Let me tell you about a recent private coaching session.
This incredible human has been working with me for a few months now.
As a high achiever and perfectionist, being able to accept help, contemplate ‘failure’ and being vulnerable has been impossible to date.
Why? Because this is the ‘character mode’ they had been playing for decades – the reluctant superhero. One which is pulled on as a child, like a dress up, to create emotional safety.
But then we become so familiar with wearing it, that it feels impossible to go out in the world without it. It would be like walking around naked.
So the suit stays on, but boy is it uncomfortable. What fitted like a glove at the age of 6, is now too tight; smothering; and constricting. You can barely breathe.
So instead, it’s:
- superhero ON (while feeling like anything but);
- super-achiever ACTIVATED;
- vulnerability OFF;
- failure: DISCONNECTED.
Despite previous work in the personal development space, this had never shifted for this particular client (nor any other clients, because they have never done this inner child work).
How can this identity be relinquished, if it has never been acknowledged, accepted, loved and released?
The outfit stays on, no matter how uncomfortable and how misrepresentative of the real you it is (like Clark Kent vs Superman).
It only comes off or is pulled down a little when you’re away from everyone and everything (apart from maybe a few very carefully selected people).
This gorgeous human came to me knowing that she was SO ready to create change. ‘It’s time’, she told me when we had our first call.
And unlike some people who tell me that but don’t really mean it (which is where they talk themselves out of it), she did.
She was fed up with feeling overwhelmed; guilty; having no time for herself; not feeling fulfilled within her business and life (despite everything looking fabulous) and wanted to stop second guessing and doubting herself so she could finally be at peace with herself.
This is the kind of checklist that could accompany any one of my clients. They come to me knowing they want more; feeling guilty for that; but knowing they can’t keep going as they are and they’re ready to change.
They also tend to berate themselves for getting overwhelmed, or procrastinating on tasks. But, honestly, who wouldn’t when there’s this pressure to be ‘perfect’ at everything, and there is ‘the world to save’ (so to speak) as your focus.
Carefully and sensitively, we have been removing the superhero dress up, piece by piece. More and more, this client is facing the world without it, as herself. It can be really challenging, because it’s relearning everything.
It’s providing so many revelations and insights, like I’m:
- Having a go at taking more risks
- Allowing myself to live life
- Responding, not reacting
- Learning to be vulnerable
- Asking for help more
When you’ve been the high achieving perfectionist, think what else follows:
- I can’t ask for help. I’m supposed to know everything
- Success isn’t just optimal, it’s essential (to emotional survival). And not just succeeding – NAILING it.
- The only way for me to slow down is to come to a complete halt (which is the surest path to burnout there is)
The role of reluctant superhero doesn’t really lend itself to stopping to ask for help or taking a break or failing.
So it was important to validate that these things all completely make sense in the context of wearing the superhero outfit.
Superman isn’t going to ask underachieve or take some time out to recharge. He is constantly vigilant; always ready to react; always afraid of being found out; and never truly able to relax and find peace within. He dreams of finally living life the way he wants.
When we can validate the pattern of what we’ve been doing, and have compassion for that, then we can choose a different way forwards. But that must happen first.
We always want to accept the parts of ourselves that have been working SO HARD for SO LONG in an attempt to keep us moving; to feel like we belong and are accepted; and to strive to feel good enough.
There is never any malice in this – it’s all the role knows how to do. Just like Superman only knows how to keep wearing that suit; knowing all the answers; being able to drop everything at a moment’s notice; and keeping the best interests of ‘the world’ top of mind, no matter at what cost personally.
And once we’ve done that, THEN we can look at reframing failure. At being vulnerable; asking for help; being seen more fully.
We can show up as Clark Kent in a roomful of people waiting to catch a glimpse of their hero, and be ok with some people being disappointed.
Or finding out that some people love us even more as Clark, because NOW we’re relatable and real.
And with knowing that what everyone else needs (and the weight of the world) is not up to us. We all have a part to play in that.
But mostly we have a responsibility to ourselves, first and foremost, to:
- Take the foot off the accelerator and pause to LIVE life
- Give love to all the parts of us (no matter how fed up we are with them), and who we are being and how we’re showing up
- Find acceptance – that who I am is amazing, and I don’t need to try to be perfect anymore
- Belonging – the right people will love and accept me wholeheartedly, just as I am. And they’re my people. And I can give this to myself also.
- Permission to be vulnerable, knowing this is the act of truly being ourselves
- Stuff up – who doesn’t?! The alternative is to have a million ideas and do none of them because ‘they might not work’ / I might look like I don’t have it all together / that would feel incredibly vulnerable
And so this work, that has taken a few short months, is changing everything about how this incredible human shows up. In her business; in her family and most importantly, for herself.
It is uncovering parts of her that she can love, that have always been in the shadows, and judged (mostly subconsciously). It allows her to step, tentatively and with fresh eyes, into the world with no superhero suit for protection. And consciously make choices that are best for her.
Her decision to do this deep work will change everything (in a gentle yet incredibly powerful way). How can it not? It has changed who she’s being; how she relates to herself; how she shows up in the world; what she’s modelling to her children; and what she wants for herself.
You want to know why I love my work? It’s this! THIS is freaking incredible to me. THIS makes me feel so humble and grateful. And this is what the world needs more of, IMO.
If you’re in the arena (to paraphrase Brene Brown), I take my hat off to you and send you big love. I’ve done this inner child work myself and starting it is by far the hardest part.
You are doing the work that can be confronting, challenging and emotional, for a short period of time. After that, you start to experience the rewards.
But nothing is harder than staying stuck as you are, forever. This work will free you and allow you to experience more than you could ever have imagined in all areas of your life. What price do you put on that?
If you resonate with this and are *so* tired of being the reluctant superhero, I’m currently taking applications for my private 6 month mindset coaching program (commencing end April / start May). You can apply here.
Or you can read more about being in the ‘Hero’ role in one of my previous blogsTags: high achiever Human Behaviour Inner child perfectionist transformational coaching