Monday 21 November, 5.15 p.m.
Being Sales Director of the Year had brought Steve significant
The 5-series BMW was certainly the greatest to someone who
had been car-crazy all his life.
But it was more than just a love of cars. Steve liked driving fast.
How he had only six points on his licence was a minor miracle.
The Mondeo just didn’t feel as good to drive. More to the point,
Steve hated the idea of everybody – his clients and his colleagues
– knowing that the BMW had gone. It felt like demotion.
For the most part, the holiday in Disneyworld had been great.
Even though Nicky had been only four, he’d had a ball. Steve took
him on Pirates of the Caribbean, the Peter Pan Ride, It’s a Small
World. They were like a couple of kids together.
Lynn had thought so also. At times, she’d felt she had two chil-
dren to keep in order – constantly reminding both to put their
baseball caps on in the 90-degree heat and keep topping up the
sun cream on exposed limbs.
But when Steve wasn’t carrying on with Nicky, he’d taken in the
landscape around him – with all the shapes and colours of a
gaudy birthday cake – and felt a bit of a fraud. He could barely
believe he’d won the trip as reward for his sales efforts. Part of
him expected to be ‘found out’ any minute.
He constantly asked himself if he could have done a bit better
and won the two-week cruise round the Caribbean. And he won-
dered how it would feel next year if they had to return to Majorca
instead of Florida.
‘Better not get too used to this lifestyle, Lynn,’ he’d said more
Feeling a fraud
Steve’s self-esteem is based on his car, football team, charm and
There is no doubt in everyone else’s eyes that he is genuinely good
at his job.
He won the Sales Director of the Year Award hands down and
the company rewarded the Clark family with the trip to Disney-
Yet surprisingly, Steve himself doubts his own worth at work and
his personal value to the company. Why?
Because deep down inside Steve feels poorly about himself.
He judges himself too harshly and nothing he achieves is ever good
enough for him.
Healthy self-esteem is based on a good inner sense of self-compe-
tence (our ability to cope with the challenges of life) – and on a
high sense of self-worth (our feeling of value and significance).
Although Steve’s self-competence at work is clearly not in doubt,
his evaluation of his own worth is poor.
This is a personal belief he maintains even though others hold him
in high regard and would not agree with his poor opinion of him-
self – if they were aware of it.
Secretly, Steve feels a fraud.
He’s constantly trying to prove himself to himself and never quite
manages to achieve it.
The pleasure he derived from winning the Regional Sales Director
of the Year Award was short-lived and the brief boost to his low
self-worth faded fast.
This poor sense of self-worth is a painful inner secret that Steve
hides well from his colleagues and friends, even from Lynn.
As a result, he feels like an impostor and lives in constant fear of
being ‘found out’.
Today his worst fears were being realized as the picture of Steve
Clark – Regional Sales Director of the Year – was removed from all
10 divisions, to be replaced by the image of Jim McKenzie. ‘Never
thought I’d be usurped by McKenzie,’ thought Steve, watching
the office handyman ceremoniously remove his picture. ‘He just
seems to get all the breaks.’
The way things were going, he wondered if it was just his picture
that would be replaced.
His dad had always warned him not to get ‘ahead’ of himself
– whatever that meant.
‘Maybe he was just trying to protect me from moments like this,’
Steve’s daydream was broken by the Bulldog barking, ‘Steve, a
word in my office.’
He was about to sit down opposite Dave when he was asked to
close the door behind him. And this from the man who told the
staff every morning, ‘My door’s always open.’
‘Here are your sales figures for the last quarter,’ the Bulldog
began. ‘We both know they’re unacceptable, but only one of us
has to make decisions about how we deal with them.’
Steve’s gaze shot from the chart in front of them to look Dave
in the eye. But Dave continued to stare at the piece of paper he
‘We’re rewarded on results in this company,’ Dave continued.
‘But equally, we have to live with the consequences of poor per-
‘Now wait a minute,’ Steve began, ‘you can’t blame me entirely
for what’s happened recently.’
‘And who else should I blame?’ barked back the Bulldog.
‘Well?’ insisted Dave.
Yet again, Steve faced a dilemma. If he argued, Dave would go
for the jugular. If he agreed, he would face whatever fate his boss
had in mind, unchallenged.
‘I don’t think you’re being very supportive, Dave,’ Steve retort-
‘What do you mean by that?’ snarled the Bulldog.
‘Well, I could do with some encouragement, rather than the con-
stant sniping,’ Steve continued, a little too angrily.
The Bulldog’s face reddened. The slight hesitation suggested a
large explosion was imminent.
‘I wasn’t aware it was my job to change your nappies as well as
pay your over-inflated salary,’ erupted Dave. ‘Get a grip and stop
being so pathetic. There’s a queue of people lining up for your
job in this company alone – never mind the dozens of letters of
application I receive each month. Now shape up – or ship out!’
Steve glared at Dave, snatched his briefcase and slammed the
door on the way out.
He was standing at the bar of the Jug and Claret 20 minutes later,
on a second pint. His whisky chaser was finished, so he ordered
The barmaid made some pleasant chit-chat but tired of Steve’s
curt replies and so left him alone.
The latest episode with the Bulldog still bouncing around in his
head, Steve left his collection of four empty glasses behind as he
strode back to the car park.
Sitting behind the wheel of the Mondeo, waiting to pull out on to
the busy road, he stared at the factory wall in the industrial estate
across from the pub.
He considered what speed he could reach if he were to drive
straight into it: 50 or 60 miles an hour perhaps?
Would that be enough to kill him, or just leave him badly in-
Lynn and Nicky would be all right, he concluded. He was well
He might feel nothing – yet all his problems would be over.
Steve started to rev the engine, sending clouds of exhaust fumes
across the car park.
He gripped the wheel tightly and pressed the accelerator to the
floor, screeching out towards the wall.
He swung the car round violently into the flow of traffic, as an
image of Nicky flashed across his mind.
Given Steve’s poor sense of self-worth, it’s no wonder that Dave
the Bulldog’s criticism cuts deeply and feels so painful.
Lynn knows he’s hurting but, because she is unaware of just how
poorly Steve really views himself, she has no idea how badly he’s
taking it all and how close he is to ‘cracking up’.
Steve feels as if he can no longer cope with it all and, like many
men in similar situations of extreme stress, he firstly:
‘bottles it up’
‘takes to the bottle’.
Men find it more difficult to talk about their worries than women –
to express how they feel and to share what they are going through
with others, often for fear of being seen as ‘weak’.
They can turn inwards on themselves and find temporary relief
from drinking alcohol to excess.
Sometimes they feel like harming themselves and may even con-
sider ending it all. And Steve is no exception. He takes to the pub
and consumes more beer and spirits than usual. His suppressed
rage at Bulldog Dave is boiling away inside and he begins to turn
his anger inwards against himself.
Steve starts to think about injuring himself – even of killing him-
self – until the stark consequence of leaving Nicky fatherless stops
Steve drove erratically for several miles of the usual route home
– but his thoughts were elsewhere when his junction came and
Taking the next junction and a less familiar road, he found himself
in a poorly-lit industrial estate, where each street looked similar
to the next.
After several attempts at finding the exit, Steve pulled up beside
a large glass-fronted map of the estate in a desperate attempt to
find a way out. As he rolled down the window to look, a text lit
up his mobile screen:
Keeping your bearings in a relationship
Steve is losing his bearings in his relationship with Lynn.
This is reflected by the fact that she often feels as if she has two
children to look after instead of one.
Steve has got so caught up in his successful career that he has
begun to opt out of his role as a partner to Lynn and as a parent to
Nicky. He may not realize he’s doing this and is certainly not in-
tending to, but nonetheless it is happening and Lynn senses it.
Steve believes it’s her job to care for Nicky on a day-to-day basis,
even though both he and Lynn work full time. To make matters
worse he’s rarely home early enough during the week to spend
much time with Nicky and at weekends his head is taken up with
football, rather than family.
And Lynn, for her part, has bought into this behaviour and the
belief underlying it, without ever questioning it.
Family holidays often bring issues to the surface and into sharp
focus, perhaps because people spend more time together and for
longer periods than at any other point in the year.
When on holiday in Disneyworld, Steve avoided adult responsibil-
ity, behaving like a kid, and Lynn found herself parenting both him
and Nicky – and began to resent it.
Of course, Steve deserved to have a good time and no doubt
Nicky enjoyed the fact that his dad was joining in the fun. That’s
However, if Steve spends too much time behaving like a playful
child then the relationship between Lynn and Steve may become
The result could be that Lynn begins to view Steve more as another
child she has responsibility for, rather than as her partner. In other
words, as if she were his ‘mother’. And Steve may increasingly find
himself behaving towards Lynn as if she were a mother figure and
less and less like his partner.
All relationships need to be flexible, but the problem here is that
the more time Lynn spends parenting Steve, the more likely it is
that she may slowly lose respect and desire for him as her part-
And Steve may increasingly look outside their relationship and
begin to see other women as possible partners the more time he
spends in child mode with Lynn.
Relating to each other as equal adult partners enough of the time
is something that needs to be kept in balance, otherwise any rela-
tionship can begin to lose its bearings.
Mobile in hand, Steve stood by the fading industrial estate direc-
tory. The estate was roughly circular, in four distinct quadrants
– with main roads running north–south and east–west.
In the south-east quadrant was a red dot, accompanied by the
words YOU ARE HERE.
But, without references beyond the estate’s perimeter, Steve had
no idea which way would lead him home.
Another message was coming in to his phone. But instead of a
text, it was a picture of a circle, in quadrants with a dot in the
An arrow was pointing north-east.
Steve held it up to the directory to compare images. His cynicism
around these continuing ‘coincidences’ was put to the test. But
in the absence of any better idea, he returned to the car and sped
off on a north-easterly route. Within minutes, he rejoined the ring
road and was heading home.
‘Steve, what on earth’s the matter?’ urged Lynn as the dishevelled
figure walked through the door. ‘You never phoned to say you
were on your way.’
‘I got lost,’ he replied, his mind still far away.
‘Lost?’ questioned Lynn in disbelief. ‘Mr ‘I-can’t-understand-
how-you-can’t-find-your-way-about-town-in-the-car got lost!’
‘For God’s sake leave it out, Lynn,’ Steve snapped. ‘I’ve had a ter-
rible day and I just got confused.’
‘Steve, what’s wrong with you?’ begged Lynn, now worried by
her husband’s alien attitude.
‘I began to wonder if I could cope with much more of this, Lynn.
And I was thinking just how easy it would be just to give up,’ he
replied, fighting back tears.
Lynn put both arms around his neck and gave him a kiss, before
resting her head on his shoulder.
‘You can’t do that, Steve,’ she eventually answered. ‘Nicky and I
need you to be strong.’
Lynn still hadn’t caught the depth of Steve’s mood and left their
embrace to pour a glass of wine for them both.
As Steve took off his jacket, he caught sight of Lynn’s laptop on
the desk. Something about the image on the screen was familiar,
so he sat down to study it more closely.
It was similar to his picture text – only with words across each
‘Lynn, what’s this?’ he enquired.
‘Oh, just something I found on the Internet,’ she replied.
‘But what is it?’ persisted Steve.
‘It’s a compass that helps you get your confidence bearings,’ she
‘And what’s this arrow pointing north-east?’ he probed.
‘That’s the direction you take to find genuine confidence – based
on healthy self-worth and good self-competence,’ she answered.
‘Apparently all the truly confident people are up in the north-east
‘And what about the south-east section?’ asked Steve.
‘They’re “driven”,’ replied Lynn. ‘Often to an early grave!’
Catching sight of the Confidence Compass is definitely useful
because it immediately distracts Steve from his inner state of dis-
Somehow it brings him a sense of hope and his thoughts and feel-
ings of self-harm recede from his mind.
Talking about suicide may have replaced talking about sex as a
modern day taboo. After all, it’s hardly acceptable pub chat! And
yet thoughts and feelings of self-harm are experienced by many
people at some time in their lives. They are actually just part of the
human condition – they come with the territory.
Steve really needs to talk to a good mate, a friend, to someone,
even to Lynn herself, but he holds back. It is a pity she doesn’t pick
up on his desperate mood and ask him about his feelings because