Annika Päutz [Germany]: Loving kindness, soft power and a trust into the world which is so deeply rooted that – after talking to Annika – things just feel light.  Annika was one of these people who always knew she was going to end up as a trainer/coach. Next to studying Business Psychology she got her trainer and coaching certification in her early twenties. Ever since she gravitated towards projects that fueled personal growth. She is involved in the Young European Collective, a group of young Europeans from 14 countries that has just published a book – “Who if not us?” – on empowering Europe and its young generation. Next to that Annika works as a facilitator and coach at Rock Your Company, a German mentoring programme helping young employees to develop their potential, and coaches support groups at TheHumanTheBody. Recently Annika is also working on her own project, El Camino in Spain, in short: Coaching meets hiking. More news to come! – Interview by ASTRID SCHRADER

The Arc: Annika, you have found your passion pretty early on. How did that happen?

Looking back I can say that actually my downs were my ups. In my down situations I found my power and self-worth, broke with old behaviors, beliefs and patterns. One situation I am referring to took place in winter 2014. Back then I believed that my purpose in life is to be there for other people. Only. Their needs were more important to me than mine and I would give anything I had: my ears, my time, my energy. I was striving for other people and the greater good of any project I was in. Until I burned out. I had created a life that drained all my energy out of me until I had none left for myself. I could not do anything anymore: listening, reading, watching movies, being around people,… Getting up was hard. But the worst thing was that my life did not have a purpose to me anymore and I felt completely empty inside which made me feel helpless and powerless. I was spiraling down into the darkest part of my soul. These questions pinching me: Why am I here? Why do I exist? What is the purpose for me being on that planet? I did not find an answer. I broke down. In front of my mum and my brother who had never seen me like that as I had always been the strong, caring, happy, shiny big sister and daughter.

Looking back I can say that actually my downs were my ups.

In that situation my mum was an angel. She made me go outside with my dog and told me to express myself – knowing that nature is the best healer and believing that I will be fine in the end. So I went into the woods. It was almost dark and rather cold on that evening. Lucky me – there was no one else outside. With deep emotions the only way is through. So that is what I did. I felt my desperation. I felt my sadness. And most importantly I felt my frustration and anger about my situation. I was f***g angry to be in that struggle. Finally!

I yelled at the sky. I exploded with my questions: WHY AM I HERE? The world sucks! I cannot change anything about it. So many people suffer (even though they don’t tell)… WHAT IS THE f***g PURPOSE that I am here? Where did my energy go? My whole frustration about me, the world, the things that are wrong, my powerlessness… it all broke out of me: I threw branches around the place, I yelled and stomped my feet on the ground as hard as I could, I crashed old branches in the woods by jumping on them with all the power I had.

After maybe half an hour I noticed something. My energy was back. Wow. My anger had brought my energy back to me. I felt alive again. And there was no feeling of burn-out anymore. That was the moment I learned that my life is my responsibility and that it is me who decides how I create my life and how I let my emotions help me. Thanks for the burn-out: I noticed that there were things in my life that drained my energy. Things I needed to change in order to be healthy. Thanks to my anger: I found my feeling of power and life again – that it is me to give myself a purpose.

My trick was and is still to stay with the struggle.

My trick was and is still to stay with the struggle. I don’t look away, pretend that I am happy and keep going in a direction that made me struggle in the first place. My belief is that the struggle is there for a reason and it is my job to figure out why it is there: basically to get to know myself better and then to change my situation according to it. Sounds easy. In the situation of struggle itself it does not feel easy at all. But it is worth it.

The Arc: People who work with you repeatedly notice that you are somehow at ease with all sort of emotions. It is easy to understand on how one can be at ease with „joy“, „serenity“ or „excitement“, but how on earth are you so relaxed about anger, fear or sadness?

As you might have understood from the situation I described before; for me any emotion had its reason why it showed up in the first place. Antonio Damasio put it in a nutshell for me: emotions are „action-requiring neurological programs“. He did not differ between good or bad emotions. Neither do I. For me there is no difference or valence between the emotions. Happiness is as much needed as anger. Joy is as much needed as grief or fear. They all arise within me in various moments of my life to tell me their special secret. They all have their own kind of message for me and they all want to guide me through situations of my life. They all want me to act and create a life that is healthy for me. If you want to know more about any of the emotions in specific – I might start a blog soon. Those poor emotions definitely need a voice to not be misunderstood or valenced anymore :D!

Happiness is as much needed as anger.

The Arc: If people want to be more at ease with their emotions, but not turn themselves into an emotional refrigerator and become sort of… emotion-less. What is a good middle road you can propose and how can people live like that?

The golden middle path is called channeling by Karla McLaren. In order to understand this special kings-and-queens-skill I explain the two ways that people normally use to handle their emotions: Repression and/or Expression.

The golden middle path is called channeling by Karla McLaren.

Repression works like that: Imagine you are standing in a swimming pool. You have a ball in your hand and you start to push it down under water. As deep as you can. You need more strength the further you push it down. At some point it releases itself and jumps out of the water with a little explosion.

That is what happens if you repress emotions. They come up and want to tell you something and you don’t want to listen, so you push them down. The next time they come up with more power and you need more strength to hold them down. Until there is one point where they jump out of you and explode. I did that a lot: I was sad, frustrated and sick of things and I did not want to feel that way so I pushed it down and pretended to be happy about everything in order to make everyone around me feel good. I was not honest to myself or listening to my own needs and preferred to put on my happiness mask. I was an emotional refrigerator as you phrased it.

The other way is called expression: that way emotions handle people. They just rush out of you in a situation and you do something that you regret later – you shame someone, you are frustrated with someone and you let it out on that person in a rough way. Later you feel bad about it. Everyone knows an example for that from their families normally: mum coming home, tired of a long day, overwhelmed with life and the little kid did something wrong in the kitchen. She snaps and the frustration of the whole day unfolds on the child who triggered it without knowing. The emotion is controlling her actions.

Whether you are merely repressing or merely expressing your emotions, you don’t take the responsibility for your behavior in the situation. Repressing you don’t dare to speak up, expressing you put the emotion on people around you who have nothing to do with it and make them handle your frustrations, sadnesses, self-worth problems.

The good thing is: There is a middle path called channeling the emotions that occur in response to a situation.

First: Feel the emotion. Be self-aware that any situation makes you feel something. Second: Identify/Name the emotion. Be honest to yourself about your internal state. Third: Question the emotion and trace it back to the stimulus: why did it arise? What does it want to tell me? Fourth: Do the emotion specific action which can also mean to not act.

As an example think of the following situation: I said something critical to my brothers wife that was not appropriate for the situation.

First: I feel shame. Second: I name and identify shame (face is hot and I am blushing). Third: Why do I blush/feel ashamed? I said something not appropriate. Fourth: Action. Excuse my wordings and frame it differently (more sensitive for the situation) and make a joke to have everyone at ease again afterwards.

The Arc: Oki doki! Whoa… loads of stuff to think about. One last question: What is the next thing, you have to dare, Annika? Shoot!

Do my own projects – for me that means that I believe in me. Start to write – that is equal with speaking my truth, being honest and confronting people with me.

The Arc: Thank you for the interview!