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Is Christmas an Emotional Minefield for You?

Charmaine Roche’s personal reflections on the importance of a healthy balance between giving and receiving.

I have a distinctly love-hate relationship with Christmas which centers around my family. I love the idea of meeting up with my extended family over the season and dread it at the same. I am the kind of person who finds it very difficult to allow unspoken tensions to fester. This is especially true in a relationship that matters to me. I much prefer to have a difficult conversation than to avoid it. As a friend, a life partner, leader, teacher, and mother this has always been how I am.

But there is one area of my life where the eddies of unspoken, hidden thoughts, feelings and memory creating sink holes pulling me into patterns of behavior that cause distress and disrupt my sense of who I am. As a sister to four siblings, the flow of love between us is twisted and tangled up in unspoken tensions, bitterness, loss, and betrayal. Two of my sisters will not speak to each other. One of these same sisters will not speak to our only brother and I find myself, as the oldest sibling, trying to ‘fix’ relationships in ways that only makes things worse. Finding myself drawn into a role as surrogate parent. This intensifies during the pre-Christmas period when even the planning of a gathering in the family WhatsApp group has driven me to despair when my attempts to mediate and keep the peace backfire.

This ‘rescuing’ pattern of behavior is deeply rooted in childhood. I know that I need to understand and come to some peace with it because it can have a real impact on my patterns of relating beyond family.
“Coaches, just like every other human being, will often repeat,
in life and in work, the very same dynamics that they are blind to in their origins.”

John Whittington, Systemic Coaching and Constellations, 2012.
Through training and supervision, I have come to believe that my strength as a ‘helping professional’, comes from my striving to find an outlet for that flow of love that it has not been possible to find within my family. Coaches who become too drawn into the issues presented by their clients are at risk of becoming drained and burned because they have not learned how to manage the boundaries between giving and receiving. They give too much to the detriment of themselves and their clients. Without awareness of my tendency to be pulled into the role of surrogate parent, I could infantilize my clients, make them feel helpless, over attached to me and weaker as a result of our interactions.

Exchange is the third order of love in coaching constellations, an organizational and team coaching approach that has grown out of the work of Bert Hellinger.
As a coach or a leader, our ways of being in our family system can transfer into our professional roles in unhelpful ways.

A coach trained in this approach is able to surface the hidden dynamics within patterns of relating.
As a leader if you have, or any leader you know has, an insatiable desire for what you see as your ‘due regard’ this may stem from a childhood relationship with parents who never gave enough; you, he or she will set goals for the team but no matter what they do or give, it will never be enough.

Feelings of resentment build up. The leader never gets what they are looking for, the team
members can never do enough. A sense of being owed something persists throughout the leader’s life and creeps into their relationships both personal and professional.

Such leaders will never feel satisfied with what they receive from their co-workers, followers, collaborators. Nothing is ever enough.

Another manifestation of this sense of never getting enough is over giving, making yourself too available, the leader becomes too ‘used’ and therefore exhausted and burned out.

The 4 principles of healthy exchange in relationships:

  1. In all interactions there need to be a balance of exchange; give too much and people can feel oppressed and back off and become distant or alienated from you, or dependent and over attached. Leaving you isolated in the first case or burned out in the second.
  2. Acknowledging what is and giving expression to it is a part of healthy functioning in family and organizational systems; ignoring, failing to give recognition, taking others for granted and not giving someone their place makes people feel undervalued and leads to resentment.
  3. Giving and receiving honest and balanced feedback is a feature of health in a system; where the flow of communication is only in one direction, is overly negative or missing altogether dysfunction will grow.
  4. All imbalances within a system of relationships, often invisible, below the level of consciousness, will seek to balance themselves out through our behavior. Only when we can freely face into the difficulty and move to resolve it without judgement or blaming, can we bring back balance and health.

Whatever your personal circumstances this holiday I hope that you find rest and ease with those you love. I have decided to accept my family as it is and not try to ‘fix it’. I will give the love I have without judgement and not give myself a role that only creates resentment in others in doing this I also center myself to give service to others in my professional role with integrity.

Have a very restful Christmas break and enjoy your time with family and friends.


Systemic Coaching and Constellations, An introduction to the principles, practices, and application, J Whittington, Kegan Page, 2012
The Basic orders of Love, Bert and Sophie Hellinger.
Wounded Healer Concept:

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The author

Charmaine Roche is an experienced Executive Coach and Education Consultant. She began working independently in 2013 after 29 years as a teacher and senior leader in secondary education. Her business LifeFlowBalance Coaching, and Consulting was founded in 2016. She is passionate about developing coaching as the art and science of leading and learning under pressure in a world that is increasingly uncertain, complex, ambiguous and volatile. Her work is varied but predominantly keeps her in touch with the issues and concerns in the field of education. She designs and provides coaching programmes of one to one wellbeing coaching; leadership development, resilience workshops, team coaching and resilience building training and development. She has a holistic, inclusive, creative and evidence-based approach to supporting organisations and individuals find the solutions that will work for them.

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