“Do you know? I’m always just so incredibly lethargic. I don’t know where it comes from, because I have everything I would wish for. And according to my doctor, there’s nothing wrong with me”. With a deep sigh, Angela lays her story on the table. She has a wonderful opportunity with her own business and should be very happy. But all that she can muster is ‘mwah’. How is it that she is always so listless and can’t be genuinely happy with her beautiful life?

Marlène looks at her client with understanding. Angela came to ask how she can get to know herself better. She apparently has all the elements to be happy, but often feels tired and listless. Why is that?

These feelings are more common, even with clients who seemingly ‘have it all’. It’s up to us as coaches and therapists to look behind the façade of ‘everything’s going well’ to see where the real problem lies. That’s often quite a challenge.

Everything is OK

Clients often say: Everything’s going well. At work there are no conflicts, at home they have everything they can wish for and they really don’t understand where those lethargic feelings and dullness come from. In Angela’s example, she has a great company, three lovely children and a man who supports her. She has received a wonderful promotion opportunity in her company that may have consequences for her family. Now that she has been offered that great chance, she is having a hard time discussing the consequences – perhaps she will have to move – with her husband, parents and parents-in-law. While there is no apparent reason that problems should arise when they discuss it.

Avoiding conflict

Angela prefers to avoid that conflict. She says: “Actually, I am only happy when everyone around me is happy. I don’t like arguing and don’t like to putting a fait accompli to my husband and my parents.” That’s something many readers will recognize. And what else she says back there: “But I really have a good marriage, though! And I have nothing to complain about my work either.”

This comment makes it harder for Marlène to come to the heart of the problem. After all, the client says that there’s no need to work on the marriage or on the work situation. Marlène can’t ‘get to it’.

Give attention

This is now a difficult situation for Marlène. How will she help this client with the underlying problem? Transactional Analysis (TA) can provide a solution here. We know the theory of Strokes in TA. This means the following:

Every child wants to be seen from the beginning for who it is. Without having to do anything for it. Father and mother, however, have expectations for this child. That is very natural and also the parents’ job in parenting. What often happens is that a child receives positive attention and approval for what it does. Positive attention is provided when the child does their best, excels and makes no mistakes. The child must be perfect. The moment they succeed, they get compliments. “Well done!” This way, a child learns that they are good if they do their best, are neat and polite and don’t make mistakes, they will then be accepted socially. This isn’t a problem in itself – it’s how socialization works.

Be good as you are

When a child is complimented when things go well and is reprimanded when something goes wrong, then they are living according to the expectations of their parents. There’s no harm in this either; the child does what is necessary at that moment to survive and be accepted.

Where this behaviour is healthy at a young age, it starts to cause problems if the child has eventually become an adult. If you can only feel good if you’re meeting the earlier expectations, then things go wrong. If we can no longer be happy as adults if we do something other than what our parents expect from us, then a problem arises.

Client Angela’s challenge

The fact that Angela finds it so difficult to discuss with her parents and her husband what that nice opportunity for her company could mean for her family, is an indication that she lives according to those old expectations. That stops her from finding her own physis. Physis is that which helps us to rise above ourselves. Our zest for life. When you miss it, you become literally lethargic. Angela now has to learn to see what she really needs as her own person and to leave the expectations of the past behind.

TA is also for you

I can imagine that you as a coach or therapist sometimes struggle with the same problems. Dealing with these clients can sometimes feel like ‘tiptoeing around’. TA can help you to stand firmer and not have to worry that you are failing these clients. With TA you learn to find your own physis and help others. Want to know more about this? In September I will again give a 2-day introduction to TA. In these two days you will become acquainted with all the basic principles of TA and you can apply them to yourself and your clients.

You’re welcome.

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Linda Hoeben
+32 474 920 877
Rommersom 1A, 3320 Hoegaarden