I got dumped. Dad went to play with the big kids and left me here alone.
That’s not what happened. But that’s how it felt. Chris Cooper left me and I was all alone in the world. It took me 3 months to recover. Here’s my harrowing tale of that final goodbye…
(Queue suspenseful music)
It was January 13th. As a growth entrepreneur my business was doing great and growing fast.
Our monthly mentor meeting started off like it typically did, with me grabbing a coffee from the cafe in our building and settling in with updates on tasks from last meeting. From there, just as usual, we moved into new objectives focused on scaling up, going faster and farther all the time. We chatted excitedly for 45 minutes. As we headed into wrap up Chris shared that he would be immediately moving to coach solely at the Tinker Level and suggested I prepare for my own move into Tinker by June 1st. Until then I would have a new mentor.
I’m pretty sure I heard my brain whisper “Wait, hold up, WTF?”
At that point, I forget the rest of the conversation – literally the next 15 minutes are brainmush. I remember nodding alot in agreement and making some joke about #tinkerbyjune, we laughed and he was gone. (Queue devastating heartbreak music).
In the days that followed I am sure I would have told anyone that I was fine when, in reality, for the next 3 months I was an automaton. I did what needed to be done but by April, I was clearly different. What I had chalked up to exhaustion from COVID and a busy homelife was quickly seeming like something else. I questioned whether I even wanted to practice anymore. I wasn’t my typical passionate, excitable self. I worked with a new mentor who was awesome but I felt myself getting in the way. I felt like I wanted to quit and re-think everything but I was not sure why. So I decided to treat myself like I would a client.
On a pad, like I would for any other client, I wrote down the following:
1. Presenting Symptoms : Withdraw, apathy, social disconnection (pre-covid), lack of excitement, fatigue
2. Symptom Timeline: Mid January progressing to present (Late April)
3. Transitional Changes/Significant Events : Minor family turmoil, family death, done coaching with Chris, COVID-19.
Wait, what? How in the midst of everything else, was “done coaching with Chris” significant? And how in the world could it rank with a family death or a global pandemic? I had not seen that coming.
After a day to think I came back to finish my self-as-client activity. I had thought about it, weighed up the facts and knew exactly what was happening. Picking up where I left off I wrote:
Clincial Assessment: Suspected unidentified transference in Mentor-Mentee relationship. Symptoms resultant from a neuro-protective response to disruption of psychological safety and perception of abandonment.
Translation: My responses were driven by a perception of abandonment.
Transference is the the redirection of thoughts, feelings or expectations from one person to a substitute. In my work as a therapist I know of and look for transference in every session. A client hearing and/or relating to me as an authority figure from another place or time in their lives. Transference can be difficult to see in ourselves unless we are looking for it. I certainly hadn’t looked for it in the mentor-mentee relationship with Chris Cooper.
Laughing to myself I wrote:
Treatment Recommendations: Girl, Chris Cooper is NOT your DADDY. Move along.
Within a few days, I was back on track. I started Tinker in June after taking some time to reset and re-examine my expectations of the professional relationship. I had no intention of sharing this story with Chris until a discussion of recent events in the Crossfit world made it seem applicable.
When we look up to someone, it is not just our thoughts that change. Our brains change. When we have a positive affiliation with someone, perceived or otherwise, our brains become hardwired to connect; the individual becomes part of our trusted network allowing our brains to positively prioritize anything coming from them. This social prioritization sets the foundation for cognitive biases and beliefs that are rooted more in familiarity and relationship than in reality. This is why brand marketing works.
Our brains are lazy. Instead of assessing each individual ( situation) we encounter, it takes a quick first impression and pairs it with someone similar that we know well (called an Archetype) and then builds rapport (the way we respond) modeled on our relationship with that archetype. Even though, Chris Cooper and my father are incredibly different so far as my brain was concerned, something about Chris’s mentorship triggered the paternal archetype and without either of us knowing , Chris became Dad and I became a kid again. Ugh. So how does a kid respond when Dad says “I am leaving to go take care of other kids and I’ll take care of you in a few months time when you are doing better” out of the blue? This kid shut downs and withdraws.
With regards to the Crossfit drama, the resounding message I’ve heard and read is one of hurt and disappointment from affiliates and others. “I just can’t believe he would…” or “People don’t know him. He isn’t a….”
This is the expression of a deep pain that, when examined, bares little difference from the 3 months of sulky-heartbreak I suffered when Daddy Coop left to go play with the big kids. The truth is, the familiarity most affiliates have with Greg Glassman or Crossfit is fabricated and based on a lazy brain that decided “I know this guy and he is good”. But , if you don’t personally and intimately know someone how can you really say who they are or how they feel? The truth is, you can’t and the responses you will have – though incredibly intense and very real – will be projections of your own creation more than they will be reflections of truth.
In your businesses and in your lives you will see transference more and more. Clients will call you their Savior. They will bring you cookies or ask you advice on a personal topic completely unrelated to the service you provide. In your own role as mentee, you may amplify the suggestions or praise of a mentor and begin strategically rooting your behaviours in their approval. While transference is a natural biological process, if left unidentified or uncorrected it can negative consequence for any relationship.
Transference-Proofing Your Relationships
To minimize the risk of transference, mentors and mentees must be able to:
1. Identify and understand the nature of the relationship
2.Develop reasonable expectations (behavioural and cognitive)
3. Establish and adhere to protective boundaries, challenging or correcting inappropriate behaviours or responses.
It is also important to be able to identify your biases and archetypes. What kind of person do you trust? What kind of person makes you nervous? What assumptions do you make about people who trust or feels close to? What do you assume these people will never do? These and other intentionally broad and general questions can help you begin to see patterns your brain has developed over your lifetime.
Keeping a look out for transference and practicing diligent self-awareness will ensure that mentoring relationships remain supportive and encouraging in a professional and responsible way.
It will also mean Chris and other mentors will only have to play Daddy to their own children.
Happy Father’s Day!
-Bonnie J. Skinner, MEd, RP, CCC