Joaquim, vice president of engineering at a large software company, was talking with Mabel, his coach.
“I had a powerful experience last week,” he explained. “I believe I know what it meant. But, I’m not confident I know what to do with it.”
“Tell me more,” Mabel requested.
Sometimes, we hit a breaking point
“You know I had my preteen nieces staying with me the last few weeks,” Joaquim reminded Mabel.
Mabel nodded that she remembered.
“I had them pick out a meal for us to make together. I’m not an experienced cook. They picked out a recipe that had like twenty steps. It involved braising and sautéing and meat thermometers. I felt pretty intimidated.”
“How did it turn out?” Mabel inquired.
“I was pretty close to not even trying,” Joaquim continued. “I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of them. I thought, ‘Let’s just order in Thai and watch a goofy movie.’”
“But, then, something inside me stood up and declared ‘No!’ I’ve been holding myself hostage around cooking for too long. I wasn’t going to do it one minute longer.”
“That sounds exciting,” Mabel declared. “What happened then?”
“We went to the corner grocer and hunted down all the ingredients. Then, back at home, we made a game out of all the prep. None of us are skilled choppers or dicers. We made rather a mess.”
Joaquim took a sip of water, then continued. “Then I set the recipe up next to the stove and started working through the instructions. It didn’t all go perfectly—I’d missed a few ingredients and had to make substitutions on the fly. Even so, it turned out beautiful and delicious.
“And, more importantly, my nieces wolfed it all down and asked for more,” Joaquim finished with a laugh.
“Sounds like a typical night at my house,” Mabel chuckled. “So, you embraced your fears, met the challenge, and succeeded in making a wonderful meal and a wonderful memory with your nieces.”
“Yeah,” Joaquim said, enthused.
That breaking point may come from something from long ago
“And something about this is troubling you?” Mabel prompted.
“Yeah. Later, I reflected on the experience. I’ve never experienced a breaking point like this. I figured it must have resulted from something in my past.”
“That seems possible,” Mabel agreed. “What did you discover?”
“I remembered that years ago, I dated someone with very particular expectations for the meals I made us. I wasn’t allowed to order in. I had to do everything by hand, without the help of food processors or other mechanical contrivances. I had to come up with the menu by myself—no consulting her to get her opinions. Then, I had to present the meal in a visually pleasing way. If I didn’t get every single detail perfect, she counted it against me for weeks after.”
“That sounds rough,” Mabel commiserated.
“Ever since, I haven’t even wanted to cook for myself, let alone for anyone else,” Joaquim continued. “I hadn’t consciously recognized this because I’m perfectly happy eating bread and cheese or peanut butter every meal.”
“Reflecting on your experience cooking with your nieces made the connection visible?” Mabel asked.
“What troubles you about this?”
“How did I not recognize this connection before now?”
Heal what comes up, and let everything else be
“Were your girlfriend’s expectations around meals your only friction point with her?” Mabel asked.
“Not at all,” Joaquim said ruefully. “That relationship was pretty consuming.”
“How much reflecting did you do on the relationship after it ended?”
“None. I buried the memories and never looked back. That whole situation was too much for me to deal with.”
“So, why do you think you should have made the connection?”
“Well, hmm.” Joaquim considered Mabel’s question. “No reason, I guess. It seems pretty silly to expect it to have just burst out into my consciousness, now that you ask that.” He went quiet, reflecting.
“Now that I recognize the connection, I’m feeling like it’s been affecting other things as well,” he said after a few moments.
“Like what?” Mabel asked.
“I don’t know yet,” Joaquim replied. “I just have this sense of other connections.”
“That could well be,” Mabel said. “Impactful experiences rarely disappear right away. Instead, like an earthquake, we may feel aftershocks days, weeks, and even years later. And, like an earthquake, the effects they have on us aren’t always visible immediately, or ever.”
Joaquim nodded thoughtfully. “It’s as though that girlfriend’s expectations around food caused structural damage to a part of me, and I’m only now identifying it.”
Mabel nodded in understanding.
“So, how do I track down all the hidden damage and heal it?” Joaquim asked.
“You don’t need to,” Mabel explained. “I’ve found the best approach is to let issues arise on their own as you’re ready to heal them.”
Reduce the pressure on yourself by listening
“This has been helpful today, thanks,” Joaquim told Mabel.
“Identifying how my fears about cooking for my nieces were echoes of my traumas with that girlfriend was enlightening,” he said. “While I want to find all the other echoes of that situation and heal them already, I’ll take your advice and let them arise on their own. I suspect I’ll have plenty to deal with without actively seeking out more.”
“That often seems to be the case,” Mabel agreed with a laugh.
“I wonder if more of these breaking points will come up,” Joaquim mused. “I’m feeling ready to handle them if they do. Is there something I can do to handle them before they become breaking points?”
“Yep, there is,” Mabel said. “Talk with your fears, and with your mind, body, heart, and spirit. The more you listen to what they’re telling you, the more you can take action before things become critical.”
“I should have known you’d say that,” Joaquim chuckled. “Thank you, and I will.”