A Coaching Power Tool created by Jacqlyn Hooper
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
There are experiences we face in life that can be difficult to deal with, from losing a job to losing a loved one. Especially when these losses are unexpected, “how we cope with these events affects how we move forward, how we see the world, and how we feel about our lives”. (Coffey, 2010) Intense emotions can arise during these uncertain moments that can leave us in a panic as we try to face the world with this new change. At times, when emotions feel unbearable, it can seem much easier to simply ignore them rather than to recognize what we are feeling. Our natural tendency is to protect ourselves: we want to survive, so we do what we think is best and hide from what we think will cause us harm. We feel in charge when we choose to ignore our emotions. We feel we are being strong by resisting the need to address them, and we have a hope that if we ignore the feelings, they will disappear.
In these painful or unfamiliar circumstances, however, suppressing our emotions will only make it harder to move forward. In Transitions by William Bridges (2004), he states that a specific task needs to be completed in each phase of life in order to recreate a new sense of self, and, “failing to complete it satisfactorily means that you make the transition into the next phase accompanied by unfinished business.“ Such unfinished business can negatively interfere with future relationships, jobs, and opportunities, as old emotions show themselves yet again. Carrying unfinished business is like having a backpack of problems with you at all times: the negative energy is constantly weighing on you, pushing you down from behind, yet you have contained and will not face it. According to David Viscott (1996), in light of this baggage, you feel “unsettled, jittery, off balance, or fearful of losing control”.
The good news is that making a shift from ignoring our feelings to recognizing them will enable us to transition in a healthy way. Instead of running from how we feel, we can choose to identify what we are feeling and decide what we want to do with those feelings. It can be painful at times, and allowing ourselves to feel the range of emotions we experience can be overwhelming. However, by doing so, we are honoring ourselves. We notice how we feel and pay attention to all that is going on within us. We listen to our feelings and hear what they are trying to tell us. Through this, an amazing wealth of possibilities will surface as we learn from what we experienced and use it to grow in life.
Ignoring = unfinished business + suppressed feelings + loss of control
Recognizing = acceptance + possibilities + growth
When we find ourselves choosing to ignore these seemingly intolerable situations, we need to figure out a healthy, less frightening way to express them. For example, how can you express yourself in ways other than speaking directly about them out loud? Try writing a poem, journaling, playing music or making a sculpture. When we can release the negative energy and emotions through creative outlets, we get distracted; we let go and become lost in what we are doing. Thus, we forget about the emotions that are being released. In turn, we begin to feel safer and calmer as the emotions are exerted, and we can begin talking about them without feeling as overwhelmed as before. We can start by talking about what we created and what feelings were behind the pieces of art. Our minds are able to identify paint splotches that represent anger or flowers that remind them of our past, and it can serve as a wonderful starting point for discussion. Moreover, those creative outlets can bring about emotions we did not even realize we felt but needed to address.
Not only do creative outlets encourage emotional release, but it gives us a product that we can be proud of that stemmed from those negative feelings. As a musician, I have found myself being the most proud of a song that was the result of a horrible breakup or painful memory. It had the most heart and meant a great deal to me. I was excited to share it with others and hoped that listeners could relate. Recognizing your creation, and what lies behind it, means that you acknowledge yourself and how you feel, and it is the starting point of gratitude. You see something positive has been made out of your pain, and when you can start exploring the lessons you have learned from the entire experience as a whole, you can carry that with you as you move forward. Instead of looking at what you lost or the pain that you have felt, ask yourself what you have gained. From there, you can share your experiences with others and relate to those around you in a powerful way.
As a coach, we must be able to notice when our clients are ignoring their feelings and bring that to our client’s attention. Asking questions like, “What is going on inside of you during this change?” (Stoltzfus, 2008) will help determine whether or not the client is able to face what they are feeling. If they are unable to put their feelings into words, one approach might be to ask them to close their eyes and pay attention to what their body is saying to them. Ask them to notice any sensations they have, the speed of their heart, any areas of pain. (Stoltzfus, 2008) They might then be able to start identifying physical reactions and then recognize the emotions tied to those sensations.
Another approach you could take with your client is asking them to look at the situation from someone else’s perspective. For example, ask your client, “If someone had been watching your life like a movie, what might they have seen? How would they describe how you feel?” Or, you could ask your client to describe what a loved one might be seeing in this moment: “If your mother had to describe how you might be feeling right now, what do you think she would say?”
It is important that coaches maintain patience during these explorations with clients. It can often be incredibly painful for clients to face their emotions and it is important that coaches maintain an open space and not lead or force them into any particular feeling. If they feel rushed or pressured, they might just blurt out an emotion to satisfy you as a coach. The safer the client feels, the more willing they will be to do the work and share with you along the way.
- How do you prepare yourself for coaching sessions to ensure that you maintain patience as you work with your client?
- What are some questions you could ask your client if they felt stuck with describing how they are feeling?
- In what ways will you acknowledge your client for recognizing their emotions and feelings?
Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes.
Cambridge: Da Capo Press.
Coffey, L. (2010). Closure and the Law of Relationship. West Lake Village: Bamboo Entertainment, Inc.
Stoltzfus, T. (2008). Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills. Virginia Beach: Pegasus Creative Arts.
Viscott, D. (1997). Emotional Resilience: Simple Truths for Dealing with the Unfinished Business of Your Past. New York: Three Rivers Press.