Coaching: Jack’s progress with depression and gaming addiction

/The Power of Targeted Questions

Photo by ALEKSEY KUPRIKOV

(Note: This story has been written with “Jack’s” verbal and written consent. Jack is willing to share his story in the hope that it will help others in similar circumstances.)

“Tell me the type of questions you ask yourself, so I can tell you the overall quality of your life.”

(a maxim that I created for myself while I was studying Process Consultation / coaching techniques)

If there is something that I’ve learned during the past few months in the numerous free coaching sessions I’ve had with diverse people from around the world, is that brave & targeted questions have the power to lead us to improved awareness and a deeper understanding of our lives and circumstances.

Equally important, questions have the power to heal us and take us to the next step, even though they are uncomfortable. Or rather because they are uncomfortable.

Even when confronted with a young person that has made up his mind to commit suicide within two years’ time if his gaming career doesn’t work out, questions can be a much more powerful healing tool than telling them that they shouldn’t do it because they will hurt their family, or X, Y, Z.

First, I needed to understand what led Jack (let’s call him that) to come to this decision in the first place, listen to his rationale carefully, and taking careful notes of inconsistencies and biases in his thinking and life story. Questions helped with identifying the source of his pain, current circumstances, and general state of mind.

And by calibrating my questions to his way of seeing the world, I was hoping to understand him as clear as I could.

Jack’s life was indeed hard and filled with heartache, I could see why he felt like he had this unbearable weight over his shoulders. Life has been more unkind to him than the average person. If I’d be honest with myself, if I’d be in Jack’s shoes I’d probably also be depressed and my thoughts would spiral down a path of wanting to end my pain.

But luckily I am in a clear state of mind, so I can offer him a clear perception and interpretation of his circumstances and mental biases, by asking him targeted questions we can find a way out of it together.

The setup

As I’ve clearly stated to Jack, I’m not a trained psychologist and our session was not to be treated as medical advice. All the knowledge I had was from studying Process Consultation in university, the coaching courses I took, and other activities that have helped me become a better listener and taught me how to ask targeted questions.

I decided to help Jack because he said he can’t afford to go to a certified psychologist/therapist. He did confess that he went to a counselor but he didn’t feel heard enough and it didn’t help him.

So if he’s interested to talk to me, to share his story, his painful experiences, and maybe release some of the tension he keeps bottled inside, the least I can do is to be willing to listen.

Anyway, Jack is in his late teens but has already suffered several severe traumas. He slowly told me about two of his friends who committed suicide, and how his stepdad shot his beloved dog for no good reason.

He also talked about his relationship with gaming and how his dream would be to make it as a professional gamer.

We talked about these two issues extensively in our two coaching sessions via voice calls, and via text as well.

I asked targeted questions based on what he told me, to get a better understanding of his life, the pain he felt, and the coping mechanisms he uses. And maybe not surprisingly, he too got a better understanding of it at the same time.

I asked him to understand that my targeted questions were not an attack, or that I knew better, or anything of the sort, we began exploring the root causes of Jack’s current issues. I told him I don’t necessarily have solutions for him, but I might be able to help him uncover some better coping behaviours for himself.

The Gaming addiction

Jack has been playing video games from a young age and he became very good at them, to the point that he started playing professionally in some less known teams.

But from years of online multiplayer video games with various teammates, he developed an interesting psychological trait: his self-worth and value was based on the immediate feedback that was received from the players in the chatboxes and later via in-game voice chats.

Because games are designed in such a way that both you and your teammates can see if you’re doing well or poorly within seconds, feed-back is (near) instant. And in the online world where you game with players you don’t know, harsh or even brutal remarks are not uncommon for poor performance (even if many times it might not be your fault).

This behaviour is commonly referred to as “flaming” or “being toxic” in the gaming community.

Through years of exposure to this in his most formative years (from when he was a kid to his late teens), Jack reached a point where positive feedback from his teammates made him feel great — while toxic comments and flaming made him feel terrible instantly.

Every single game, every day, for years and years.

So Jack naturally wanted to become a better player in order to get more of the positive feedback and avoid the being “flamed”. But despite his tremendous improvement and getting in the topmost skillful players in his game, he continued encountering toxic behaviour which ruined his mood and self-worth.

This gaming world might be a new form of a psychological environment! And for the people who are susceptible to it’s traps and engage in it repeatedly, it can lead to basing a great proportion of their self-worth on this external instant feed-back.

Jack admitted that almost all of his self-worth is based on that on a daily basis.

I think it’s crucial for the world to create a better understanding of this new phycological environment and it’s phycological effects, but I wasn’t able to find a research paper on it so far.

Creating understanding and acceptance

After a long string of targeted questions, Jack began to understand several things:

  • That his performance cannot always optional, especially if he doesn’t take care of himself properly (ie. eating healthy, sleeping enough, relaxing, etc.) or due to his diagnosed ADHD.
  • That people’s feedback is impacted by external factors other than his performance, such as: their character, the mood they’re in that day, selfishness and thinking of their own gameplay, and simple toxic behaviour due to personal issues.
  • That lack of feedback should not make him feel bad or feel like he didn’t play well, as he currently believed. But again, external factors such as other players being lazy to write or speak, thinking of their own gameplay, or even having a snack.
  • That basing his self-worth so much on gaming is not healthy, and that he should explore his passions outside of gaming. A big one we identified is astronomy, as well as spending time with friends and family and seeing that they value him simply for who he is. And that he didn’t need to get an amazing long-distance (360!) headshot for his family to want to be with him “in the same team”. Several other such realisations were reached, throughout the 2 coaching sessions.

We also discussed how he needs to make a plan B in case his plan A of becoming a full-time professional gamer does not pan out. In case he changes his mind to commit suicide, he at least has something to fall back on. He later said that this helped him, as it made him think a more long-term and have some hope for the future.

Using gaming as a coping mechanism

From Jack’s answers, it became apparent that gaming was not just a passion or career opportunity, but also the thing he used to cope with the pain caused by the severe traumas he’s experienced so early in life.

He realised how he uses not only gaming but hanging out in different voice chats, etc. to keep his mind occupied and distracted from his pain. He simply could not be in the presence of his own mind, which is common for people dealing with severe trauma.

We discussed extensively how the death of his friends made him feel, how he reacted and so on. This is a crucial part of accepting the reality of the situation, the pain it brings, and understanding that the pain is coming from a place of compassion, of missing them, of mourning them.

It is incredibly painful, but the pain is not entirely a bad thing.

I asked Jack if he knows anyone that hasn’t suffered pain in their life and when he could not come up with an example, I guided him to understand that pain is also an important part of his human experience and that rather than trying to avoid or cover it all up, we must find solutions to accept it and to deal with it.

Together we acknowledged that he has been exposed to a lot of trauma too soon in his life, before he had the time and chance to build up a high degree of resilience to pain and toughen up. But in effect, he could use his present struggle to strengthen himself and learn how to deal with pain in the future.

No, it’s not a gift in disguise, it’s a bad situation that he needs to learn how to accept gradually, over time.

He maturely suggested that in order to deal with the pain he can spend a few minutes each day before gaming by himself, and then a few games per day without playing multiplayer and being in the company of others.

It might not seem like much to some, but this is an incredible step forward for Jack that says “I am accepting my pain, I can be by myself, I can find peace in time”.

Furthermore, Jack accepted that it’s OK for him to think about his dead friends, and rather than run away from those thoughts as he’s been doing for years, he created an understanding that this was happening because of his kind heart, his compassion for his friends’ unfortunate end and because he misses them deeply.

It’s not all feelings of pain that he is having, a lot of it is love too.

The mix of these two makes it difficult to distinguish them, and embrace them.

Progress and progress and…

In my latest discussion with Jack, he said that he can finally feel happy again and that these feelings now surmount the moments of sadness in his life. (which made me so incredibly happy to hear!)

He said that while in the past he had made up his mind to commit suicide, he now finds himself making plans for the future and wanting to be there for his younger brother and sister, and show them what it’s like to have an older brother.

Jack is incredibly mature for his age, however he required some external guidance to find many of the answers within himself, to detect his own reasoning biases, and to decide to take steps forward.

He needed someone to listen to him, to believe in him, and to tell him that he can make it, that he is a worthy person outside of video games too. I genuinely enjoyed his company and talking to him .

He also said he’d like to find a counselor and work on his issues further, with the goal of healing from his depression fully and work with preventive techniques in the future.

Jack (you know who you are if you see this) I wish you stay persistent and continue to accept your pain gradually, as much as you can tolerate. You’ve been through a lot at a young age, but your strength so far has also amazed me. Oh and keep helping others as you’re doing right now. That might be one of the most effective things you can do to help yourself develop.

And for you, the reader, I hope you learned something from Jack’s experience and coaching sessions. Please, be on the lookout for those in your life that are susceptible to things we’ve discussed and try to gently support them — maybe with a few challenging but respectful and well-designed questions.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Did you find this article interesting? If so, comment below what caught your attention.

Or just let me know if you’d like me to write similar articles. And please share it with others to bring awareness to this.

I hope you find your peace.

Leonard Burcă

Logo Leonard Burca

The most IMPORTANT NOTE of this article!!

If you are a coach, trainer, psychologist, or similar and you would like to offer your services for free to people who need them but can’t afford them, please contact me so we can help more people during this difficult time.

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