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How to have a hostage free state of mind

Have you ever felt totally overwhelmed about the world and your part in it? Have you ever wondered if you could do more or less or different?

As a professional facilitator and non-practicing psychotherapist I work with groups and teams to enable them to create a dialogue that builds trust and so they can begin to tackle the real issues that they face as leaders and as management teams.

Even some of the most senior leaders and most able people can often get themselves into a stuck place when tough and maybe challenging dialogue and conversations are needed. Sometimes leaders get frozen in the headlights and find that another pressure and/or just another responsibility that means confronting something potentially difficult can be just one responsibility too many.

When working as a psychotherapist I’ve worked with many high achievers who just could not deal with conflict and or disagreements at home, emotional overload, one disagreement too many, one conflict too far. So, what happened is those people sometimes became less and less happy, they had become stuck in a psychological place where they felt trapped, and this, of course, contributed to feeling overwhelmed and lacking true power.

This is being held hostage to a situation or by their own emotions. We do not have to be physically held hostage, some of the most powerful hostage takers are those that use psychological and emotional techniques in their capture of our states of mind.

Modern management theory pays homage to ancient philosophy. In this case Gareth Morgan 1997, "Exploring Plato's Cave: Organizations as Psychic Prisons" describes the idea that "organisations are ultimately created and sustained by conscious and unconscious processes, with the notion that people actually become imprisoned in or confined by the images, ideas, thoughts, and actions to which these processes give rise. The metaphor encourages us to understand that while organisations may be socially constructed realities, these constructions are often attributed an existence and power of their own that allow them to exercise a measure of control over their creators".

Morgan's idea of the psychic prison is taken from Plato's The Republic allegory of an underground cave where people are chained so they are unable move and can only see the cave wall in front of them. Sometimes when I am coaching and working with individuals and teams, I come across people who say they feel trapped and stuck, they tell me they cannot see the bigger picture, they can only see what is in front of them.

Plato writes about the cave, and the cave dwellers reality, suggesting that there are only the shadows on the cave wall, the sounds from outside the cave, etc. People construct their reality and truth from what they can experience from their limited perspective. This can be defined as their “psychic prison”.

Morgan uses the ideas of Plato to describe how people in organisations can "be trapped by favoured ways of thinking" and "by unconscious processes". This helps us understand why organisational change can be so difficult. It also helps us understand how easily we can become a hostage. Individuals may be held hostage to a job they don’t like, held hostage to an unproductive relationship or relationships, or held hostage to an organisational dream or mission that they no longer agree with.

The further away we get from how we truly feel how we truly act creates a disconnect with ourselves and those around us. The greater the gap the less we are at ease with ourselves and each other. Psychologists call this “Cognitive Dissonance”.

This dissonance is the mental discomfort, or psychological stress experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs or values. Working in an organisation where the values and direction of the company has moved so far from what it was when you joined, or the profession that you started that has changed beyond all recognition, you will, for sure, create a degree of cognitive dissonance. At this point you are likely to feel stressed and at unease with yourself.

We only have to listen to certain political debates to realise that some of our world leaders are speaking from the heart and talking about what they believe in whilst others are not. The ones that are not, do they sound different, do they look OK, do they look like they feel OK to you? Maybe they have been taken hostage by an ideology, a previous agreement, or positional power.

Just think where and where you might have been taken hostage? If we are taken “hostage” you might not be able to easily see the bigger picture and might not be able to see a way out of our struggle or difficulties.

You could be part of a new team through an organisational change not of your making, the stakes are high, and you really don’t get on with the new leader. Something goes wrong with the programme you are working on; you take it personally, it knocks your confidence to lead the next step change, you start to create self-doubt, your confidence crashes.

Remember you have a choice. Find space and time to find out what you really want and head for the authentic world of a hostage free state of mind.

Find a way through talking to a friend or colleague, or professional coach to gain perspective and see the bigger picture and gain perspective. Sometimes there may be little that you can change about your situation, but remember you have the power to change your attitude to it, your approach. It just requires some belief and confidence.

One step at a time. Maybe do something positive for yourself everyday even if it just takes five minutes.

The longer we follow a path or do a job that does not allow our authentic selves to thrive, then the more of a hostage we become.

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