Ed. note: This post is written by Will Meyerhofer, a Biglaw attorney turned psychotherapist, whom we profiled. A former Sullivan & Cromwell associate, he holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work. He blogs at The People’s Therapist.

Here’s a letter I received recently. Yes, it’s real, but I’ve removed anything identifiable to protect the sender:

Hi Will,

I read your thoughts of the legal profession on Above the Law and thought you neatly summarized my situation. I wish I was the type of person who could expel all the anger but instead I feel my self esteem disintegrating. It’s starting to become apparent to my co-workers (i.e. I cry at work). There’s one other female associate in my office and she’s going through the same thing. My problem is I believe the negative things my bosses tell me. I explained this to my boss (when he asked why we were crying) and promised him I would try to develop better coping skills. How do I make myself not care when he goes off on me?

For better or worse, this letter is typical; I hear a lot of stories like this.

An institute director I used to work with, a grizzled veteran of the therapy trenches, used to tell patients he wished he could make the world a better place, but he couldn’t. He could only better prepare them to deal with the world the way it is.

That’s how I feel about law firms. They can be brutal, and I can’t do much about that. But there are ways to deal.

My advice to this woman is to stop acting like a baby bird….

Allow me to explain.

Under stress, it is natural to regress to a child-like way of relating to the world. That’s because stress makes you feel overwhelmed, which is how young children, who are small and helpless, feel all the time. Feeling small, helpless and overwhelmed takes you back to a time early in your life, and old behaviors can kick in. You can start relating to authority figures like parent figures, focusing on pleasing them and forgetting that you have an adult’s right to judge your own behavior on your own terms, and to fight back and defend yourself.

There’s a good evolutionary reason why children are such natural parent-pleasers. A child evolves to survive by pleasing a parent. That’s because nature can be brutal – and so can parents. It has been shown again and again that, lacking sufficient food, a mother bird will toss a new-born chick out of the nest to die. It happens in most species, and at some level, the parent animal is selecting the child that fails to please for culling.

Baby chicks are warm and fuzzy. Nature is not. When a little bird fails to please its parent, that chick quite rightly panics and blames herself – and frantically tries to please as though its life depended on it.

You don’t have to act like a baby chick. Not at a law firm…

Read on at The People’s Therapist.


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