A Coaching Power Tool by Donna Agajanian
(Emotional Eating Coaching, UNITED STATES)
To feel or not to feel, that is the question.
What does it mean to feel?
Feelings: a physical or emotional experience or awareness 
So to feel is to experience, or be aware of, an emotion. In his book A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose Eckhart Tolle makes this distinction
 Cambridge American-English Dictionary
The fundamental difference between an instinctive response and an emotion is this: An instinctive response is the body’s direct response to some external situation. An emotion, on the other hand, is the body’s response to a thought
Every day we are continually responding to external situations (instinctive response) and internal thoughts (emotion). Over the course of a lifetime we have countless emotional experiences some good, some we would rather forget. It is easy to be present with our positive feelings or emotions, who doesn’t like to feel happy, or laugh or be content? It is more challenging to stay present with emotions such as sadness, loneliness, fear, or alienation and thus we may try to avoid them. But it is not possible to avoid every situation that causes discomfort so instead we suppress the emotions that they provoke. It could be argued that avoiding feelings of sadness, or loneliness is a good idea, allowing us to ‘stay positive’. It may even feel like the healthy choice to make if we believe that by suppressing these toxic feelings we are protecting ourselves from negativity, or we are caring for ourselves by keeping at bay the pain or discomfort that comes with them. But could it actually be good, even necessary for us to experience negative emotions?
Consider the following: When we avoid feelings they don’t just go away, they are stuck inside us waiting for their moment to be ‘heard’. In their struggle to be heard they find ways to get our attention. They might manifest in the form of habitual behaviors such as overeating, drinking, biting your nails. We might cope by continually being in motion so as not to have to stop and think. They may show up as underlying negative beliefs* about ourselves that we carry around making it harder to move toward our goals and desires. Suppressed emotions can slowly chip away at our self-esteem and sense of self worth—they can make us believe we do not deserve to reach our goals and heart’s desires.
Whether we acknowledge the feelings or not they are there, affecting every part of our lives from intimate relationships to casual interactions. Our inner beliefs about ourselves create the energy we give off to others. Do people typically have a positive response to you or do you feel like it is hard for you to connect with others? Your external experience in the world is a reflection of your internal well-being. If you keep negative emotions locked up they will come out in your energy. Think about it: when you walk down the street and smile what is the feeling that comes back to you. And if you walk down the street with a scowl is it different? The difference is in the energy you emit.
When we are feeling we are engaged, we are present in our life. When we are suppressing we are shutting off some part of our self and compromising our potential.
What are the benefits of Feeling?
Almost anywhere you turn these days—if you are turning in the direction of self help (Oprah, Dr. Phil, Tony Robbins, Dr. Oz, coaching articles, countless health and wellness magazines, etc.)—you can’t throw a stick without hitting on the benefits of being in touch with our emotions and tips on how to express them. This is because at the very core of feeling is our relationship with ourselves. If we are not honest with ourselves we cannot be fully honest with anyone. If we don’t truly love and accept ourselves—and how can we if we are hiding something—we cannot truly love and accept others. Our relationship to self is the measure of our relationship to everything else in the world.
When we suppress our feelings we are denying ourselves the beauty of fully being and conversely when we accept our whole selves and allow ourselves to experience our reactions and responses to life then we are truly engaged in living our best life.
- What is the difference between an instinctual response and an emotion?
- Can we truly avoid uncomfortable feelings?
- Are there benefits to suppressing our feelings?
- Are there benefits to allowing our feelings to ‘be’?
Shifting into Feeling: How can we help a client shift from the self-care mode of protection via suppression to the self-care mode of feeling? Very gently.
For some it might be as simple as the awareness that they are not in touch with their real emotions. But for others it can be scary to confront feelings that have long been buried—they are daring to change a construct that has served them in coping with uncomfortable feelings.
Awareness: When a client comes to us with the awareness that they want something to be different that is the moment when their shift begins. There are many skills** we can employ to help a client recognize how they respond when they are ‘triggered’: snapping at people without knowing why, habitual behaviors they feel they have no control over (overeating, smoking, drinking, nail biting, etc). There might be a feeling of emptiness or a lack of passion for life as something inside is telling them they are capable of more:
** Careful listening, powerful questions, visualization, journaling, just to name a few.
Today at work I was rude and short with my coworker, every night I come home and have a drink to relax, this afternoon I was walking to the park and found myself at the donut store, I watch tv whenever I am alone, I change the subject when people bring up things that make me uncomfortable, I yell at my kids or spouse a lot, I keep the TV or radio on to keep my thoughts occupied. I want it to be different.
Reflection: With the awareness of the triggered behavior we can help the client begin to peel back the layers to reveal what they are suppressing, what feelings they may be trying to avoid. The feelings can come from any place at any time in our lives and they often carry their own stories that we have adopted as truth. We can help them put a name to it: do you feel anxious? sad? lonely? alienated? What is the story you tell yourself to support it: ‘I am not good enough, I am not deserving, I am not capable, I could never (fill in the blank). When the client doesn’t know what they want to change then they are powerless to make change happen. By helping them to understand and identify the feelings and the stories attached to them we are creating the space for change to happen.
Forgiveness: When we forgive we let go. We can help our client to recognize their judgmental/self critical voice so they can let go of judgment around what the emotions bring up, or what they might have done differently, or the situation that created the need to suppress their emotions in the first place. If a client reflexively judges themselves we can hold open the door to self forgiveness and encourage them to celebrate having the courage to look inside.
Compassion: By helping our client to re-frame the story—from ‘needing to suppress and avoid emotions = deficient’ to one of compassion, which might be something like: this is how I took care of myself, this is how I protected myself from the intensity that came with the emotions—we support the client to access their compassion.
Patience: Remind them they did not get where they are in a day and their life will not change in a day.
Acceptance: The concept of accepting that we cannot change our past but we can direct our future can be powerful in supporting our clients in shifting out of one place to another.
In exploring feelings with a client we can draw on many of the tools and skills we learn along the way. Understanding our own triggers and emotions and how to manage them strengthens our coaching skills. The better we know ourselves the better able we are to shine the light in the right direction for our clients.
As coaches we can support our clients in the discomfort, hold their hand, so to speak, as they feel. We can hold the space for them when they are in doubt. We can believe in what is possible for them when they cannot.