Fear of failure! A particularly dramatic IntrovisionCoaching Case Study

IntrovisionCoaching presents a highly efficient tool for clients with a fear of failure, especially in desperate cases. Sometimes we are not only able to provide some peace of mind, well-being and job security for our client, but also save their family life.

An independent web designer who had previously been very successful in her job requested coaching because she had experienced an especially deep slump in her work, which not only endangered her monetary outcome, but threatened to destroy her family life as well. She worked with a stock of substantial clients who had constantly supplied her with orders until she hit a bump in the road all of a sudden: another web design agency stormed in with lower prices and higher customer presence and consequently kicked her out of the race. She knew that in order to compensate for the losses, she had to acquire a host of new customers. She researched the necessary addresses to appeal to potential customers.

However, rather than immediately picking up the phone upon entering her office and start cold calling customers, she felt she “had” to check and answer her emails first. Next, she felt obliged to check up on her facebook and Twitter accounts to see if she had received any customer requests through these channels. Naturally, she got caught up in the flood of social media postings and articles, because there is always something interesting there, even some items that are important for one’s own profession. Thus, entire work days were spent surfing the Internet and she had not called a single company when she left office late in the afternoon.

Day after day she became increasingly dissatisfied with herself and the “wasted time.” And of course this exasperation began to affect her family life as well. She became irritated with her children who fell on their mother the moment she entered the room. Her spouse couldn’t seem to do anything for her as well. Tensions in the family kept growing until she was glad to be able to seek refuge in her office in the morning – without, however, changing her customer acquisition behavior. In consequence her problems in the professional realm – namely how to continue working as an independent agent – became ever more pressing. And although the problems didn’t become a financially existential threat at the beginning, since she had accumulated some reserves and her partner had a decent income as well, her discontent continued to grow.

She tried all possible means to resolve this frustrating situation: she spent days reading articles and books on self-management, studying instructions on how to become successful as an entrepreneur, coming up with a success plan, creating to-do lists for every single day – but she never managed to bring all these wonderful things to reality. One of the many facebook groups she frequented in the hope to find something that could help her, for example, featured the so-called “Pomodoro Technique.” This method aims to overcome the resistance against doing the things that need to be done by resolving to do things for only twenty minutes at a time. This worked quite well for the first couple of times, until she felt silly to set a twenty minute alarm for her tasks. So she simply “forgot” to do it, like so many other efforts she tried before.

Finally, she came to the conclusion that she just needed to “think positive.” So she decided to take action right upon waking up, imagining that she would be in high demand among customers once again, throwing herself into new projects at full speed, tackling tasks full of energy, and being completely satisfied with her professional life. This idea worked reasonably well while she was still in bed, but the moment she arrived at her office, the bland reality had caught up with her. Occasionally, she even managed to get herself to call a potential customer, but if this effort did not result in an appointment on the spot, she fell right back to her old behavior after hanging up the phone, surfing the Internet and engaging herself in “very interesting things.” This, of course, did not help at all to improve her situation.

As an effect of this, the domestic situation further deteriorated since her children and spouse had to deal with her ever increasing discontent. Although her partner at first tried his best to support her, repeatedly telling her that she was still a very good web designer, talented and full of ideas, her only reaction to this was angry objection. Yes, she might have been good back in the days, but something has changed since her customers obviously shunned her now; in other words, she answered every encouraging statement with a sharp, “Yes, but…”

Finally, she was so desperate that she was about to terminate her office lease because she had already given up any hope for change. Her monetary reserves were depleted and the relationship with her partner was so stressed that he confronted her with a last resort, telling her: “If you don’t act and do something that will finally get you out of the hole you dug yourself in, I think it might be better if we would go separate ways!”

All attempts to improve her job situation on her own accord had come to no avail, and now the bonus threat on her relationship was on the table. When she finally decided to ask for coaching, her self-doubts had reached a level that was very close to a full-blown depression.

The first thing that became apparent during the coaching process was a strong imperative stating, “I need to be needed!” The fact that her family might not need her anymore, which filled her with dread and had to be averted at all costs, became a very real scenario if she failed to become successful again and therefore no longer contribute to the family income. When talking about this the client stated that it would relieve her of some stress if she knew she wouldn’t have to earn a high income anymore. But when she was confronted with the thought, “It may be that I am no longer needed,” during IntrovisionCoaching, a violent alarm was triggered which was connected to a feeling of great sadness. When she described what had happened during the respective Introvision sets, she reported that the image of an incredibly heavy millstone that hung on her neck had emerged. In accordance, she felt a sense of immense relief after she had managed to reduce the alarm triggered by this phrase.

When working with the first imperative, however, it soon became obvious that there was a second, deeper imperative, which actually affected her in a more significant way. Upon thorough questioning her life story, she reported that she had been systematically discouraged by her parents when she was a child. Her parents didn’t believe in her and disregarded her efforts and herself on a constant basis. And they refused to support her wish to attend a secondary school. In their opinion, she should have left school and apply for vocational training since this was the limit for her. But she chose to fight it out, finish high school and continue to university. From the perspective of Transactional Analysis, the client features a classic “loser” script combined with a pronounced “Don’t succeed!” injunction.

There are two ways to deal with injunctions: you can either follow them, or go against them. The client had initially chosen to fight the injunction. She wanted to prove to her parents that she was indeed able to cope quite well. And for a long time she succeeded in doing just that. But when she ran into problems at her job because a competitor had snatched away her clients, her “Don’t succeed!” script had returned with a vengeance. The inner doubts about her own abilities, which had always been there, now got the upper hand. To attract new customers she would have had to crank up her acquisition efforts to full force, but instead, every time she thought about calling a customer she was overcome by nagging thoughts stating that she just hadn’t got it in her, that she was not good enough – the typical effects of an injunction.

The client had internalized the doubts in her abilities, which were initially planted by her parents, so thoroughly that she devalued herself on a constant level. The only “antidote” against these internal devaluations, which she constantly looked for and desperately needed, was recognition from the outside, since she was not able to provide it herself. Based on the experience with her parents, she had developed the imperative, “I must not be rejected under any circumstances!” This follows an obvious “psycho-logic:” if, in addition to the constant internal devaluations, there had been further devaluations from the outside in the form of rejection, it would have been a far too heavy load to bear.

So whenever she now thought about client acquisition, a violent internal alarm was triggered. Because her immense inner doubts about her abilities suggested that it was highly probable that any attempt to win over new customers was destined to fail. And this supposed failure would have counted as a rejection, and rejections had to be avoided at all costs since they would shatter her already shaken inner equilibrium entirely. This internal vicious circle had the effect that she was now practically living out her “loser” script. She was no longer successful. The first concrete failure she had experienced was enough to empower the inner doubts planted by her parents so vehemently that she was no longer capable of steering her course back in the direction of “success.”

During one coaching session, we failed to bring down this particular alarm to an absolute zero, but at least the client managed to dial it down a couple of notches. Her homework for the following weeks was to practice Introvision on a daily basis for about ten minutes, sitting with the phrase, “It may be that I am rejected,” either until the alarm was completely cleared or until the next meeting, two weeks later.

She was very good at practicing Introvision by herself and by the next meeting she had reduced the alarm to one on a scale from one to ten. She told me about the feeling of relief she experienced through the work with Introvision up until this moment; but it was also clear that her internal conflicts were not completely dissolved yet. For there was another imperative that she had installed to fight her script and prove to her parents that they were wrong and that she was more than capable of succeeding.

This imperative was, “I must not fail under any circumstances!” And this imperative, as well, contributed to her passive behavior in the face of the professional crisis she found herself in: if she tried to win new customers and would have failed in the process, as she feared due to her inner self-doubts, her failure would have been evident. She would have had to admit to the world that, “I have failed.” This was something her inner alarm system could not allow so she employed a host of conflict-avoidance strategies, which we have already described previously. This enabled her to maintain the extremely dubious stance that she was actively trying to resolve the situation and furthermore couldn’t have failed since she hadn’t actually begun to approach new customers yet. And indeed, the client had managed to keep up this self-deception for quite a while – until that moment when this strategy threatened to cause irreparable damages because her partner refused to play along anymore.

The sentence with which the client entered the next Introvision set was, “It may be that I fail!” In the course of the coaching process, this was then exacerbated to, “It may be that I utterly fail!” Upon this, the client reported a “vicious mix” of alarm responses which unearthed various images from her childhood. The fact that these old memories appeared shows how closely the imperative was linked to her life script. But she managed to clear the respective alarm even in the course of this specific session. She was very moved and described what a relief this meant for her. As a result, she managed to stabilize her professional life by building a new customer base and her private life as well, since she no longer showed any trace of the irritation which had threatened to destroy her family.

This case study is an excerpt taken from the book, ” Introvision – Die Kunst ohne Stress zu leben” (Introvision – The art of living without stress, R. and U. Dehner, cross-Verlag, 2015) and illustrates what can be achieved through IntrovisionCoaching in a short period of time, even in such difficult circumstances which look hopeless for those affected. In the book, you can learn more about the technique and background of this method.

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