Family Dynamics at work: The only true job you will ever have (whether you stay or go)
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In this series we explore family dynamics at work. We dive into how we repeat our personal and family trauma’s in our work, how the business we are in is 100% personal, and what makes us loyal to the social dynamics in the workplace.

Wherever you find yourself, it is exactly where you ought to be. No other place than inside, we find our core. The insensitivities of our parents, our own take on dealing with feelings of being overwhelmed, the strategies and skills we develop, they make up who we are. Also at work.

MODERN-DAY OFFICE LIFE: A BUNCH OF CHILDREN ACTING “PROFESSIONALLY”?

We all need confirmation when we cannot give it ourselves. Sometimes we can go very far with that. Like children, we beg for a cookie, and put in all we’ve got. We need to get it exactly the way we need it – impatiently we shout it out.

The manager tells me how good of a listener he is. I ask “And what if you hit this point where it is no longer in your sphere of influence?” He smiles apologizingly. “I then force people into the mold.” he replies. A big sigh. “You know this from when you were young?” “Yes” he says, “I do”.

BUSINESS IS ALWAYS PERSONAL: WHAT DID YOU LEARN WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER?

Our psychological makeup comes from when we were young. Everyone knows a need that was not met fully by their parents or caretakers. In this area of your life, you might live with the mantra “It is not enough.” We quickly copy this to other areas of our lives. You might hear yourself say to yourself that your work is never good enough, or, that your partner is not good enough. Young or old, when we do not get what it is we want (but need so desperately), our only task is to mourn. However, we often have not learned how to do this. And, it hurts, so in order to avoid the pain, we bring out our inner conflicts. We drag others into our inner conflict of self-love. For example, we start to get angry with our colleagues, do office politics, and manipulate our loved ones, with verbal, emotional, or even physical violence. And we do this, in order to not feel how much we once have been hurt ourselves. And how it still hurts up until this day.

Before we even notice, we become those we despised earlier. We become the perpetrators to our loved ones and colleagues. We become the ones we had to resist earlier in life. We’re alike.

WHEN WE GO BEYOND REPEATING OTHER PEOPLE’S PATTERNS, WE MAY FIND OURSELVES AGAIN

The good news of “being unreasonable” is that acknowledging this part in ourselves is that it makes us aware of how we have all been victim of (family, organizational, or cultural) trauma’s. While it was needed to stop input in times of crisis –from hurting our essence– it takes a lot of energy to suppress very strong emotions. At some point, however, creative roundabouts no longer work. The pain is so big that we are willing to confront the fear for the fear itself. We are willing to go beyond our (creative) defence mechanisms, back to our –once hurt– essence. There is no other way than going through that what we have resisted for years. By accepting the reality as we experienced it once, we are challenged to un-learn and re-program ourselves after, away from the repetition of other people’s patterns. With awareness of where we come from, we can start to create habits that can actually help (and no longer distract) us. While we tap into the hurt and inspiration from our past, we gradually start to live our OWN lives, wherever we are.

My client asks me if he is “doing it okay”. It is as if he asks my permission. It kind of saddens me. I recognise the pain. We make ourselves bigger than we are, up until the point there is someone who we trust can be there for us. For me this shows a very fundamental principle, namely that deep down we have never really grown up from where we are hurt. When we never learn to mourn, we are still –at least emotionally– stuck, whatever our physical age.

WHEN YOU SHOULD NEVER EVER DO YOUR JOB AS AN EMPLOYEE, CONSULTANT, OR ADVISOR

With today’s customer-centric mantra’s, this sounds like a weird advice. However, very often, we sometimes help someone more with NOT offering our hand. After all, maybe it is not needed. It does not make sense. There is no rationale behind. When you can see beyond the the anger that your resistance may provoke by not “following the orders”, we may actually serve the wider system, and perhaps even the future of the organization. What if the next step is to NOT help the other person? Maybe we serve another most when we say “no” for now, for a full “yes” later.

He calls me for a coaching question. “No one wants to help me!” he wails. I ask him: “Do you also know why?” No answer. Silence. “You know what? Let me tell you about my experience with you, okay?” I continue: “Earlier you asked me to do something for you, something not related to my expertise, remember that? It made me annoyed. I felt not seen for who I was.” He clearly remembers and apologizes. “It’s okay, I say. I just want to only help you when you can be mature about your immaturity.” We both laugh. We both know this (a bit too) well.

YOU FEEL GUILTY? CONGRATULATIONS! ENJOY WHAT COMES ALONG, IT’S A LOT OF (GOOD) STUFF!

Guilt and shame are considered secondary emotions. They cover up the primary emotions like anger, sadness, anxiety, and happiness. With shame, social systems (like business organizations) discipline themselves. When you stay within the boundaries of the morality of your group, you “fit into the box”, hence are innocent. The trouble starts when we start to think for ourselves. The trouble starts when we start to grow up and make our own decisions – those that maybe contradict those from the group you feel that you belong to. Think of disagreeing with your family’s norms, the accepted environmental destruction caused by business. As soon as you disagree, do you still belong to this group?

I am a work addict. It’s such a safe place to hide, you know. It is so much easier for me to keep myself “busy”, rather than enjoying what was once given to me. Can I enjoy life without any hardship? Why is life treating me so well? It’s the “goodness” that is so hard to take in and swallow, you know. After all, I have found that, once we accept that everything is already there, that we live in abundance, that it is at that moment, when we claim that, that we feel our own vulnerability (and dependency on others) most evidently. That’s just very, very scary.

WORK AS AN EQUATION OF OUR FAMILY PAST, LIFE EXPERIENCES, AND FUTURE POTENTIAL

As children, we try to “heal the wounds” from our parents. This is impossible, yet, emotionally we keep on trying, sometimes even until late into our lives. What topic was never spoken about in your family? Chances are that you work in exactly that field. Are you a negotiator or mediator? Ask yourself what sides in your family you were trying to bring together. Are you fascinated with understanding emotional dynamics? It is likely you were born into a traumatic or emotionally charged family field. Though our calling was there all the time, you only needed to listen “to it whispering in your ear”, as Steven Spielberg put it.  It is only when we see the different layers of our own existence, that we may figure out how our personal lives are interwoven with our professional work lives. After all, we always bring ourselves.

She switched teams. In her former team, her boss was a very dominant man, one she did not like at all. He abused her verbally. He made her smaller than she was. He also reminded her of her father, what a doushbag! Now, instead, she has a female boss she feels safe to talk with. And she actually starts to enjoy her contact with men in the wider business. After some bad experiences with men in her past, she now finds a way to safely experiment with enjoying time with “these males”. Maybe it will be enough to try once again another relationship with a man?

MOST PROBLEMS WE SOLVE OURSELVES WHEN WE KNOW SOMEONE IS THERE FOR US

When we want to change our life, we need to do this ourselves, yet not alone. When we feel supported, we often find the power from within. This is also why communities (and friend groups) are so important to people. Paradoxically speaking, would you translate this to your leadership style, by being prepared to (also emotionally) stand with your colleagues, this may be more important than actually doing it (because it may not be needed in most of the times).

A therapy club (I forgot their name) once had too many clients. It put up a waiting list. After a while, when availability was there again, they found out that most clients already solved their own problems. The therapists were so thrilled when finding this, that they started to build a new (more positivist) methodology. They developed their way of working with clients in which they assumed clients know what is best for themselves, but only need “a witness” of their journey, one that is way less unique than we like to think. We all need each other. We all do.

Knowing that someone is there for you, it works like magic. It may be the biggest help we can be for each other. It is with someone else trusting us in this place where we do not yet trust ourselves fully, that we empower ourselves.

She calls me. “Can we please meet?” she asks. “I’ve got a serious issue with my mother.” “Sure”, I say, “Can you meet tomorrow from 13-14hrs? “Yes” she says. The next day I get a text message. She and her mother figured it all out. They had the best talk ever. I smile.

ON BECOMING WHO WE REALLY ARE – MAYBE, IT IS RATIONAL TO BE EMOTIONAL?

In our workplace, we are asked to be professional. However, when we equate “being business-minded” with being as rational and neutral as possible, ignoring our emotional side, doesn’t that also not mean that we leave our most valuable life experiences, and thus our most unique skills at home? At what costs do we “function” in our jobs?

He looks at me. He says “I am so angry that young, talented people, like you, work for these multinationals, for anonymous capital, without a humane morale but adhering to the thirst for “more, more, more!”. He continues. “Instead, we need you to build the circular economy, one to ensure human existence on the long-run. We do not need algorithms to sell more, and thus ruin the world at a faster pace. We need you to bring your whole self to the goodness of all.”

With curiosity and sometimes even horror, I look at our worklives. For example, take this conversation I overheard.

The one director at a party asked the other if a new employee already signed his contract. “No” the other director said. “His wife is being difficult.” “What do you mean?” the one director asked. “Well, I did clearly say to him “It’s either your career now, or your child. Make a choice fellah. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Both directors laughed. How great they are!

The true costs of adjustments of our personal lives to company culture, is often overlooked. What are the true costs of “playing roles” instead of ourselves in terms of health (a lot of energy loss)? What irrationality do we build into our systems, and with what effect on work satisfaction? How disheartened are we when we make young people miss the irredeemable first years of their children born? We all know it is not right, but do we dare to call out the king is naked?

I start to get the idea that, when we really connect on a deeply personal level with ourselves, our colleagues, and business partners, that we find out that we are all born “good”. All in our own unique ways, we find ways to bring our love. Most of us are (in the poetic words of Clarissa Pinkola Estés) however “still becoming who they really are”. We are all a “work in progress” as it were. What if we find that emotions are part in becoming more rational?

THE JOB WE SHOULD ALL BE DOING, ESPECIALLY WHEN WE ARE IN BUSINESS

When you are like most people, you feel resistant to question your work. Why change if predictability is so nice?

When we have the courage to really dive deep into our innermost motivations and the family backgrounds these come from, it is very likely that we come to this one conclusion – that there may be too little space for you to share your heart-felt love within your organisation.

When I state this, generally it is met with silence. An uncomfortable smile at most. For a fraction of a second, the body language of the other and/or the group reveals their true attitude. This is the story that needs to be told, and seen.

Some people in life pretend there is not any lamp. Others make it an art to avoid the lamp at all costs. Again others need to run into the lamp, time after time. Some people need to have the lamp thrown towards them – hit them so hard they cannot do anything, but stop, and feel.

Would you like to know more? Contact us. Oscar Westra van Holthe is the CEO and founder of BLOCKBUSTERS consultancy. In these blogs he shares his insights around working with social dynamics in the business context.

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