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John's Fear of Failure: Facing a Job Loss.
John is a 45-year old married father of two. He has been a mid-level manager for 25 years and lost his job 6 months ago. In the dialogue below, (J) is John and (OMT) is the Option Method Teacher.
OMT: What are you unhappy about? How can I help you?
J: I just can’t seem to get myself motivated.
OMT: Motivated to do what?
J: I really need to get out there and look for a new job. I got laid off last month from a job I’ve had for 25 years. I feel like I don’t even know where to start.
OMT: How do you feel about that?
J: Confused, frightened, angry – you name it – I’m all over the place. I guess mostly I’m just worried all the time. I wake up in the morning. I feel good for a minute and then I remember, I’m still unemployed and I immediately go into a tailspin of worry.
OMT: What are you worried about?
J: Everything. That I won’t be able to find a job. That I’m not doing everything I should be doing. That the kids are looking at me, like Daddy, why can’t we go on that skiing trip, or have birthday parties. That the unemployment will run out before I get a job. That my wife will have to go back to work. The
list is endless.
OMT: So let’s start with one thing – the thing that you are most worried about.
J: I guess that would be that I will just never find a job.
OMT: What do you mean?
J: Well, I guess I don’t mean never. I mean that there wouldn’t be anything in my field.
OMT: And if you couldn’t get a job in your field, what is there about that that you’d be worried about?
J: I know a lot of people are talking about reinventing yourself. But I don’t want to reinvent myself. I loved my work. I really want to find a job in my field.
OMT: OK, so that is really what you want, but if it happened that no jobs are available, why are you worried about that?
J: I think I’m afraid I can’t make a successful transition to something else. Or it will take too long and we’ll run out of money.
OMT: And if that happened, if you couldn’t make a successful transition and ran out of money, what is there about that, that you’re afraid of?
J: Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it.
OMT: What is obvious?
J: I couldn’t take care of my family. That scares the heck out of me. It’s the worst thing that can ever happen. I could lose everything, don’t you see that?
OMT: I hear that you believe you could lose everything, and I understand that you don’t want that to happen, but let’s look further at why you are saying that would be something to be afraid of.
J: Because so much is at stake; It affects everyone in the family. We could lose the house. We may have to move in with relatives, or worse, end up in a shelter.
OMT: And if that happened?
J: It would be devastating for everyone. I can’t even begin to imagine.
OMT: And in all of things that you imagine, what is the worst thing – the thing you are most afraid of?
J: That I let everyone down. Their whole lives are changed because of me, and not for the better.
OMT: And if their lives changed as you describe, what is there about that that you’d be afraid of?
J: I’d be a loser, a failure.
OMT: What do you mean by a loser and a failure?
J: Well, I failed to provide for them.
OMT: And if you failed to provide for them, what would you be afraid of?
J: It would mean it was a terrible person.
OMT: Why would it mean that?
J: Because of me, they have to do without, they have to suffer. I can’t stand thinking that I might be the cause of that.
OMT: What can’t you stand about it?
J: I feel ashamed. I should have seen this coming. I should have hedged my bets somehow.
OMT: Okay, so now, looking back you see that, but if you didn’t see it at the time, and you lost your job perhaps as a result, why are you ashamed?
J: All I want is for my family to be happy. Everyone we do is so that they’ll feel safe and secure. Now I’ve taken that away.
OMT: What do you mean by that? What have you taken away?
J: How can they feel safe and secure when they don’t know if we can even still live in our house, if they’ll be going to the same school, even if we’ll have food on the table?
OMT: If they didn’t feel safe and secure because of the financial difficulties of the family, why are you ashamed about that?
J: I’m responsible.
OMT: Responsible for what?
J: Everything. Making sure they have a good life.
OMT: What do you mean by a good life?
J: Giving them what they need to be happy.
OMT: And if you can’t give them certain things, why do you believe they would have to be unhappy?
J: I guess they wouldn’t have to be, but I think they would be.
OMT: Why would you feel ashamed if they were?
J: People would look at me and say, I’m a bad father, look at how unhappy my children are.
OMT: What people?
J: I don’t know.
OMT: What’s the worst you can imagine?
J: It sounds crazy but I just keep thinking of what my father would say.
OMT:What would your father say?
J: That the most important thing a parent can do is take care of the family.
OMT: OK, so that’s important, but if for some reason you aren’t doing it, why do you believe you have to feel ashamed even if your father thinks that?
J: I know this sounds funny, but I feel as if I’m letting him down.
OMT: Why does it sound funny?
J: I’m a grown man – why do I care so much what my father thinks?
OMT: Why do you?
J: I just keep hearing his voice in my head.
OMT: What do you hear him saying?
J: Just that he is disappointed in me.
OMT: How do you feel about that?
J: I don’t know, it’s just the feeling of disappointing him. I just feel bad I guess. Bad that I let him down.
OMT: What is there about letting him down that you feel bad about?
J: I want him to love me and be proud of me.
OMT: So if you want that, when you think you don’t have it, why do you believe you have to feel bad?
J: You mean I don’t have to?
OMT: What do you think?
J: Maybe I don’t, but something is tugging at me.
OMT: What is tugging at you?
J: It’s like I’m saying what he thinks doesn’t matter.
OMT: And does it matter?
J: Yes, very much.
OMT: What are you afraid it would mean if you didn't feel bad?
J: (laughs) I can't separate the two things. If I didn't feel bad? I guess I'm afraid it would mean I didn't care.
OMT: Why do you believe it would mean you didn't care?
J: I guess it wouldn't have to mean that. I just always thought it would. But what occurs to me now is that maybe I actually don't care.
OMT: So let's be clear. What do you care about and what don't you care about?
J: Well, generally, I do care about Dad's opinions. I know he cares about me and has my best interests in mind. I go to him to ask his advice all the time. But what I don't want to care about, really, I guess, is if he might be disappointed in me. I don't want to get hung up about that.
OMT: What do you mean by "hung up?"
J: I don't want to feel bad if he is disappointed but I want him to think well of me.
OMT: So you want him to think well of you, but you don’t want to feel bad if he doesn't?.
J: That’s right. I guess I’d like to respectfully disagree with him.
OMT: How do you feel about that?
J: Actually, really great.
OMT: So, do you still feel ashamed about being out of job?
J: No, I see that I don’t have to, that that has more to do with what my dad thinks. But I’m not sure I can say that I don’t feel bad at all.
OMT: What do you feel bad about?
J: I guess I can see that I don’t have to feel bad, but I feel reluctant to drop it.
OMT: What are you afraid it would mean if you dropped it?
J: If I didn’t feel bad, I just want people, especially my dad, to know that I am doing my best, that I take my responsibilities seriously.
OMT: Why do you believe you need to feel bad to do that?
J: I guess I just never thought of it any other way.
OMT: And now?
J: I can only do my best.
OMT: And if they don’t know what you want them to know?
J: I guess that will just have to be okay.
OMT: Is it okay? Why would it be okay?
J: I’d like them to know it but if they don’t, I don’t have to agree with them that I’m a bad person.
OMT: How does that feel?
J: It feels good. I like remembering that I’m allowed to feel good about myself.