A Coaching Power Tool created by Clare Wieck
(Executive Coach, GERMANY)
All of us have been through tough times. Some of us have even been through traumatic experiences or been victims of injustice, hatred and prejudice. Some of us may have experienced mental illness, abuse or mistreatment, or even a natural disaster or a debilitating physical condition. Perhaps we are lucky enough to have not experienced such challenges but yet still recall times when we felt mistreated or judged. Either way, we have all faced negative events or situations at some point in our lives. Each of us remember these experiences and most would say they have, for better or worse, shaped our lives today. Some would argue that these experiences form our very identity. Yet most of us do not realise that we have a choice of whether to view something as an experience or to allow an experience to form our identity.
We can choose to:
- Create a positive identity from a positive experience
- Create a positive identity from a negative experience
- Create a negative identity from a negative experience
- Separate from a negative experience
This power tool explores the benefits of a, b and d, and the damages of c.
NB: It should be acknowledged that there are different ways of interpreting the word “identity”. However, exploring the different ways of understanding what identity is, is well beyond the scope of this text. For the purpose of this power tool, the word “identity” is interpreted as how we see ourselves, including our personality
Creating a positive identity
If we choose to do so, and many of us do on an unconscious and automatic level, we identify with our past and the events that have happened to us. This means that we process the past as a part of ourselves.
There is nothing inherently damaging about believing certain things about yourself due to your experiences. Indeed we are able to form a positive identity from our experiences as much as we are able to form a negative identity from our experiences.
Choosing to draw a positive identity from the past is healthy because it serves us. We can take positive experiences and use them to empower our identity in the present. For example, if we have been through an empowering event such as winning an award, raising children or achieving physical fitness, these experiences can be interpreted into our identity for our benefit. We might state “I am a great father/mother” or “I am strong and healthy” or “I am a success”. Each of these statements, or affirmations, clearly serve us and can be used as fuel for progress and self-esteem in our lives.
We can also take a negative experience and use it to form a positive identity.
We can process an experience, choose to take a positive perception and use words and create labels and beliefs to reference it in an empowering way. For example, if our business fails, we can choose to perceive it as a learning experience. We can identify with our role of learning from the situation or knowing what it’s like to fail. We can identify with others and help those who are going through a similar situation. We can identify with having a new opportunity, with being curious, with improvement. However, if we choose to label ourselves as a “failure” or an “idiot who knows nothing about business”, our motivation to improve ourselves falls, our personal power diminishes and our progress in life suffers as a result. This is the path of creating a negative identity.
Creating a negative identity
If we have been through disempowering or damaging experiences in our life such as abuse or mental illness, we may make statements such as “I am inferior”, “I am a victim” or “I am a depressive”. Some of these statements may actually be true or have been true at some point in our life. It is important to note here that this method of approach is by no means concerned with denying the truth. However, if we let these statements and beliefs be permanently true for us, we start to incorporate them into our identity and in doing so, re-set the course of our lives.
If we truly believe these negative experiences form our identity, this can stunt our growth as human beings, rob us from our natural talents, our potential and make us miserable. If we see something as our self, our identity, it means it is permanent and unchangeable. In turn we think, walk, talk and act according to these statements or negative affirmations. This negative or disempowering identity we have taken on colours our world and forms our lives.
It has been said many times that we teach people how to treat us. If we truly identify with being a victim or sufferer or failure or an under-achiever because of our experiences, we will be treated as such.