Bullying is brutal, not just in the moment it is happening but the aftermath; hours, days, months, years and even decades later.
A client I was working this week was processing some really heavy seemingly repetitive emotions he’s been feeling from when he was bullied in his early teens. Now in his mid-20’s he’s still desperately searching to understand why he was bullied, and why nobody stood up and helped him? The feelings of not being enough or worthy of care are just as palpable today as they were back then.
This desperation for answers has fed into his family life, how he feels in relationships, and how he interacts with peers, it is literally everywhere.
This session didn’t start with an outright request to discuss past bullying, far from it. This session started with my client making a comment that all this work he is doing on personal development and growth leaves him asking the questions, ‘is this it? Is this all I get for doing so much inner work?’.
When he asked this question, I asked him if he was searching for answers like there had to be some magic or secret answer he didn’t know? He thought on it, and then I asked when in the past had he felt like this?
This is when bullying emerged and became the focus for the rest of the session. Sensing this was going to be a sensitive and painful topic, I made sure to offer reassurance and tell him whatever he was about to process and however messy he feared he was about to become, that at the end of the session we would complete with a grounding exercise so he didn’t leave the session in complete emotional chaos. This is so important because often I find clients will hold back on ‘going there’ because they are scared, and rightly so, that they are going to become a complete mess and be left that way. This type of work requires care, compassion and grounding.
The only way I am able to help clients to go into those emotions is because I have done this work myself with my own coaches. Coaches who do not do their work but try to support clients doing theirs will often disconnect from the client when they are at their most triggered, which is exactly when the client needs them the most. This is why I also coach coaches who want to work with clients on process and trauma work because we have a duty to our clients as coaches to be able to hold a safe and supportive space fully present with them or we shouldn’t be doing this work.
Once reassurance had been provided we stepped into processing the emotions. There was silence as he sat letting the emotions and feelings come to the surface. Understandably there were tears and definite feelings of hopelessness. It was a really honourable thing to be a part of as this processing happened. We sat together allowing all that needed to be to be. It was so powerful.
When I am doing this work with clients I often feel the hairs on the back of my neck start to tingle, not from fear or disconnection but because it is such a powerful and deep experience to be a part of. It is often opening up things that have been jammed shut inside for years and there’s a certain level of excitement and curiosity I feel being a part of that knowing that I am not going to disconnect or be triggered by what comes up in this space. As much as coaching is forward facing we often go back to prior experiences that clients have had where they are suppressing forward movement with the goals and dreams they have.
After some silence and processing time I asked him if he was ready to let go of needing to know why the bullies chose him as their target? Also, if he was willing to acknowledge he was a very different, open and emotionally aware man who is not the little boy being picked on or spending lunchtimes alone desperate to be befriended and have people care about him? He was and so we completed on letting some of that go. It is likely to be a topic we revisit in the future but for that session what needed releasing was released.
Lots and lots of stuff got released and let go during that session. It was very emotional but as promised at the end we completed with a grounding exercise and physically shaking our arms and chests to physically release the trauma. This really helps to complete a releasing session because the body can often get very contorted and shut down during painful processing of emotions. We also did some deep breathing together to help calm his brain and body down.
As I do with any client who has gone on a deep emotional journey during a session, I messaged him the following day to check-in and see how he was doing. The response was he felt a lot lighter and slept really well that night.
It is truly amazing what is possible when we have the safe space and a big enough reason to want to process painful and deep emotions. The lightness and mental peace that comes is totally life changing.
In short, bullying can have profound ongoing affects and that is why it is not acceptable, ever! It does not make stronger, more courageous or resilient men or women, it causes pain, confusion and ongoing behaviours and feelings of needing to search to find out why. Even after years of therapy this trauma was still ongoing and during our session so much was released that hadn’t been accessible up until now. That is the gift of coaching because forward looking and ambition can be the catalyst to let go of what is holding us down.