A Coaching Power Tool Created by Amanda Jane Franklin
(Communication and Leadership Coach, ITALY)
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. – Khalil Gibran
How many times do we strive to be perfect, put on a mask or façade in front of others so no one can see our weaknesses or doubts, do we have that nagging conversation with ourselves about why we couldn’t have done better and beat ourselves up over our perceived failures? How many times do we try to hide from the world the fears and insecurities our negative experiences have left us with? And the biggest question of all: how deeply does all of this affect the way we live, the way we think and the way we work towards our goals?
Kintsugi is the “art of precious scars” a.k.a. “the unique beauty of a flawed object”. In practical terms, it is the art of repairing pottery that is cracked or broken with gold or silver resin, which then creates an even stronger and more beautiful work of art. In its philosophy, it is the celebration of damage and imperfections – “if an object has been damaged or is imperfect, then it has more of a history and should, therefore, be celebrated and highlighted, rather than hidden or discarded”¹
What would our lives be like if we too could embrace the idea behind Kintsugi and shift from considering ourselves “flawed” to considering ourselves “flaw-less” and celebrating who we are, warts and all?
The ‘flawed’ perspective
According to www.merriam-webster.com, ‘flawed’ is defined as ‘having a defect or imperfection’, with its synonyms including ‘amiss’, ‘bad’, ‘defective’, ‘faulty’, ‘imperfect’. Seeing words like these, it is no wonder that people often try to hide certain traits.
In our modern society, a lot is asked of us and this often conditions the way we believe we should be. This can range from being more ‘masculine’, ‘feminine’, ‘in a steady relationship’, ‘with children’, etc, as well as having the desired personality traits that are currently so sought-after like being ‘efficient’, ‘entrepreneurial’, ‘creative’, ‘proactive’, ‘resilient’, ‘assertive’ – the list is endless! With so much external pressure and so many demands on us, it is not surprising that the way we believe we should be and many of the objectives we set for ourselves are based on trying to please others rather than accepting ourselves and working towards something we truly want and identify with. The danger of this is that we will never be satisfied with who we are or with what we achieve since we will never feel good enough in others’ eyes. Our ‘flaws’ will keep standing out to us, never letting up, a constant reminder that we are lacking.
I asked several people close to me to name a negative trait they do not like and do not readily accept about themselves. Examples of some answers are:
- I’m not assertive/pushy enough when I’d like someone to do something for me and, when I hear they don’t want something, I back off
- I’m too stubborn, especially when I’m working on projects
- I can be extremely hard on myself and self-critical
- I am an introvert and prefer spending time alone rather than being with others. I consider this a negative part of myself and sometimes think of it as being anti-social.
- I would say that my personality seems to change and get lost depending on who I'm with. I would start to merge into them and lose my own likes/dislikes, hobbies and interests and personality in the process
- I am generally overly sensitive and too easily hurt
- I am sometimes too strict with things and sometimes people.
Quite a list, though most probably not unfamiliar.
The ‘flaw-less’ perspective
Everyone has flaws – we would not be human if this wasn’t the case –but being ‘flaw-less’ means putting our flaws into perspective, understanding if what we have always considered a flaw is the case, and even when we realize that we would like to improve on one or more of our less positive characteristics, accepting these with compassion and kindness rather than berating ourselves.
Being ‘flaw-less’ means becoming more aware of how we see ourselves and our negative traits, and how we talk to ourselves because of this. We would never speak to others as we often speak to ourselves and we demand far more from ourselves than we generally expect from others. This awareness would lead us to gradually quieten that inner critic and increase that feeling of being empowered over our decisions in life. Negativity zaps energy and so by removing it, we would open up a whole lot of drive and passion to move ever forward.
Reframing perspective – moving from flawed to flaw-less
To shift from flawed to flaw-less we need to change our perspective and mindset. We have views about life and beliefs about ourselves deriving from our previous experiences, but we must keep in mind that these perceptions are the way we look at and interpret situations, not the way they are. Reframing our perspective grants us the opportunity of seeing that there is more than one (our) way of looking at a given situation, and this facilitates the letting go of what has been holding us back from accepting who we truly are. This shift elevates our thinking, opens up new and exciting possibilities, and consequently allows us to either remove the perceived barriers or to overcome them.
Seeing that the traits we have labeled ‘flaws in our character’ may not be as negative as we had always imagined will be liberating. We may learn to accept them and live with them, we may feel energized into working on them to improve ourselves (with compassion and kindness)and we may realize that they have served us well in many ways, so positivity has come out of this ‘negativity’.
Returning to the people who very kindly and generously provided me with the ‘negative aspects of themselves’, I then asked them to think about how this trait has helped them in getting to where they currently are. Here is what they said:
- (I’m not assertive/pushy enough when I’d like someone to do something for me and, when I hear they don’t want something, I back off.) What is good about it is that if people decide for a yes with me (whatever it is), it means they really want to do it. And it is really important to me to give every person the freedom to decide and respect their decision.
- (I’m too stubborn, especially when I’m working on projects.) However, this stubbornness, or perhaps being determined, gets me to do all I can to complete a task, project, or anything else, respecting the deadlines I have set for clients.
- (I can be extremely hard on myself and self-critical.) I'm working on this, but I have seen the benefits in that it's made me extremely motivated, hard-working, and pushed me to always want to improve. I'm working on striking a better balance with this as I get older.
- (I am an introvert and prefer spending time alone rather than being with others. I consider this a negative part of myself and sometimes think of it as being anti-social.) It can be useful though. I work for myself and have set up my own digital training company, and although I miss having colleagues and people to share ideas with, for the majority, I like it. It is especially useful right now! I can stay home, work from home, and not feel too bad about it during this lockdown (COVID-19 in Italy), even if I am starting to get a bit bored!
- (I would say that my personality seems to change, especially with new partners, and I get lost depending on who I'm with. I would start to merge into them and lose my own likes/dislikes, hobbies and interests, and personality in the process.)However, it has also really helped me when living in another culture. I can now understand how to blend in a little better and respect other people’s way of living. Not just in Italy but also when traveling. I'm no longer doing it to merge into another person's way of being, but instead, understanding that everybody has different ways of doing things and that you can learn something from everyone you meet, whilst enhancing your own personality and behavior.
- (I am generally overly sensitive and too easily hurt.). It is also useful because I am sensitive to moods and the needs of others, and it helps me in creative thought and production (NOTE- this person is an artist/sculptress)
- (I am sometimes too strict with things and sometimes people.) But in the end, I am also strict in applying the discipline that has helped me achieve important goals (my degree, other learning goals such as certifications, etc, career). I am strict in what I expect from myself to the point that I will think through every experience and I can then see the continuous improvement I am making.
Through the ICA coaching journey, I believe many of us have a more raised awareness on how much our inner critic holds us back from achieving and even attempting things we would (secretly) love to do because we too believe we are not good enough or competent enough because we are not the most intelligent, we lack vision or creativity, are quite shy, not assertive enough, and the list continues. If we are to help others find their courage and realize that what they consider to be their flaws must not be seen as insurmountable obstacles and be seen from a different more empowering perspective, we must first apply this to ourselves.
I imagine we joined this coaching journey because somewhere inside of us, however deep, was telling us that we wanted to and could support others in their journey. To serve our clients to our best abilities, we must first undergo the journey of self-awareness ourselves, ask ourselves what our limiting beliefs are, how they have served us, and if they are still serving a purpose. We need to see our ‘flaws’ as they are, from different perspectives and not from a blinkered viewpoint, and either understand that they are not how we had imagined/feared, they can easily be worked on or we can accept them with celebration or compassion. Once this has become a habit in our lives, we can then welcome the same challenge with our clients.
Keeping all of the above in mind, there are different steps we can use in our journey with our clients:
- Raise awareness of their inner critic, get them to describe it, and give it a name. Through neuroscience, this ‘affect labeling’ has been shown to decrease activity in the amygdala and other limbic regions(emotional) and increase activity in the prefrontal cortex (reasoning)
- Provide space for the client to understand how their ‘flaws’ have served them and which benefits these are currently providing
- Reframe perspectives so their invisible blinkers may be removed and they see a fuller picture of their reality
- Support them in learning how to speak to themselves with kindness and treat themselves as they would do others
- Encourage positive self-talk so they feel proud of their strengths rather than just focusing on their flaws, and they begin to acknowledge and celebrate their achievements, whether great or small.
- Support the client in accepting the fact that no one is perfect, and to see flaws/mistakes/failures as opportunities for growth to become the best version of themselves.
- Support them in really knowing and embracing who they are, and in understanding their worth.
- Provide the space for them to see that these flaws are what make them unique human beings
I especially like and will incorporate what Susan Henkels³, a psychotherapist, proposes as a question: “What if there’s nothing wrong with you?” As she says, “this does not mean we’re perfect. But we can stop spending so much time dwelling on our shortcomings and imagining how our lives will be better once we finally vanquish them …. It can help you create a clearing in the busyness of your mind and life, a space of promise and possibility that is yours to plant and cultivate.”
Let’s imagine, just for a moment, if we all managed to embrace Kintsugi and saw ourselves as ‘perfect’ not despite our flaws but because of our flaws. What a world that would be……
Lieberman, Eisenberger, Crockett, Tom, Pfeifer & Way: “Putting Feelings Into Words – Affect Labeling Disrupts Amygdala Activity in Response to Affective Stimuli”, University of California, Los Angeles, in PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Volume 18—Number 5
Henkels, Susan: What if there’s nothing wrong with you?” – TEDxSedona
Strauss Cohen, Ilene Ph.D.: How to Let Go of the Need to Be Perfect, Psychology Today January 12, 2018