A Coaching Power Tool Created by Charlene Moynihan
(Ability Coach, UNITED STATES)
While working on my research project, I came across a paper called, “Life Coaching: A Method for Enhancing Patients’ Emancipation.” I had already written my power tool paper but I found myself struck by the use of the word emancipation. It was used literally concerning patient’s leaving a medical facility and figuratively concerning “moving an individual from a passive role (as ‘receptor’ of medical indications only), towards a more active and aware role, to improve her/his life or change it for the better.” Emancipation…the word stuck with me for days. My mind lept to coaching applications. I decided to rewrite my paper. Emancipation…and the opposite? Constraint. Let’s start with some working definitions.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines emancipation as the act of emancipating. Further, to emancipate means:
1: to free from restraint, control, or the power of another
especially: to free from bondage
2: to release from parental care and responsibility and make sui juris
3: to free from any controlling influence (such as traditional mores or beliefs)
When applied to coaching, Emancipation would mean freedom from controlling influences that do not serve the client in pursuit of his/her goals…freedom from constraint.
The constraint is defined by Merriam Webster as:
1a: the act of constraining
b: the state of being checked, restricted, or compelled to avoid or perform some action … the constraint and monotony of a monastic life …— Matthew Arnold a life of invalidism and constraint
c: a constraining condition, agency, or force: check put legal constraints on the board’s activities Budget constraints have forced me to revise my travel plans.
2a: repression of one’s own feelings, behavior, or actions emotional constraint
b: a sense of being constrained: embarrassment ” … a constraint between us as if we were strangers … “— John P. Marquand
In the context of coaching, constraint restricts or compels us to avoid or perform some action. It is a condition or force that constrains. It can also represent the repression of feelings, behavior, or actions. I think of constraint as the ties that bind.
And there it was…the coaching application. As a coach, we attempt to help our clients discover those ties that bind; our feelings, thoughts, and
underlying beliefs and values that may or may not serve us well. Things that restrain, control, and bind that we have learned along our path, and, that interfere with achieving our goals. Emancipation in the presence of active constraints is unlikely.
If constraint represents the barrier to goal attainment in a coaching situation, then emancipation, freedom from those constraints, is the goal. The role of the coach is to illuminate the path toward emancipation. Only through awareness of the constraints that are imposed by the self, others, and/or the environment can we begin to free ourselves from them. Even when imposed by others or the environment, they become part of us, a part of the unconscious self.
Constraints can be learned as children and may be related to values and beliefs held by those who raised us. We did not choose them, but we practiced them and they became a part of us. Some are imposed by society and/or culture and are reflected in the rules and laws by which we must abide. Again, we had no role in establishing these rules and laws but we follow them. Other constraints are physical and/or environmental. In the case of acquired disability, new physical and or cognitive limitations act as constraints as well as inaccessible buildings. Anyone who experiences seasonal affective disorder and/or asthma can speak to the issue of environmental constraints.
When we become accustomed (with age) to these constraints we begin to forget from whence they came. We lose awareness of them and they may become self-imposed constraints in the form of underlying beliefs that come out sounding like, “I can’t do that”, “That’s not right/the right way”, “I’m not good at this or that”. These constraints have become an unconscious part of how we see ourselves, others, and the world around us. They can serve to repress our thoughts, feelings, and emotions to a degree that impairs goal-oriented behavior and we become stuck.
Emancipation represents freedom from controlling influences. Setting aside any judgment of controlling influences as good or bad, I prefer to see them as either helpful or unhelpful. I would consider the threat of legal action for texting while driving an example of a helpful controlling influence. It was implemented when the increasing number of accidents related to texting while driving became unacceptable to the vast majority. Limiting injury and/or death related to preventable accidents makes it a helpful controlling influence. We are newly aware of it, it’s fresh in our minds and may give pause to one who might be considering texting while driving. The more times we pause before texting the more it becomes a habit. The freshness of the incentive not to do so will get stashed away into our unconscious (like many other controlling influences) and we will begin acting out of habit.
Controlling influences can be unhelpful when they cause us to become unbalanced or struggle with inertia. They come to us in the form of confusing emotions, inflexible thinking, reduced self-confidence, lack of motivation, and/or erroneous conclusions and they act as an unexplained detour on the path to our goals. Because some unhelpful controlling influences have been with us for some time, we lose awareness of them. They have become a part of us and our worldview. It becomes increasingly difficult to recognize the relationship between them and the inertia.
It is the role of the coach to illuminate the hidden constraints; the ones that undermine the achievement of goals by listening actively, asking powerful questions, reframing perspectives, and providing effective feedback to create an awareness of them on the part of the client. In coaching, we refer to these constraints as underlying beliefs. Without an examination of these constraints, one cannot emancipate from them.
- Have you ever responded to a situation in a way that felt inappropriate despite having followed your longstanding values/beliefs?
- How did you resolve the dissonance?
- Did you require help to resolve it?
- If so, what was it that helped?
Traina, I., n.d. Life Coaching: A Method for Enhancing Patients’ Emancipation. ijires.org. [Accessed 11 March 2021]. Dr. Ivan Traina.