When trying to be a good person goes wrong

In a recent coaching process, with a young woman who needed help with her stress and anxiety, I was reminded of the importance of context.

She was particularly distressed by the fact that her friends were becoming distant. She also shared that her romantic relationships didn’t last long.

During our coaching conversations, it transpired that she was dating men who were clearly unsuitable and, in some cases, dangerous. These relationships also became intimate very quickly.

I was perplexed because she is a creative, capable young woman who was working hard at establishing her own business while keeping down a job with long hours. In many ways she seemed sophisticated and worldly, but, at the same time, her actions indicated naivety and a lack of boundaries.

During one session I asked her: why don’t you discriminate? Her reply was a complete revelation: No, I can’t possibly discriminate; only bad people discriminate.

We then explored the background of this statement in her life. She had grown up in a context where racial discrimination was a big issue in South Africa and discrimination was vilified (as it rightly should be in the racial and political context).

My client had taken the rules against discrimination and generalised them into her life. Therefore, making it impossible for her to use any form of judgement for fear of being a bad person.

We discussed this issue in-depth and agreed to change the word from discrimination to discernment. We also agreed that it is okay to use judgement in order to keep yourself safe.

From this one insight, she started to put boundaries in place so that she could more selectively manage the relationship and focus on what she wanted for her life.

I feel that life is not simple and cannot be successfully lived according to simple unexamined rules and principles. It probably takes more than one principle to make a “good” person anyway. Context and balance really do need to be considered.

It is, therefore, vitally important that we tune in to how we speak to ourselves, of the world and to even consider what we really think particular words mean. We may be creating our own problems by not examining our own narrative.

Stuck in a rut with the same things coming up? Reach out now! Let’s chat about getting you back on track!

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