A Coaching Power Tool Created by Dina Kourouvani
(Transformational Coach, GREECE)
If you are traveling with children, make sure that your own mask is on first before helping your children. Airlines’ announcement
In the case of an airplane emergency, you are required to take care of yourself first before attempting to help someone else, that someone less strong than you, who depends on you, someone you care for, and who is usually your priority.
It is interesting to realize that, even it is self-explanatory, we need to be instructed to do it: to make sure we take care of ourselves first before the others.
According to the Oxford dictionary, SELF is 1) a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action. 2) one’s particular nature or personality; the qualities that make one individual or unique. 3) one’s interests, or pleasure.
So, logically, SELFISHNESS would be the sense of self, the picture that you hold for yourself. But, as we all know, and also according to the online Oxford dictionary, selfishness is defined as “the lack of consideration for other people”. “The chiefly concern with one’s profit or pleasure”. According to the same dictionary, the“mental state of acknowledging and accepting one’s self feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations”, is called MINDFULNESS.
In most societies paying attention, acknowledging, and attending to the needs of ourselves first to fulfill our needs before fulfilling the needs of others is being negatively judged.
When judged (or self-judged) one feels guilty. Guilt is what you feel when you’ve done something wrong towards someone and you know it (or this is your subconscious mind’s interpretation). Guilt is meant to motivate you to repair the damage you’ve caused to an important relationship. It is closely related to the feeling of shame, but contrary to shame, guilt does not make you want to hide or disappear, but rather to approach the other to repair, show regret, apologize or help the other. Guilt is rather about preserving or restoring the relationship to the other. As an adult, we also often deal with guilt by reacting with anger. Anger is an emotion that we use to create boundaries. Reacting in anger when we experience those emotions of guilt is a way to protect the ego. We remove ourselves from blame to reassure ourselves that we are still worthy of love and acceptance.
Research shows that strong negative emotions, like guilt, actually bypass the cognitive pathways of the brain. The infamous “emotional hijacking” where the brain makes an immediate emotional response before it has time to process whether guilt is even justified. The next stage is for the brain to take over and try to relieve it, in this case, attend to the other’s needs or get angry and resentful.
This means that if you have others around you who need something, obligations to take care of, anything outside of you that you perceive as a priority, important, dependent, weaker than you, needier than you, your brain will force you to take care of it. To spare the pain of feeling guilty, your brain will force you to attend to the needs of your relationship with other things first than yourself.
Guilt is relieved, but they neglect to attend to their own needs result in negative emotions.
Taking care of You first is a service to Others
We cannot perceive life from any perspective other than from that of yourself. So, if from your perspective of self you are focused in a way that you are feeling good (happy, fulfilled, compassionate, loving, etc, there is a long list of positive emotions), then your interaction with others and your experience will be influenced by your perspective feelings. The needs are the roods of our feelings. Positive emotions result from the fulfillment of needs. Negative emotions result from failing to fulfill our needs. If we express our needs, we have a better chance of getting them met.
If, however, you are not “selfish” enough fist to pause, listen, and name your needs and feelings, you end-up cross your boundaries, or suppressing your needs. Then, you get in a cycle of negative feelings (get tired, frustrated, angry, etc), and there is a big possibility that you will filter any and every external interaction through these feelings. In this case, the others seem to cause you your negative feelings because you have attended to their needs.
There is a story of a man under a street lamp searching for something on all fours. A policeman passing by asked what he was doing. “Looking for my car keys,” replied the man, who appeared slightly drunk. “Did you drop them here?” inquired the officer.
“No,” answered the man, “I dropped them in the alley.” Seeing the policeman’s baffled expression, the man hastened to explain, “but the light is much better here”.
It is easier to choose the obvious solution of taking care and responding to the demands and needs of others first because this is how we have been socially conditioned, but it’s not leading to personal wellbeing and healthy relationships. In a world where we’re often judged harshly for identifying and revealing our needs, doing so can be very frightening. Women, in particular, are susceptible to criticism. For centuries, the image of the loving woman has been associated with sacrifice, and the denial of her own needs to take care of others. Because women are socialized to view the caretaking of others as their highest duty, they have often learned to ignore their own needs.
According to Marshall Rosenberg, the psychologist who developed Nonviolent Communication, our development toward a state of emotional liberation, most of us seem to experience three stages in the way we relate to others:
Stage 1: In this stage, which he referred to as emotional slavery, we believe ourselves responsible for the feelings of others. We think we must constantly strive to keep everyone happy. If they don’t appear happy, we feel responsible and compelled to do something about it. This can easily lead us to see the very people who are closest to us as burdens.
Stage 2: In this stage, we become aware of the high costs of assuming responsibility for others’ feelings and trying to accommodate them at our own expense. When we notice how much of our lives we’ve missed and how little we have responded to the call of our soul, we may get angry. This stage was referred to jokingly as the obnoxious stage because we tend toward obnoxious comments like, “That’s your problem! I’m not responsible for your feelings!” when presented with another person’s pain. We are clear what we are not responsible for, but have yet to learn how to be responsible to others in a way that is not emotionally enslaving.
Stage 3: At the third stage, emotional liberation, we respond to the needs of others out of compassion, never out of fear, guilt, or shame. Our actions are therefore fulfilling to us, as well as to those who receive our efforts. We accept full responsibility for our intentions and actions, but not for the feelings of others. At this stage, we are aware that we can never meet our own needs at the expense of others. Emotional liberation involves stating clearly what we need in a way that communicates we are equally concerned that the needs of others be fulfilled.
Don’t Do Something, Just Stand There
The first step in dealing with any challenging situation and taking care of negative emotions is Empathy. Empathy is a respectful understanding of what is experienced. Empathy requires listening to the whole being. Instead of offering empathy, we often have a strong urge to do something: to give advice or reassurance, possible action to change any negative feelings. Empathy, however, calls upon us to empty our minds and listen to our whole being about the emotions and the relevant needs that have not being met.
When we develop the awareness of what a treasure empathy is, it is a gift we usually offer it to others. But we need empathy to give empathy. Giving ourselves empathy means to allow us to vent or “clear” the situation without judgment or attachment, identify and name our feeling(s) and accept. When we sense ourselves being defensive or unable to empathize, we need to (a) stop, breathe, give ourselves empathy, (b) scream nonviolently, or (c) take time out.
Carl Rogers, one of the founding fathers of psychotherapy research, described the impact of empathy on its recipients: “When someone hears you without passing judgment on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good. When I have been listened to and when I have been heard, I can- perceive my world in a new way and go on. It is astonishing how elements that seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens.”
One of my favorite stories about empathy comes from my 15year old nephew. His little sister had lost a toy and he was holding her silently while she was nagging and crying. My brother, their father, turned to them and started consoling her, promising to buy her another one, telling her to stop crying, etc. My -highly emotionally intelligent – nephew looked at him and said: “Dad, not all moments are appropriate to say something”.
It is very usual to feel that you don’t have choices in some situations, but when you are conscious we always do. When you consciously taking a decision it means you understand what you feel about the different options, what are the need(s) that you fulfill by choosing one option, and which need(s) you need to fulfill in other ways or even sacrifice.
Practicing Mindfulness exercises/meditation every day will allow you to be able to cultivate that mental state of detachment and observation, to be able to retrieve it when you will need to pause. When you will need to exhibit empathy and to take such decisions, big or small, in your everyday interaction with others. It’s like practicing a martial art. You keep practicing to defend yourself in the rare case someone attacks. The only difference is that interaction with others happens usually every day, and you go through “negotiations” about fulfilling their needs in relevance to your needs, so you have opportunities to apply mindfulness, and check your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations every day, multiple times per day.
Another tool to use to reinforce the work of your brain to deal with the judgment is self-love. The cure for any judgment is self-love, not repression. Practice self-love every day and you will naturally extend this beautiful treatment to others. Self-love is a long term disciplined practice that all human beings struggle with over time. Keep pampering your self. Practice showing empathy to yourself. Practice visualizing you give love to your inner child as baby, child, and teen. Take every chance to celebrate your magnificence, and feel your love for others growing too!
- Observe your self next time someone asks you to do something for them. Turn within instead of what you feel and what your needs are. Journal about it.
- Pause and listen to yourself’s story next time you have a negative emotion. What is your tendency to do?
- What is the appropriate way for you to show empathy to yourself? Visualize it.
- How extended is your vocabulary of needs and emotions? Download an extended list of emotions and a list of needs and use them in your daily journal. Your journal can be expressed in writing or orally. Sit in a quiet place and express whatever thoughts, bodily sensations, and feelings are coming for you. Then, map your feelings to your needs. Use the I-message format: When ……………. happens(ed), I feel/felt ………… because my need for……………… was ……. met. What I would like to happen now is……………
Often coaches rush into looking for solutions to ease the clients’ experience, especially when a client comes to the session with a strong emotional story, or when the clients themselves have already intertwined solutions in their storytelling.
When a client comes with a story about an interaction with someone else and they are blaming that someone or themselves start to look for the “who” of the client in the story they are telling. Don’t rush to solutions. Show acknowledgment of their feelings and their needs. Support your clients’ self-expression. What is it they are feeling and what need of theirs is not met? Maybe they will need to grieve, to complain, maybe they will need some time to vent. The important thing is to for the clients to feel listened to and understood, to experience this rare experience of empathy, and be inspired to practice self-empathy so that they can then be able to offer it to others.
ICA Module: Releasing Judgment
ICA Module: Responsibility vs Blame
Marshall Rosenberg. Non Violent Communication – a Language of Life
Wheel of Awareness. Dan Siegel Mindfulness exercise https://youtu.be/6SSXVHVOcVw
Dr. Gabor Mate. Compassionate Inquiry. https://youtu.be/NQPsC8d5cb0
The cup of Empathy. How to have more empathy (and how is it different than sympathy). https://youtu.be/4LS0hdUXU80
Marshall Rosenberg. Self-empathy. https://youtu.be/_WmJHBHJLIQ
Layla Martin. Love every bit of ourselves. https://youtu.be/uSBK0Qrm8z4