comedy for the time being.
  • Having a constant tension headache which sometimes makes my belief that everything is perfect as it is, challenging.
  • Putting my original SELP project on hold because I feel inauthentic, I hate sharing about it, and I feel like I’ve done my old pattern of taking on something that then overwhelms me.
  • Tweeting an offer to register my first paying coaching client saying that I coach people to help them recover from chronic fatigue syndrome, and [intlink id=”827″ type=”post”]getting hate tweets in response[/intlink].
  • Writing a blog article about the impact of hate & criticism from strangers on me, and enjoying some new connections with other people struggling with the same issue.
  • Really enjoying seeing the progress that my existing coaching clients are making.
  • Having one of my coaching clients drop out, and needing to replace them in order to get my coaching qualification by the end of the year.
  • Getting an angry email from a client about something I said during our session.
  • Talking to a new male friend (who I am hoping to recruit as a paying coaching client) about the impact of our families of origin, upbringing and bullying at school; and waking up with a headache the next day. Every time I see or talk in depth about my mother, I end up with a migraine.
  • Putting my feelings on the line by telling a very close friend that I love her, and then feeling super awkward. Telling her I need some time out to let my feelings for her fade. (She has a boyfriend, and lives overseas; so not exactly surprisingly, but I told her because I needed closure one way or another)
  • Attempting to move on emotionally. Meeting other girls, and finding my old panic arising again to stop me in my tracks. Feeling super frustrated with myself over the times my fear blocks me from connecting with other people.
  • Feeling inspired to record some of the music that I play, and even make my own music video.
  • Feeling anxious that Christmas is coming up, and a long-standing conflict with my mother is unresolved.
  • Questioning whether The Landmark Forum is really an emotionally safe environment that I would want to recommend to other sensitive people. The teaching is great, but the way Landmark deals with emotions doesn’t feel safe to me.
  • Having my 30 year high school reunion. I kinda thought I’d have my shit together by Back To The Future day.
  • Feeling emotionally exhausted from all the above.
  • Misplacing my hover board.

What have you been dealing with?

Dealing With Negativity, Hostility and Limiting Beliefs

A couple of days a go I posted a couple of new pages on my blog about the [intlink id=”795″ type=”page”]coaching that I offer[/intlink], and published it to a wider audience on Twitter in the search for my first paying coaching client. I had been holding back on doing this until my existing clients were up and running, and now that they’re making great progress, I feel even more positive about having something really valuable to offer other people struggling with CFS.

Almost immediately, a couple of vocal critics on Twitter jumped into the fray with some hostile, negative tweets about me. I won’t publish them all here, since one thing I recommend is avoiding negativity and it would be counter-productive to infect you with negativity aimed at me, but here’s one example:

Not the ideal response that I was looking for. I get triggered when I receive criticism from other people since it taps straight into my critical mother core wound, so I found responses like this deflating. Nevertheless, I believe I have something to offer that could help alleviate their suffering, and I can tell from the anger implied in their communication that they are suffering; so I didn’t want to just ignore them. I attempted to engage the hostile tweeters in a conversation about what they’re struggling with, in the hope that I might be able to at least help them deal with the stress of their illness with some compassionate human connection.

None of the hostile tweeters wanted to talk to me; which isn’t surprising given their initial responses. Accepting my invitation would mean dropping the defences that they’re using to protect themselves, and for all they know I could be some nut-case out to force them into something they don’t want or waste their time and money with yet another treatment that doesn’t work. How are they to know that the strategies I teach will improve many aspects their life; not just their physical health?

The other side of looking at this is that talking to me might mean letting go of the belief that the situation is hopeless. I can certainly relate to the challenge of letting go of negative and limiting beliefs. Beliefs can be particularly hard to change when they’re linked to the need to be right, which was a survival strategy to avoid conflict in my family of origin. Our need to be right is also linked to our underlying need for approval and acceptance; but it’s a distortion. When we didn’t feel loved and accepted as kids, we can end up with a very strong sense of righteousness as adults. Ironically, the need to be right often gets in the way of us getting other important needs met, like the intimate human connection that helps us so much in times of stress.

One of the most powerful ways to shift negative or self-limiting beliefs is new experiences. Now that I’m actually working with other clients, I get to have the experience of seeing the way that my coaching impacts the lives of people who have been ill for a very long time. I’m talking up to 15 years here. I have a lot of respect for my clients because they have all tried pretty much everything, and yet they were open to the possibility that talking to me might still make a difference. Taking that risk takes a lot more courage than tweeting that I’m a snake oil saleman does.

I find it exciting to see my clients stepping up to the challenge of being assertive, learning to say “no” to situations that don’t work for them, replacing complaining with action-taking, expressing their emotions clearly, dealing with overwhelm, and making their well-being their top priority. It re-inspires me to keep do the same. I suggested to one client this week that she adopt the mantra: “Everything is perfect” when she found herself complaining, and I ended up taking it on the same afternoon. It led me to a deeper sense of peace about my situation than I’d had in years. Everything really is perfect; and when I’m feeling unwell and starting to doubt this myself, I remind myself that my body is reacting exactly the way it’s supposed to. It’s all perfect.

Other people’s negativity can trigger my own limiting beliefs and insecurities, but I don’t have to listen to it. This is why I haven’t hang out on CFS forums for years, and only ever subscribe to really positive sites like CFSUnravelled.com. I teach my clients to avoid situations where they routinely get triggered when they can, and to deal constructively when it happens unavoidably.

Another thing I teach is to focus on what’s working, rather than what isn’t. One of my clients pointed me to this great site during the week called The One You Feed, based on the old American Indian parable that there are two wolves inside us, a good wolf and an evil wolf, and the one that grows is the one we feed. It’s a great reminder to me that we get more of what we focus on: When we focus on what’s not working, and complain, protest and criticise others; we generate more stress and negativity inside our personal boundary. When we focus on what is working, we open ourselves up to new possibilities; like the possibility that CFS might be easily treatable once you understand what’s going on.

I don’t listen to other people’s negativity because it doesn’t help my recovery. I may be ill, but I still have choices. I can scream abuse at the powers that be, like the medical system that let me down, or the family that wasn’t there to support me when I fell ill, or the parents that let me down by being emotionally unavailable when I was a kid; and I’ve certainly done all these things in spades. Now I choose to express and harness that anger constructively as creativity and assertiveness to assist me in strengthening my boundaries against other people’s hostility next time it comes my way.

I believe that once we learn to stop stress, hostility and overwhelm from the outside world from entering our emotional boundary and quit generating it within ourselves, our nervous system can begin to calm down, the hypervigillance switches off, and our body begins to heal. I may end up being wrong, but I’d rather take a constructive approach to my recovery than sit around waiting for a miracle cure while raging at the medical/research/government institutions and attacking other people who are offering help, support and hope to people who are suffering.

The Pros and Cons of Tai Chi

I recently took up Tai Chi as part of the never-ending quest for better health. Tai Chi seems like the perfect exercise for someone with CFS, because it doesn’t feel like exercise. It’s just a series of slow graceful movements that don’t exactly get your heart racing.

Initially, I started by learning from a video on YouTube. But then I decided to take a course with the Sydney Tai Chi society, so that I could get feedback from an instructor and also hopefully meet some other people who are interested in learning Tai Chi.

I’ve been attending the course for six weeks now. The routine that I’m learning is different from the one in the video, but the underlying concepts are all the same: release stress and tension in the body, and your life force will begin to flow again.

I’ve been practising almost every weekday morning for the past six weeks, down at the southern end of Bondi Beach where there are always people practising yoga, meditation, and tai chi every morning. I almost always feel better after my morning practice.

However, this week I started to notice a growing sense of irritation at the fact the Tai Chi is, well, kind of boring. In a sense, it’s just another thing that I’m trying to do in order to “fix myself”, rather than getting out there and living the life that I would really love to be living right now. And frankly, always trying to “fix myself” bugs the shit out of me.

So while practising Tai Chi this Thursday morning, I started thinking about the Mikel therapy concept of doing what your body seems to be asking for. I was there standing by the ocean doing my slow and graceful movements as the waves rolled in, and I thought to myself “you know, I think what I would really like to be doing right now is going body boarding”. But the water is way too cold for me right now since it’s still winter.

I’ve been meaning to go and buy a wetsuit ever since moving near the beach in Bondi, so that I can still enjoy body boarding in the ocean even on cold days. Another concept I learned from nickel therapy was the idea of doing the things that you’ve been putting off, so I decided that instead of continuing to practice my Tai Chi that morning, I would go to the surf store and buy myself the wetsuit that I wanted.

I came home with a brand-new, top-of-the-line wetsuit which is both flexible and warm, picked up my body board, and headed back to the beach. I had a great time body boarding in the waves, and with a snug fitting new wetsuit, barely noticed the cold water.

Conscious of not wanting to over do it, I also stopped and came home before the shark alarm went off that day. I went back for more body boarding on the Friday, And again came home shortly before the shark alarm went off at Bondi for the second day in a row.

I’ve still got a couple weeks to go before my 8-week Tai Chi course ends, although it doesn’t really end at that point: the instructor says that it takes about 18 months to learn the routine that he is teaching us, and I’ve only done six weeks so far. Frankly, I’d like to do something more exciting with my time.

I get that Tai Chi is great for dealing with anxiety and stress, which I think are key components of CFS. But it’s also a bit of a distraction from living the life that I really want, which I think is the ultimate cure for CFS.

I’ll probably continue to practice Tai Chi from time to time even after the course ends, but rather than doing it religiously every day, I’ve decided to practice it when my body seems to be asking for it.

Otherwise, I’ve adopted body boarding as my daily spiritual practice. Sharks not withstanding.

Getting An Empathy Buddy

I recently got myself an empathy buddy and am finding it tremendously helpful to receive some non-judgmental emotional support, especially when I’m feeling like crap. The idea is to have a buddy who listens to where I’m at without judging me and occasionally reflects back how I’m feeling and what my needs are. I talk to my empathy buddy every few days and find it an invaluable emotional support.

I believe that CFS is a stress-related illness, and empathy is the most powerful antidote I know for stress. Having an empathy buddy also lessens my isolation and gives me a feeling that someone else understands and cares what I’m going through; all of which lessens my stress. With an empathy buddy I also get to reciprocate which means my attention isn’t always just on me and my problems.

The idea of an empathy buddy comes from the Non-Violent Communication (NVC) community, also known as Empathic Communication. NVC is a style of communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg with the aim that everyone can get their needs met by communicating feelings and needs clearly and directly. Showing empathy is also a core skill for relating to other people so it’s also a great thing to learn and practice in its own right.

Most of the people I know with Chronic Fatigue have a history of emotional repression and/or past emotional trauma leading to chronic stress. Having an empathy buddy gives you a safe environment to start exploring these feelings by allowing you permission to feel how you feel without being told that you’re wrong or should be different.

All the CFS support groups that I’ve been to appeared to skirt around the issue of how everyone was really feeling, which I believe is why the groups aren’t particularly helpful; they turn into a mutual misery discussion without addressing and dealing with feelings and needs directly. The most helpful group I attended was an anxiety support group which dealt almost exclusively with feelings and steered away from discussing the illness entirely.

I recently met a girl through this blog who had been suffering for 15 years with CFS and was overwhelmed with anxiety, yet had never revealed to anyone just how frightened she was for fear of judgement. I offered her empathy and watched her relax right in front of me. This is powerful stuff.

If you’re interested in getting an empathy buddy, read this article on How to Work With An Empathy Buddy and leave a comment below or contact one of the other commenters.

Taking It Easy And Feeling OK

I’ve been taking things a little easier lately, and generally feeling better for it. I cut my acting practise back to two nights a week (instead of four), so I can accommodate the pick-up course I’m doing on two other nights a week. I get overwhelmed when I think how far I have to go with my emotional expression, and when I look at the amount of stuff I want to learn about conversation, dating and seduction skills… but I just keep reminding myself to take it one step at a time. And my relationships with women are steadily improving as a result. You might wonder what relevance that has to chronic fatigue, but I find that when I’m under stress my symptoms are much worse. And not having the relationships that I want is a source of stress in itself. As Daniel Goleman says in his book Social Intelligence, all stress is social. I’ve always been mildly socially phobic, so I’m putting a lot of effort into getting this area of my life handled to reduce my social stress.

I find that when I’m stressed out, I feel overwhelmed and anxious, and my symptoms get worse. But if I keep it under a certain threshold, I don’t feel too bad. My term as Toastmasters club president ends at the end of June, and I’ll be relieved to offload the responsibility to someone else. I was thinking of quitting Toastmasters altogether, but I still have a dream of being a motivational speaker/teacher to help other people once I’ve sorted my own stuff out. I feel like this is on hold at the moment while I’m ill, so in the mean time I’m busy learning everything I can about public speaking, self-confidence, emotional mastery, dealing with anxiety, and social dynamics. I can’t wait to get there; but then I remind myself to take one step at a time. I’m really looking forward to hearing Darren LaCriox speak at the upcoming district conference, as he appears to be doing what I’d love to do. One of the other members of my Toastmasters club was telling me about her 5 year plan to become a speaker in her area of expertise; 5 years sounds like a loooong time to me… but at least she has a plan! It’s hard to plan when I don’t know how long it will be before I can really put energy into anything full-time without hitting the fatigue wall. Perhaps the purpose of chronic fatigue is to teach me a lesson in patience.

I started seeing a new holistic healer last week. I was really surprised how emotional I felt when he asked me what was going on in my life when I became ill. I told him the story of how I went on a motorcycle road trip to Brisbane to hang out with my father’s family for a bit, and the conversations I had with my aunty Edith about my father. She’s a sensitive soul, and we connected pretty well while I was there. Wow, it bought up a lot of emotion for me; which seemed odd since I’ve talked about it before. I think the big deal there was about feeling like there’s nobody else in my immediate family that I really connect with on an emotional level, and how hard that’s been for me. I think the emotional stuff around chronic fatigue is huge, so I’m going to keep seeing this guy for a while. I was drawn to him because while he’s respectful of emotions, he’s also a pretty masculine blokey kinda guy. He has that masculine energy that David Deida talks about in his book The Way Of The Superior Man, which my father and most of the other men in my family seem to lack.

If I can maintain things the way I’m currently going, I feel reasonably happy most of the time. Not quite so many extreme lows, and I haven’t spent a whole day in bed for a while. I still feel rather anxious about where I’m heading in life, but for the time being I’m in learning mode and we’ll worry about where it’s all heading later. My biggest hassle lately has been insomnia, which seems to hit me in waves every now and then. I had been sleeping till mid-afternoon on days that I didn’t have anything on, and that makes it hard to get to sleep at night; so I’m going to try and stop doing that. I’m following the advice in Timothy Sharp’s The Happiness Handbook on sleep, and taking Valerian each night at bed-time.

I wake up every morning now and declare that it’s going to be a great day. And I celebrate my successes. Life is good, it’s a sunny day, and I’m grateful for being alive.

Avoiding Overwhelm

I just watched Session 7, on awareness of stress patterns; which seems very relevant to me. I constantly seem to be on the verge of overwhelm, reminding myself to back off a bit and take things easy. Part of me keeps shouting “But I don’t want to! Yes, there’s a lot to do, but I want to go out and do it!”. Yet when I commit to something and end up feeling overwhelmed, I stop caring and just want to give up. Then I feel bad about not caring any more, and wish I could give a damn.

I made my usual mistake of having an afternoon lie down yesterday, because I was feeling really exhausted after coming home from acting class. Woke up after an hour or so feeling absolutely wretched; I just never usually feel that bad. Then I dragged my sorry ass to my Toastmasters committee meeting last night, where a headache gradually got worse and worse. I’m torn because part of me wants to contribute more, part of me wants to be doing something professional where I get paid, and part of me just wants to rest and get better. I made resting and getting better my goal for 2010, so for the time being, it’s got to be the winner.

I’m reading a really interesting book at the moment called The Sedona Method, which describes a way of releasing emotions which is a little similar to the basis for Soften and Flow, and should calm the amygdala. I’ll comment more about it when I’ve finished, but it looks very interesting. I’d be interested if anyone else has used this method for releasing anxiety or other emotions associated with CFS.

After having a lousy headachey night last night, I’m spending the day relaxing, watching Session 7 on the DVD, reading the book I just mentioned and doing some washing, before meeting up with a very sweet and attractive girl from my acting class for coffee this afternoon. Nothing like pretty girl to boost a young-at-heart man’s energy levels!

PS: If you’re in Australia, there is a show on ABC tonight entitled Stress: Portrait of a Killer which looks worth catching.