A Coaching Power Tool Created by Madison Clements
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
Many of us are born into a foundation of belonging within our family and our hometown. Yet as we grow, we realize that we are immersed in a big world of possibility. Forming new friendships and leaving home for the first time are two of the many major experiences that shape our understanding of belonging. It is within these circumstances that the question “where do I belong?” echoes louder and louder as we construct our individuality within the human collective.
As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs explains, a sense of belonging is crucial to reaching our fullest potential and thus, we are innately motivated to be accepted. Through the process of establishing belonging, each of us is met with moments where it becomes clear that we don’t belong in that particular environment or community. In adolescence and early adulthood, it is common for many to go against their own desires or lie about themselves to “fit in” or, more honestly, to feel seen, heard, and loved by those around them. Unfortunately, it is at this time that the potential of developing a steadfast practice of self-abandonment becomes stronger.
Self-abandonment can be described as the process by which one decides to disregard, reject, or suppress their needs or desires to appease or meet the needs of another for the sake of belonging. This typically happens within a moment, rather than being planned. In action, this can look like agreeing with another’s opinion regardless of your opposing stance, choosing to do something you’re uncomfortable with to make another satisfied, suppressing strong emotions to keep others comfortable, or apologizing for prioritizing your emotional need over another. So what’s in it for the one who abandons their needs? By bending to fit the mold that has been deemed “lovable” or “worthy”, a temporary and false sense of belonging is gained through attaining the desired emotional response from another.
While it may provide short term satisfaction, striving to meet others’ expectations causes a lingering lack of fulfillment in all relationships – friends, romantic partners, bosses, and most importantly, yourself. At the end of the day, these actions disguised as “selflessness” actually lead to feeling untrusting of your own ability to make decisions, lonely due to not being seen or heard as your true self, dissatisfied in many areas of life, and burdensome due to the gap between who you’re being for others and who you truly are.
So why does one do this long term? People often exhibit self-abandoning behaviors that they believe to be the only path toward acceptance, validation, and love. On a deeper level, those who abandon themselves hope that by catering to others’ every wish, they will win over their affection and allow for a deeper bond to develop. Common false beliefs here would be that you’re unworthy of expressing yourself, that you’re unlovable as you are, or that you must become someone else to belong amongst others.
Past experiences in significant relationships that had a foundation of conditional love or that ended in abandonment are a possible birthplace for these beliefs. Similarly, circumstances within important relationships that involved punishment for small mistakes or hypersensitive criticism can lead to a tangible fear of failure or disapproval. Both of these life experiences can influence an inherent need to please others to receive their love and belonging. When living from this place of fear of exile, embracing your true self and expressing it with others can be a lifelong battle. Though given the monumental rewards of doing so, the fight to live from a place of authenticity is one that cannot be dismissed.
As Brene Brown put it, “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are;
it requires you to be who you are”. True belonging is full acceptance of oneself and others, the fearlessness of uncertainty, the ability to detach from outcomes, and trust in the unique voice of each individual. It is formed through the process of knowing oneself and acting from the understanding of everyone’s intrinsic worthiness of being seen and heard exactly as they are. Belonging feels like confidence, freedom, belonging, and empowerment. All of these sensations lend themselves to believing in abundant growth opportunities, valuing the genuine connection of relationship, fulfillment in career choices, and genuine content for all life experiences.
It may sound too good to be true to those who have lived a life in absence of it. The process of reaching true belonging requires short term sacrifice for long term gain. That could feel like the uncomfortability of having others disagree with you or transparently not liking you. Though the key understanding is that true belonging is more fulfilling despite these moments of uncomfortability.
The approval of others is not what provides belonging. True belonging is attained through wholeheartedly accepting yourself in all forms and turn, gaining the same unconditional love from others. One will never feel a part of their social group if they are diminishing their true nature. The self must be fully engaged within the actions and behaviors of a collective group to actually be a part of it. It is often the recognition of this unfulfilling practice of self-abandonment that permits people to try a new path toward belonging. If you already feel like you don’t belong, why not try a new path toward belonging?
This image depicts how the self feels within the social group through self-abandonment practices vs. showing their true self to attain belonging. In the first social group from the left, the self feels at the center of it due to behaviors that catered toward being likable and accepted by all. The second social group displays the notion that you feel close to those in the social group but do not feel like you fit in because you are lacking the engagement of your true self. The third depicts how true belonging means that you are a part of the group exactly as you are.
The visual depiction that I have created above elicits a specific feeling that many can identify or understand within each scenario. If a client has come to a coaching session wanting a more genuine and authentic connection, they have likely found themselves in the realm of the second social group depicted. However, they may or may not recognize why they are experiencing detachment and loneliness. This is where coaching comes into play.
The International Coaching Federation’s Core Competencies encompass the process by which the client will feel a sense of true belonging within the coaching relationship and the key practices that will foster client growth. Maintaining a coaching presence, actively listening, and cultivating trust and safety are crucial to meeting the client’s needs. An authentic coaching relationship allows the client to be seen as they are without judgment due to the practice of meeting them where they are at. It gives the client permission to accept themselves as they are until they can provide themselves with that permission. Evoking awareness is the crux of the client’s growth and empowers the client by knowing the difference between self-abandonment and belonging. Identifying it within their actions and giving them the space to choose which serves them best will facilitate the growth that they seek.
The overall use of coaching techniques & ICF competencies to build self-awareness of their needs, recognize the importance of communicating those needs (even when they differ from another’s), and support to drive new behaviors that better serve their intentions will inevitably elicit change over time.
Coaching questions that could be beneficial to break through the surface and spark awareness are:
- What does belonging (or self-abandonment) mean to you?
- What does belonging (or self-abandonment) feel like?
- What about this feels true for you? What, if anything, is missing?
- How does this thought/decision feel to you? How does it compare to the feeling of belonging (or self-abandonment)?
- What have you learned about yourself? With this understanding, what next step could you take with this truth in mind?
Practices that could benefit the client:
- “Do I really want this?”
- “How do I feel about this?”
Speak your thoughts and desires when you recognize that it differs from another.
Only say yes to that which truly feels good to you.
- Only I determine my worth.
- Only I dictate what I deserve.
- The reactions, responses, and feelings of others are not my responsibility.
- Someone else’s opinion of me is not the Truth.
- My value does not come from how others perceive me.
- What other people think of me is none of my business.
It is with these concepts and ideas in mind that I feel coaching is at the center of self-growth in all ways, but especially so within the building processes of establishing belonging.
References And Inspirational Resources
Beattie, Melody. Codependent No More. Hazelden, 1992.
Brown, Brene. “Brene Brown.” Unlocking Us Podcast, 2020, https://brenebrown.com/unlockingus/. Accessed 1 October 2020.
Brown, Brene. Daring Greatly. Gotham Books, 2012.
Dunlop, Caggie. “Saturn Returns With Caggie.” Saturn Returns With Caggie, 2020, https://saturnreturnswithcaggie.libsyn.com. Accessed 1 October 2020.
Gilbertson, Tina. “How NOT to Abandon Yourself.” Psychology Today, 2014, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/constructive-wallowing/201410/how-not-abandon-yourself. Accessed 1 October 2020.
Martin, Sharon. “Why We Abandon Ourselves and How to Stop.” PsychCentral, 2019, https://blogs.psychcentral.com/imperfect/2018/12/why-we-abandon-ourselves-and-how-to-stop/. Accessed 1 October 2020.
McLeod, Saul. “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” Simply Psychology, 2020, https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html. Accessed 1 October 2020.
Penny, Tanya. “Healing Self-Abandonment & Trusting You.” Tanya Penny, 2020, https://tanyapenny.com/freedom-tips-and-tools/healing-self-abandonment-betrayal. Accessed 1 October 2020.