We can help them see that the memories they hold are, in essence, holding them.
I was reading a fascinating article by Lawrence Rubin, entitled “Alzheimer’s Disease as Time Travel: Tales of a Reluctant Time Traveler” in the Sept. 2015 issue of Psychology Today.
He talks about the journey he is on with his aging mother, who has the disease, and her “time traveling.” As he puts it:
In the course of a “normal” conversation these days with my mother, I can at one moment be at my own Bar Mitzvah over a half-century ago, instantly transported to an embarrassing bicycle accident she had nine decades before, or waiting with her for a bus on some unnamed street that may never have even existed. She is an unfettered and unintentional time traveler not only in her life but in mine, that of my brothers, and those of her own siblings, parents, friends and miscellaneous family members that are little more than fading images on undated crumbling Kodak prints.
It reminded me of the phrase I use when encouraging team members to, in essence, stop “time traveling.” I suggest that they need to “Give up all hope of a better past.”
I have found some people, whether at work or in their personal life, have trouble reconciling the “what is” versus the “what was.” Perhaps they feel someone in the past slighted them, or treated them unfairly. Yet, they never take any steps to clear the air, assault assumptions, or even consider any sort of conflict resolution.
They are time travelers with a purpose. By traveling back to the incident time and time again, it confirms that they are innocent sufferers, which leads to their favorite phrase, “It’s not my fault!” Which, in turn, becomes “It’s their fault!” And the final part of this trifecta, is the phrase, “There’s nothing I can do!” which says “I am helpless and there are no healthy alternatives.”
These fettered and intentional time travelers also transport other team members to those incidents, where they try to build allies who will agree that yes, they have been grievously mistreated and are truly innocent.
Thus, “us against them” becomes part of a team’s culture and the real victim is lack of team results and a negative or even toxic workplace.
The good news is that any team leader can help people break these patterns. We can help them see that the memories they hold are, in essence, holding them. They are giving the past too much power by allowing it to affect their emotions, and ultimately, their (and the team’s) performance.
Take the time to coach these travelers to seek, if necessary, help via a company Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or other community services. Be clear on your expectations for their attitude and performance, and that they will be held accountable for not moving ahead. In essence, “I’m the victim” doesn’t play anymore.
The past can be powerful and complicated. But when a person starts to see that their time travel has become an enemy of reason, healthy dialogue and hope, they can start the journey forward, and travel to a better place.
Psychology Today – “Alzheimer’s Disease as Time Travel: Tales of a Reluctant Time Traveler”