A Coaching Model Created by Kathy (Qi) Zou
(Leadership Coach, CHINA)
All the life potentialities that we never managed to bring to adult realization, those other portions of oneself are there; for such golden seeds do not die. If only a portion of that lost totality can be dredged up into the light of day we should experience a marvelous expansion of our powers, a vivid renewal of life. Joseph Campbell
What shall we do with our unique qualities, strengths and weakness? There are lots of debates. There was a trend suggesting us to focus on leveraging strengths. Chinese phrase“扬长避短”also suggests the strategy of leveraging strengths and avoiding weakness. While we focus on developing on strengths, what shall we do with the weaknesses? They are there no matter what we would like to do with them. Shall we just ignore or even hide them? Or we may have a more nuanced strategy in dealing with our weaknesses. Before answering this question, let me clarify what “weakness” means here.
What weakness means for
A fault in someones’ character or in a system, organization, design etc. –Langwen
A weak point in a system, somebody’s character –Nijiu
A quality or feature regarded as a disadvantage or fault –Xin niujin
Above are the definitions given in the dictionaries. In this paper, the weaknesses we are discussing here are qualities or features in our characters regarded as a disadvantage or fault.
However, if you examine this definition more closely and deeply, did you find that “weaknesses” actually is situational and subject to the people’s judgement. These qualities in our characters might be regarded as disadvantage or fault in one circumstance to some ones and advantage or good in another circumstance to some others.
So would you agree that there are no absolute so called “weaknesses” and “strengths”. Weaknesses and strengths are all precious and unique qualities of us and made us as a unique and total individual different from the other.
Weakness and Shadow
However, since our born, we instinctively have been striving to hide these so called “weaknesses”, the qualities being regarded as fault or disadvantage by our significant others, so the Shadow is formed.
Psychologist Carl Jung saw the Shadow as composed of the parts of our personality that were repressed or suppressed for the sake of an ego ideal that was largely defined by others in those early years. It is where we bury all those qualities that don’t fit our self-image, the “inferior” part of our personality that we don’t deem compatible with our chosen conscious attitude and emerging persona.
In the first years of their lives, children instinctively strive to maintain a sufficient degree of safety and love as they learn to process the outer and inner experiences they encounter (Page, 1999). Young children will do whatever it takes to manage the tension between who they are and who their significant others want or allow them to be—sometimes to their detriment. In the process, they develop what Jung called a “persona” as a mask that was “designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual” (Jung, 1972, p. 192). It expresses how they would like to be seen by their world (Me), and it reflects the coping strategies they use to maintain these views (I). The persona is a psychological necessity for interacting with the world; it becomes a problem when we over-identify with it and mistake it for the totality of who we are.
Robert Bly (1988) offers a wonderful analogy to describe the Shadow: When we were one or two years old we had what we might visualize as a 360 degree personality. Energy radiated out from all parts of our body and all parts of our psyche. A child running is a living globe of energy. . . Behind us we have an invisible bag, and that part of us our parents [and other people significant to us] don’t like, we, to keep our parent’s love, put in the bag. By the time we go to school our bag is quite large. . . We spend our life until we are twenty deciding what parts of ourselves to put in the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again. (p. 17)
Our Shadow is a natural part of our early development, but it tends to become an issue for us later in life as it demands more attention and equal time. Jung believed it does so as part of a primal quest from birth to balance opposing images, feelings, and points of view. Van Eenwyk (1997) put it this way: If the ego cannot, or will not, embrace the complexity of tensions of opposites, preferring instead to embrace simplistic views of itself and reality, then individuation stalls until the ego can be shaken from its one-sided perspective (p. 163).
Embrace Shadow and Weakness
The Shadow is compensatory to the conscious self. It rises up from time to time in opposition to our conscious in an effort to restore equilibrium and wholeness. It is both of a source contributing to the conflicts between “Me” and “I” and a source of resolution to the conflicts.
Unlike our conscious ego, our unconscious self does not make the distinctions between good and bad in order to stay within the confines of our self or social definitions. The Shadow comes into being because we (particularly the unconscious) is constantly striving toward a greater wholeness and a dynamic balance.
Our unwillingness to face our Shadow often leads us to make unwise choices and generates conflicts in our livers, relationships, organizations, and communities. One of the most common phenomena is self doubt and invalidation. Shame of our weakness and afraid of disclosing them, we hold ourselves from taking action, living in our own life and constrain ourselves in the box made by ourselves.
Only by accepting and embracing the Shadow, we can set ourselves free from the box and realize our full potential.
One way to do so is to look at how the Shadow has shaped us, what we have gained and lost as a result and recognize that the continued repression of Shadow will lead to an overall diminishing ourselves.
It’s easier said than doing. The only way is to continuously practice conscious self acceptance and love.
Every day, we must choose to forgive ourselves for our imperfections, for our conflicting desires, for our unhealthy impulses, for our judgmental mind, and our critical thoughts. We must choose forgiveness first in order to make peace with the aspects of ourselves and our life that we have ignored, neglected, abused, violated, betrayed, and hated—even in the subtlest ways. We must forgive ourselves for all our personal agendas and our righteous positions, which continue to lead us to believe that we are separate from the rest of the human beings in the world. Because when we are able to do this, we can choose to forgive all those around us. We can then see a bigger perspective, a grander version of our personal experience (P125, Debbie Ford《Your holiness: Discover the Light Within》)
And we shall keep watching out the negative thoughts and feelings arose and recognizing that it’s ourselves to chose to interpret some of your experiences in negative ways, which is what made them toxic to us.
Work with projections in the stories that coachees tell
As David Draker suggested in his book 《Narrative coach》, as coach, working together with coachees to face the Shadow and enable them to discover and tell more of the whole story as a whole person, will bring about last change.
The Shadow material usually is hidden in the unconscious elements, i.e. projections channelled through the other Characters in coachee’s stories. For example, people’s conflicts with others—in their stories and in their lives—are often a reflection of conflicts they have within themselves. As such, many of the issues they ascribe to and project onto others are better seen as characters in their own inner dramas.
Invite coachees to work with the Characters’ in their stories so they will have an opportunity to face directly with the projected Shadow elements and have a richer palette to choose from in reframing their perspectives in approaching to their problems and life.
Integrate shadow and strength
As mentioned earlier, as like weaknesses, strengths are situational, and strengths could be double-edged swords.
Every strength has its counterpart in Shadow (such as the aggressor to a conciliatory style). To support people’s development, strengths and their Shadow are better seen as complementary to one another, two aspects of the same whole. Without its Shadow side, strengths can easily remain one-dimensional, over-used and less productive. Without being grounded in an active strength, Shadows often appear in our lives in ways that are not convenient for us or others.
By not optimally using their strengths, people often miss out on the opportunity to learn more about themselves and to increase their range, repertoire, and results. Unconsciously, people tend to over- or mis- use their strengths to protect their Shadow. For example, One of someone’s strengths is doing whatever it takes to complete a task or project. However, when he feels others are holding him back, he becomes impatient and stubborn (a behaviour of misapplied strength) as he is afraid of not being “good enough” and letting others down (his Shadow). To mature his strength, the person need to grow by being more vulnerable (opening himself to the Shadow), manage expectations of himself and from others at the start of any project and keep patient when it is better for long-term success.
As coach, we can help our coachees to discover the Shadow behind such a behavior and temper the strength with its Shadow. Below are the questions we may ask when encountering such over-, mis-applied strengths.
- What are you avoiding by engaging in this behaviour?
- What are you afraid might happen if you did not engage in this behaviour?
- What might become possible if you did not engage in this behaviour?
- What would you do then?
- How will that benefit you and others？
David B.Draker, Narrative Coaching (second edition), CNC Press, Petaluma, California Debbie Ford, Your Holiness: Discover the Light Within. HarperCollins Publisher Inc. Kindle Edition.