When she was about 7 years old, Danielle Alvarez Greer remembers watching her parents fight and slipping out to call her grandmother for help — an action that would prompt her mother's wrath.
Growing up in a Mexican-American community in California, Danielle said she had a ringside seat to family trauma.
Greer, now 41 years old and a certified life coach, believes negative experiences like some she had early in life shape our personalities and steer us into unhealthy patterns for dealing with conflict.
For most of her life, she said, she was defensive and prone to blaming other people for her problems.
"I blamed others for why I couldn't feel good," she said. "And I was manipulating others so I could feel happy."
These days, the Chattanooga mom and child behavioral expert works as a life coach, concentrating on teaching parents and children strategies for breaking out of negative patterns.
She has a sun-swept office on the third floor of the Business Development Center on Cherokee Boulevard that serves as a hub for her "Happy Family Coach" business.
Greer serves a diverse clientele that includes a range of people: from prep-school parents to urban single moms. She also works with groups and in work settings.
Twice a month, for example, she gathers a circle of inner-city moms at the Chattanooga YCAP Boxing Club on Central Avenue. While their teenage sons take out their aggression in the boxing ring, Greer teaches the moms how to deal with their kids' aggression and how to peacefully resolve conflicts at home.
To bond with the group, Greer and her daughter even bought pink boxing gloves so they could work out with some of the kids, she said.
Her coaching techniques are grounded in a therapy model called transactional analysis, a theory that took root in the mid-20th century postulating each person has three ego states: parent, adult and child.
Greer has come up with a companion theory that most children (and adults, too) have negative emotions that can be clustered into three personality archetypes: the "blaming bully," the "helpless baby," and "bossy helper."
Any parent will identify with these personality types.
» The "bossy helper" is a person who tries to manipulate with kindness. They pretend that their own needs are unimportant, but secretly hope that the people who they help feel obligated to return the favor. Greer said lots of moms fit this type.
» The "helpless baby" believes life is too hard and often flashes passive-aggressive tendencies. "Their defense strategy is to collapse and play helpless," Greer explained. These folks tend to say things such as: "I need you to do it for me." Lots of kids fall into this trap.
» The "blaming bully" believes the world is a dangerous place. Greer said a typical "blaming bully" thinks: "I have to get you before you get me." They derive power through intimidation.
Greer believes this behavioral triangle fences people in, and she suggested that each personality type has a reciprocal: for example, the "helpless baby" can become a "happy kid" who sees problems as learning opportunities, and the "bossy helper" can become a "caring friend" who is responsible "to" other people, not "for" other people.
Greer believes her system for nudging people from negative to positive patterns can be replicated in the school and work settings. She recently met with Hamilton County school leaders to explain her techniques, she said.
"I want to share this with as many people as possible," she said.
To explore Greer's conflict-resolution model in more depth, visit www.happyfamilycoach.com.
Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6645.