As weeks passed, *Monte talked about growing up knowing hardships.
His dad didn’t always have a job, his mom was sad a lot. Just like him, his siblings were expected to figure life out on their own. He was now an adult and respected. He earned respect by not allowing anyone to challenge him.
Truth was, he wasn’t sure he knew what to do a lot of the time. He thought the answers should be obvious but having to fight was feeling like an oncoming storm, a trap.
Becoming a man was a rite of passage, but he didn’t understand why. Most adults in his world didn’t seem at all happy and regularly dealt with anger, frustration and fear all in very physical ways.
To use their common sense.
Monte remembered a particularly ugly scene at school when he was in junior high. Another kid said something awful about Monte’s little sister.
“I punched him in that nasty mouth of his!” he raged.
I countered, “Did you say anything before that?”
He thought back and shook his head back and forth, but stopped.
“Yeah! I did!” he remembered. “I told him to take it back! I told him to say he was sorry to Lisa!”
“I take it he didn’t?” asking the obvious.
“I knew I was going to hit him no matter what he said. Sure enough, he laughed at us both. So, I hit him!” Monte went silent as his eyes looked downcast. “I got kicked out of school.”
“So, what happened then?” I asked. “Do you remember what your dad said to you when he found out?”
“That was the oddest thing. He was so mad at me!” he said, clearly shocked. “Told me I was stupid and a failure. He didn’t even say anything about me sticking up for my sister. He had to sign me up for another school, I could tell he was angry about that.”
“Do you remember if your dad ever talked to you about different ways to handle that same kind of situation? I mean, not telling you that what you did was bad, but maybe thinking out other ways you could handle someone saying mean things?” I tried to encourage.
Monte snickered, “No.”
When we first started meeting I shared with Monte about what goes on in his brain when he’s angry. About the fight, flight or freeze response put into play by the brain’s Limbic System. He learned that while he’s in that survival mode he does not have access to the rest of his brain that could help him come up with new options. Even so, being respected was such an important value to him that he had an incredibly difficult time being in acceptance, that is, being able to look at the facts without being overwhelmed with emotion. Fortunately, Monte the father, had a lot of compassion, and he did not want to be an impatient dad. He decided he would try not to act or say anything when he was angry with his son. He would use the tools we discussed on how to lower his tension in the moment. Over the next two sessions, I encouraged Monte to think about how he would talk to his son when someday he faced cruel words. We looked back at his childhood and then looked forward at his son’s childhood. Then we settled back in the present to focus on positive steps forward in his life. Monte needed to see himself in a place of acceptance in any outcome.
“What would it look like for you to be in the same room with this coworker and not feel the need to punch him?” I asked boldly. His usual reply to this question was, “I don’t know”. Monte needed to figure out what circumstances would give him closure without resorting to violence.
“He needs to own up to disrespecting me!” he said. “He has to back off! Just leave me alone, man!” He put his head in his hands. Monte clearly wanted a different way out without having to resort to violence.
“What I hear is if this guy left you alone, stopped badgering you, you could walk away with your dignity?” I tried to clarify.
“He has to own up!” he shot back.
“What if he never does? Will you forever need to punch him?” I asked. It was a realistic question.
“Maybe,” Monte replied, almost resignedly.
Now able to see the outcome of his tension, Monte wanted to change the narrative. There were a couple more sessions where Monte and I walked through what he would think as he walked into a room where his coworker was sitting, alone or with other coworkers in the room. I asked him to think about the level of tension he would experience each time he objectively envisioned himself in that situation. I could see a difference in Monte since the first time we met. I believe Monte did, too.
I have shared this story as a glimpse of a coaching relationship. This story is based on multiple clients’ personal stories. *Names and details have been changed for privacy.