A Coaching Power Tool By Cassie Manjikian, Transformational Coaching for Social Change Leaders, UNITED STATES
Coaching: Fear vs. Liberation
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. Nelson Mandela
Individuals come to coaching for a variety of reasons – to feel unstuck, navigate transitions, move toward a goal, or improve their quality of life. Oftentimes, underneath these desires are shadowy fears, doubts, and beliefs that may formulate long-standing patterns of thought and emotion. In supporting coachees who may feel stuck or trapped in underlying limiting beliefs or fear-based perspectives, the concept of liberation can be a helpful antidote to expand or shift one’s perspective or mindset. Within the modality of transformational liberatory coaching, this can be an especially powerful tool to help coachees connect and align with their true essence, identity, or purpose, to facilitate their self-actualization toward new, desired states of being.
What Is the Difference Between Fear vs. Liberation?
Definitions: Fear, Liberation, and Liberatory Coaching
Fear is a universal emotion experienced by everyone around the world, defined by Merriam-Webster as “an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” While traditionally considered a negative emotion, fear is a critical, evolutionary-based survival mechanism that serves to focus one’s attention on a “fight, flight, or freeze” response to cope with potential danger. In a coaching context, fear may present itself emotionally as anxiety, insecurity, worry, and doubt, and physically as tightness, tension, shortness of breath, and a posture of freezing or moving away.
Liberation is defined by Merriam-Webster as “1) the act or state of being set free; 2) a movement seeking equal rights and status for a group.” This twofold definition is important within a coaching relationship, which approaches the whole person within the groups, social systems, and social locations they inhabit. Within a trusting coaching conversation, a coachee may explore their hidden thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, motivations, and values, and work toward a new state of being free or liberated within themself. The second form of liberation comes when groups of individuals work together to identify and change the societal conditions or systems by which individuals may experience liberation. Taken together, liberation in a coaching context seeks to free all of us. Liberation may present itself emotionally as pleasant openness, expansiveness, and lightness, and physically as the release of tension, deeper breathing, and a more grounded or centered posture.
In their book “Love Letter to the Movement: Using a Coach Approach for Healing, Justice and Liberation,” Sarah Jawaid and Damon Azali-Rojas defined Liberatory Coaching as:
“listening, seeing, feeling, and sensing in multiple dimensions to someone’s essence and what they are being called to evolve into. It has the Liberatory Coach self-reflect and does their own work around transmuting their individual and generational trauma, nurturing clear boundaries, and being able to show up with a deep and authentic presence. It centers healing as a continual and evolving process, sees transformative and compassionate justice as integral to a world that we want to create, and celebrates the little moments of liberation on the path to big liberation. Liberatory Coaching invites one into connection with all of our relations, cousins, siblings, and neighbors. It invites us into relation with self.”
As a Social Justice Nonprofit Development Director, Susan was nearing her breaking point. She loved serving her community, knew she was skilled as a leader, enjoyed her work friendships, and felt a sense of satisfaction, belonging, and purpose in her organization’s mission. However, especially given the current historical moment of multiple crises – from the pandemic and climate change to systemic racism and injustice – she felt increasingly under-resourced and stretched too thin. Her work hours were too long, organizational fundraising demands were too high, and the stress and overwhelm were negatively impacting her physical, mental, social, and spiritual health, well-being, and relationships – especially with her family and young daughter. As she suffered from burnout, she grappled with complex, interrelated personal and social justice movement questions:
- Am I enough?
- What is my purpose?
- What’s the point of working for social change, if my personal life suffers?
- What will happen to me – and the movement – if I fail?
- What’s the solution to unsustainable nonprofit grind culture?
- How can I live and model my values to my community and daughter?
Fortunately, Susan was able to address her burnout through her organization’s offering of liberatory coaching. Grounding trust and safety with her coach, she engaged in deep breathing and mindfulness exercises to identify the deep-seated source of her body’s tension, pressure, and overwhelm as fundamental emotions of fear, grief, terror, and loss. Through somatic awareness, she named her fears and where they lived in her body. Through deep acknowledgment and powerful questioning, she validated her fears, seeing them as her body’s wise response in coping with so many societal and planetary threats. With this insight, she felt more confident and capable to explore and uncover hidden thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, motivations, and values. Through the power of metaphor, she visualized and experienced new perspectives. This helped her to open, shift and release her fear, and move toward new desired states of being in liberation, resilience, and gratitude.
Ultimately through the liberatory transformational coaching process, Susan was able to reconnect and align with her true authentic self, core needs, values, and purpose as they related to her multidimensional interrelated personal and societal identities. As a social change leader working for societal liberation, Susan felt reinvigorated in her ikigai or raison d’etre – the life-fulfilling reasons that brought her to social justice movement work in the first place. This coaching approach not only deeply benefited Susan in the long term, but helped her serve as a model for other colleagues within her organization and beyond, who also suffer from all too common burnout.
Fear vs. Liberation: Transformational Liberatory Coach
A skilled transformational liberatory coach can help a coachee identify, validate, experience, and transmute core fears into liberation both individually and collectively. They can do this by creating and holding a safe, trusting, grounded, spacious coaching container that is rooted in deep self-awareness, presence, curiosity, coaching competence, and awareness of systemic oppression. This approach may be well suited for social change leaders but is not right for all clients, and their emotional state must be taken into consideration.
Important questions to ask about this power tool include:
- What’s the core challenge for you, here?
- How are your fears holding you back?
- How is this belief serving you?
- What is the beautiful unmet need that this story signifies for you?
- How are you feeling or noticing that in your body right now?
- If there were a metaphor happening here, what would it look or feel like?
- What does freedom feel like in your body?
- If you were to align with your most wise self, what might you say about that?
Through these types of questions, clients are able to identify and shift their negative fear-based perspective, toward a desired liberatory way of being.
Reflection on Fear vs. Liberation
- How do you define liberation for yourself?
- In what areas of your life do fear vs. liberation show up the most?
- During a coaching session, how do you know when your client is moving from fear toward a liberation perspective, mindset, or way of being?
- What structures can you put in place to strengthen liberation for clients?
If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. Lilla Watson
“Coaching for Integral Liberation & Transformation,” Raúl Quiñones–Rosado.
“Fear and Liberation,” Aarathi Selvan.
“A Shift in Being: What Is Transformational Coaching?” Leon Vanderpol, 2019.
“Transformative Social Change,” Wikipedia.
“A Perspective of Liberation,” Damon Wandke.
“White Dominant Culture & Something Different: A Worksheet,” Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones.
 “Fear,” Merriam-Webster, 2023.
 “Liberation,” Merriam-Webster, 2023.
 Jawaid, S. &Azali-Rojas, D. 2022. Love Letter to the Movement: Using a Coach Approach for Healing, Justice and Liberation.