In every session with clients, I drop down into the core of myself, breathing and opening into the vessel of being so that I can listen with the ears we do not see, the ones that hear underneath the top layers stories into the invisible layers where the gem that needs to be revealed rises gently to the surface, glimmering with joy at being found.
A few weeks ago, I had a coaching session with a long-term client who meets with me monthly, and the gem that arose was so beautiful that I wanted to share it here (*with grateful permission from my client). We typically spend the first twenty minutes “catching up” and filling in: talking about the latest decision that needs to be made, challenges or celebrations with her kids, work matters, and the like. This layer of conversation is important, and for many clients it’s how they wind down and soften themselves into the more vulnerable realms of being.
She was talking about how their family has decided to move to a new town this summer, a decision that she has been agonizing over for years, and something she said about a conversation she had with her father perked up my inner ears, letting me know that we were landing near the gemstone. Her dad said something like, “You know, if you and your husband get full-time corporate jobs, you could stay here.” And she said, “But that’s not what we want. That makes us miserable.”
She relayed this conversation and reflected that her entire adult life, save for a few months when she followed a man to a foreign country, she has lived a stone’s throw away from not only her hometown but also her father’s house. In one of her earlier apartments she could even see her dad’s house. And now she was moving several hours away, making a bold choice to leave the big city lifestyle that she has grown up believing was central to having a valuable life.
I said, “It sounds like you’re leaving your father’s house for the first time in your life.”
And she started to weep.
We had found our gemstone.
The phrase leaving my father’s house floated up to consciousness. It’s a Jungian phrase that analyst Marion Woodman often used to describe the individuation process of seeing that your parents’ value system doesn’t align with yours and taking steps to forge out on your own trajectory. For this client, she realized that in staying near her father geographically she was also remaining aligned with his value system, which was her attempt at seeking his approval. As the firstborn daughter of three, her birth order naturally placed her in the role of being her “father’s daughter”, another psychological term to describe a daughter who follows in her father’s footsteps and adopts the archetype of a powerful, masculine-identified woman. By masculine I don’t mean “male”; I mean orienting toward the masculine qualities of achievement, action, and doing. These are essential qualities that we all carry, but for father’s daughters they’re often amplified to the point of annihilating the feminine qualities of being, connection, and emotional relatedness.
Over the past several years, my client has been “leaving her father’s house,” meaning she’s made many lifestyle choices that have placed family at the center of her orbit instead of work. When her kids were young, she and her husband both left high-paying, corporate jobs to forge out a life as independent contractors, leaving behind stability but gaining inordinate amounts of time and inner peace. And now, with this impending move, she was declaring her separate values in an even stronger way by saying, “We choose a lifestyle where people are more relaxed, where everybody isn’t rushing and striving all the time, where we’re going to have more time with our kids. We can still be successful in our work lives, but work doesn’t have to be the priority.”
When I said, “You’re leaving your father’s house,” the agony she endured while coming to this decision suddenly made sense. Any time we change a lifelong contract that we unconsciously made around parents early in life, a change in that contract often causes agony. In saying, “I choose differently,” she was also saying, “I no longer allow my need for my father’s approval to guide my decision.” This is a massive internal restructuring, one that requires courage to arrive it and time to process.
It’s not that this insight will change the external course of her life: she was going to move regardless of what transpired in this session or any of her inner work. But the way she’ll navigate the move will likely change dramatically because of this insight.
It’s the same principle that informs all of my work around anxiety, whether it’s around your relationship, your fertility, your work, your health: when we can name what’s happening by placing it into context, anxiety is eased. For those of you struggling with relationship anxiety, for example, a great deal of the tension is relieved once you understand that fear is a normal and necessary part of any longterm relationship, and that subsets of fear like irritation, lack of attraction, and doubt aren’t evidence that you have to leave. This lightbulb moment alone can ease your anxiety dramatically. That doesn’t mean the work is over. It just means you can now get to work on what really needs attention without the layer of the shame-based story “what’s wrong with me” in the way.
As we ended the session, my client asked, “Is there anything I can do in the next few weeks to help move this through me?”
“Grieve,” I said. “Grieve not from shame or guilt but from the release of knowing that you’re letting go of a piece of your adapted persona and identity that has been with you your entire life. Grieve as your mourn this aspect of yourself that is ready to be released, but also from the joy of this liberation and new beginning. You will be entering the second half of life without the weight of this need to please your father guiding your action. What a cause for celebration!”