A Coaching Power Tool By Michelle Wiebach, Transformational Coach, UNITED STATES
External vs. Internal, How We Can Learn More About Ourselves From Reflecting Inward
It was a warm Saturday evening and I had some big news to share with my family. I was going to tell my parents over dinner that I was going to move in with my boyfriend. At 30-years-old, this might not seem like a big deal, but I was nervous, afraid, and filled with anxiety. The very thought of telling my parents made me sick to my stomach.
“How are they going to react? What are they going to think? What if they do not approve?” These questions flooded my head for days. The anxiety and procrastination had been building up for weeks. I was sure to hear about how a “good daughter should” be.
Things would be very different if my family had it their way. My family always got what they wanted and controlled me for years. This prevented me from ever living in my truth. I was always living in theirs. Always feeling guilty for doing things for me and my life.
“Family is everything!” they would say. “We gave you everything we didn’t have growing up,” they would say to guilt me. For 30 years I lived for the approval of my family. I became tired of living how I “should” be and hiding parts of myself from the world. Over the years resentment grew and I had been living as a fraud. All because I was afraid of what my parents would think of me.
I started to listen to my internal voice and learned I was miserable living for someone else. I knew something had to change and I was the only one who could change it. I couldn’t continue to live for others. To live only to please other people. I was going to risk the chaos that would come with moving out of my parent’s home and in with my boyfriend. It was time to listen to my internal voice and do what I wanted. It didn’t matter to my family that I felt this was the best decision for me. They wanted to keep their control over me. Keep me listening to the external voices I grew up with, but those times were over. Then everything changed. I became my true self.
External vs. Internal: What’s the Difference?
The purpose of External vs. Internal as a power tool is to help people find their inner voice and truth. This tool helps people see that they are the ones in control of their lives. It is up to them. Not anyone else. They make the choice.
External means something that is outside of the self and internal means what is inside of the self.
When using this power tool for exploration in a session, there can be a huge growth. The client may bring up specific feelings about a situation. This can be a clue about conflicting forces (external vs. internal) going on for the client. The client usually will focus on other people and how they made them feel. It can bring up issues around boundaries or issues with saying “no” to people and requests. It can even manifest itself in somatic ways, sensations within the body. The external area of focus is usually out of the client’s control.
The client will often mention a self-limiting belief. They focus on the opinions and advice of other people. Often it has nothing to do with them or how they feel about whatever is happening. The focus is external.
The origin of these perspectives comes from my own experience and observations I had of people around me. So many people live a life based on what other people think they should be doing. This negative thinking is present in our society, especially on social media. External thinking is also part of a lot of family and friend systems.
It shows up in everyone. Questions that are key indicators of external thinking are, “what will they think of me?” “what if people make fun of me or don’t like me?” “I don’t want to upset anyone if I do or say X.” This is common for people pleasers. This type of person tends to not be in tune with what they want. This is a byproduct of always listening to the external for how they should be.
Harmful consequences arise from the external perspective. When a person lives for the external, they are not living in their truth and values. When this happens the person acts outside of themselves and begins to build resentment toward the people they are trying to please. They don’t trust themselves or their actions so they look to external voices for guidance.
Think about it, what if you abandoned all your wants and needs to listen to the external voices around you? How would you feel in the long run? This is not a compromise, where sometimes you make adjustments for certain situations. You are always following someone else even when you do not feel like it is something in alignment with you.
As coaches, we know that most limiting beliefs were not made up by our clients. It is up to the client to figure that out through awareness and reflection.
Our role as the coach is to ask the appropriate questions that challenge the thinking. This is hard work for the client to do. Awareness and growth are the starts of uncovering the internal perspective. The external perspective often makes a client focus and get stuck on the “shoulds.”
A family system is commonplace for this thinking to manifest. A typical story goes like this. The adult child goes into a profession they hate but does it because their parents said it was a good career. Another example within the family system is when a person marries someone because their family approves of them. The opposite happens when someone chooses not to stay with a partner of their choice because their family disapproves of them. It’s also seen in friendships through peer pressure. Doing something because your friends said you should. External thinking also shows up in minor ways that can build up over time if not addressed.
It has a vast effect on a person’s truth and authentic self. People go as far as not wearing the fashion they like, expressing their sexuality, and even eating certain foods. Because they are so focused on what people might say or think of them.
Flipping From the Negative to Positive
To flip this external perspective, one needs to look into the internal. Take the time to reflect on the feelings that come up from always being in that external perspective.
When flipping to the positive perspective, the client will start to look within themselves. Reflect on how the external makes them feel and explore the awareness around it. Some questions to ask your client when exploring the internal are:
- How are you feeling about that?
- There is a lot of talk about other people, where are you in this?
- What do you want to do?
These questions help the client build awareness. They start to think about themselves and reflect on their current situation. Getting to this perspective takes time.
This is when the coach-client partnership is so important. The client needs to feel safe and heard. Flipping the perspective to the internal is an empowering tool for the client. They will start to consider themselves. Not the external people they had focused on so much before.
Going Into Action
Action will look different for every client. It is important to ask the client what they can do to keep practicing their internal thinking. Some helpful questions are:
- What can you do to keep this momentum?
- What are you learning about yourself?
- What feelings are coming up for you?
- How realistic do these XYZ sound to you?
Asking how realistic something is for the client, is helpful. The client has to feel like they can do what they have set out to achieve.
Learning how to flip the external to the internal is not easy work. When the client can do it, it can change their lives for the better. This perspective flip feeds into all aspects of life. As coaches, we are here to help the client move forward and awareness is the first step in most sessions. Maintaining the partnership is a huge part of this. When the client feels safe and heard there will be space for growth.