I promised you a journey from the dark into the light. Right now, we need to spend a little bit more time in the darkness. In this next section, we are going to take a deep dive into our pain.
Though John Mellencamp sang that it “hurts so good” when it comes to love, when it comes to our relationship with work, the pain from an unhealthy relationship never feels good. And because it feels awful, we, naturally, want to avoid it or pretend it’s not there. So we turn a blind eye to it. Or we might choose to ball up all of that pain and lock it away someplace deep within us, where we can’t see it and where, we believe, it won’t hurt us. But it will, and it does. What is buried or ignored will always rise to the surface.
My friends, it is time to start the Discovery step of the Work Relationship Healing Process. Here, we will do a deep dive into our pain because we must be able to define our pain and understand the cause(s) of our pain. At the end of this step, I want you to know, to be crystal clear, as to where your pain comes from. We guess we assume. We often point to the quickest, easiest answer such as “this place just sucks” or “if I could only make more money I’d be happier”. In reality, all we’re doing is looking at the surface. Rather, let’s discover the truth.
We take this journey not to wallow or revel in our pain but to unlock its secrets. In our pain, we will find a treasure trove of information and insights into what we currently lack in our relationship with work. Once we find the lack, we can give a name to what is missing. Then we can begin the path to healing. Why? When we know what is missing in our relationship with work (such as fulfillment, inspiration, reward), we will know what it will take to heal it.
Simply, before you can change something, you must be able to name it. That’s why we have to look at our pain. When we know, we can name it. When we can name it, we can change it. The pain will show us what to name and what to change and heal.
I know what you are thinking. I hear it from clients all the time when we get to this part of the process.
Client: Do I really need to do this? Isn’t the fact that I know I am unhappy with work enough? Can’t I just skip this part?
Me: Sorry, we can’t. Understanding our pain in our relationship with work is a critical step to healing.
Client: But I am not even sure I have any pain. I mean I am a little unhappy with work. Sometimes I am angry or bored. But that is normal, right? I mean who doesn’t feel that way sometimes, right? What has that to do with pain?
Me: Under any moment of boredom, behind every instance of anger, festering beneath even the most benign unhappiness is pain. These feelings don’t just pop out of the air. There is a reason behind these feelings. These feelings come from one place, and that place is pain.
Still Me: Look, I get it, I do. We don’t like to admit that we have pain. We’d much rather slap on a “happy face” and forget about it. In our society, we tend to view pain as weakness. But it exists, and it won’t go away on its own. You can’t wish it away or “change jobs it away.” There is something very important that the pain is trying to tell you. Until you hear it, understand it, and take the steps necessary to heal it, the pain will remain.
One more thing, the pain – it’s yours. By that I mean, it developed for a reason. An important reason. Have you ever seen a child who tugs on his parent’s shirttail over and over again until the parent acknowledges him? The relentless tugging is the child’s way of saying “See me, hear me.” It is the same with your pain. It needs to be seen; it needs to be heard, and it needs to be felt. It is not out to ruin you. As foreign as this may sound, its only purpose is to show you something. To give you the gift of self-awareness.
At this point, my clients usually take a deep breath, shake their heads in agreement and say, “Okay, let’s do this.”
So, shall we?
Now that we understand why we have to look at our pain, let me explain what we are going to do next and what your job is in the upcoming sections.
First, I am going to lay out the most common types of pain people experience around work. After that, I will explain the most common Culprits or causes of these pains.
Your job in the next two sections is to be very present with what you are reading and to identify what rings true for you. When we are discussing a particular pain or a particular culprit/cause of the pain:
- Ask yourself if this feels familiar.
- Do you have the sense that you have felt that before or that you have that feeling regularly?
- As you read these sections, do you have the awareness of “Hey that is what I feel at work”?
These are the thoughts I want you to be aware of as you read these sections. Notate what comes up for you.
At the end of each section, you are going to find questions to answer. Make note of your answers. We are going to use these notes in the last section of this book.
So for now, as you read, stay present and focused even if unpleasant feelings are triggered. Remember, we have to look at this in order to change it.
Step 1: Discovery
Why does it hurt?
In this section, I am going to define the five most common painful feelings and states people find themselves in concerning work. I will be utilizing the words “pain,” “feelings,” and “painful states” interchangeably.
Through the years I have spent discussing work with clients, friends, acquaintances, and customers, I have heard many complaints about work. People tend to be angry at their boss or frustrated by corporate politics or think they are not paid enough or are just plain bored by their job. However, underlying these familiar complaints are significant feelings of pain.
The top five painful feelings are:
Let’s start with Oppression.
Have you ever had the sense of not being able to breathe? I am not talking about a physical ailment or an emergency situation. I am talking about the sensation of having so much resting on your shoulders that it feels like you can’t breathe. That if you could be free enough for one moment, you could finally fill your lungs with beautiful oxygen.
Have you ever felt weighed down by the rules and regulations set by others? Have you ever wished you could just shake loose of the constraints that you are under? Have you ever felt like the wishes and desires of others direct your day rather than your wishes and desires?
Have you ever looked around at your work and wanted to scream ‘Where am I in all of this?” “Where is my truth in the course of my day?”
These experiences and/or feelings come from the feeling of being oppressed. Oppression means burdened with impositions or restraints. It also means to be suppressed or crushed. Oppression hurts. It stifles. It crushes.
Oppression often manifests itself in two ways. First, it manifests as anger or resentment. Anger from feeling under another’s thumb. Anger from not being able to get out from under the weight for another’s expectations. You want to be free but can’t seem to get there.
Then it becomes a blaming exercise, blaming those around you for your condition. It is your manager’s fault, or the company’s policies are to blame. When we feel oppressed, we look to point a finger at the person/situation that is holding us hostage, keeping us from feeling free. We blame our bills, our family or upbringing. You name it. When it comes to blame, everything is fair game. Once we have identified, rightly or wrongly, our oppressor, we focus our anger (and energy) toward the person or situation. But we are still left with anger. Oppression manifested in anger becomes an ugly loop: oppression ð anger ð blame ð oppression.
The second manifestation of the pain of oppression is a lethargy or paucity of verve for life or interests. Pain turned outward is anger. Pain turned inward becomes depression. When we feel oppressed, we want to retreat from life. We back off from actively engaging because the weight of the oppression seems too great, and we can’t find our way out. We step back from life; we step back from our power to control the direction of our life. We capitulate to the feelings of oppression. When we capitulate, when we retreat, when we have lost our verve for life, we are at a stand-still. We become static.
When you feel weighed down by all aspects of your work, this is the feeling of oppression. When you feel burdened by work, this is the feeling of oppression. When you feel that you don’t get a voice in the choices that matter in your life, this is the feeling of oppression.
Take a minute to answer the questions below. Again, take notes on your answers. We are going to use them later in this book.
- In the discussion of oppression, what did I find familiar?
- Do you feel weighed down by your work? If so, describe what weighs you down.
- Do you feel that others make more of the key decisions that impact your life than you do?
- Am I experiencing this feeling now, or have I experienced it in the past?
- Is oppression where it “hurts” for me?