A Coaching Power Tool Created by Sherry Fang
(Teaching Coach, Blended Coach, TAIPEI)
Why do we feel stuck and constantly being held back? Why do we feel incomplete while pushing ourselves to complete a task or goal we set for ourselves? And why do we often feel unsatisfied and overwhelmed by different emotions even after achieving the “goals” we set for ourselves. Often or not, people are just unsatisfied with the way things are. Why? Why is it never enough? And what does the sentiment lead to?
At times, when we feel not enough, we try to bury the feeling deep down and push ourselves. The thought of revealing our fear and vulnerability is truly a mental block for a lot of us at different stages in our lives. This happens particularly to a lot of high achievers in society. They strive for success and the admiration of others for their achievements.
On the other hand, when we are accepting of our vulnerabilities and accept life as it is, we are freer to explore the unknowns and resilient for change. Acceptance is the opposite of defeat. It is the true bravery because there is no such thing as good or bad in life. Everything has two sides and it is up to us how to face each challenge. In this paper, I’d like to explore the perspective of Denial vs. Acceptance. I will include the explanation, application, and reflection of the perspectives.
Denial is the state of neglecting and avoiding the state of self-awareness. By not looking at the issues directly into their eyes, people can temporarily convince themselves that there is no issue insight. We naturally want to keep going to head straight toward the goal we set. However, along the way, we burry emotions and negativity in life and not to deal with the issues because it is simply uncomfortable. What are we in denial of? There is one thing that we are most afraid of that is vulnerability itself.
What are you in denial of?
Being weak and fragile has always been a sign of inferiority defined by society. Dr. Brene Brown, a research professor, and the well-known author has done extensive research on vulnerability. She said, “vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy”.The feeling of shame and fear that tied to vulnerability often left people feeling extremely uneasy and causing discomfort.
Dr. Brown also mentioned in an interview with Forbes Magazine that “vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Without leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability, we cannot experience love, belonging, trust, job, and creativity fully. However, while people, in general, are not afraid of finding a vulnerability in others, it is terrifying to show it for themselves. When it is a vulnerability about ourselves, it is often perceived as a weakness. When this happens, people feel ashamed of themselves and this would ultimately affect their self-worthiness.
Another reason for fearing the discomfort of vulnerability is perfectionism. It is a belief that we do things that look perfect while decreasing the chances of experience the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It seems to be the shield that people use to protect themselves but it really prevents them from being seen. People with perfectionism attitude has been exposed to praises from achievement in their childhood and is still asking for approval. It is related to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities. Again, fearing vulnerability is nothing but harmful (Brown, 2013).
On the other hand, to accept is to be completely self-aware and acknowledge the feelings without condemning them. It is a sense of knowing everything will take its course and even in the most vulnerable states, we accept every part of being. It is a state of being mindful as well. What we feel when we are accepting of vulnerability, we feel the worthiest of ourselves. It is the state of openness to various challenges coming our way. It is being flexible and allows yourselves to readjust when necessary.
When we are in a state of acceptance, we feel:
The dictionary defines self-worth as “the sense of one’s own value or worth as a person.” I will talk about the distinction of self-worth with self-esteem. Also, most importantly, I will address the importance of self-acceptance in relates to worthiness.
Dr. Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, mentioned that self-worth is not about what you do but who you are. Dr. Kristin Neff said that our society often pays more attention to self-esteem where we tend to focus on the measuring of oneself against others rather than self-worth, that is the intrinsic value of ourselves. Dr. Neff also argues that our society constantly tells us to compare ourselves with others. Aside from winning occasionally, there is always someone wealthier, more attractive, and more successful. Therefore, our self-worth ended up being bounce back and forth, rising and falling.
Building self-worth is to take into account the unique qualities that make you you. Dr. Firestone said that we need to challenge our critical inner voice. The critical inner voice often undermines our sense of self-worth and lead to behaviors that can be harmful to ourselves. To truly accept ourselves is to know that we are worthy and whole.
When you are accepting of the state of being you are accepting the truth of life at its realist form. You do not experience the discomfort of vulnerability, shame, and fear. Mirroring back to what Dr. Brown mentioned when people experience self-worthiness, they can experience true joy and love. We cannot control the outcome of the decisions we make or the result of the work we put in. However, to simply having the courage to show up, we accept the vulnerability and truly live.
Everyone will need to learn how to accept and embrace their true self at some point in their lives. However, there are some specific types of people who need more coaching than others. People who hold upper management positions or people who are high achievers are especially unwilling to accept the vulnerabilities.
When the clients are experiences bumps or challenges consistently can trigger the natural instinct of burying the fear and lead to denial. They put on a brave face even in front of people who dearly care about them. They may even be reluctant to open up to the coach because of their natural instinct of putting up the wall. There are some questions that can help to uncover the things they are in denial of. After they set their coaching agreement at the beginning of the coaching session, you as a coach can explore the following:
- What is holding you back?
- What are the obstacles that will prevent you from reaching the goal?
- What are the challenges you might face along the way?
- What is your biggest fear?
- What does fear mean to you?
- What does fear feel like?
- What does shame mean to you?
- What does shame feel like to you?
- What is perfect for you?
- What do you feel when you always want to be perfect?
- What is enough?
Out of all the questions, I find that “what is enough” is a very powerful question because the condition of “not good enough” always comes up when the client starting to reflect. This is a common theme among the high achievers. They often feel that they are not enough and not worthy. In a relationship, they often feel not worthy of their children, parents, a boss so spouses. At work, they often feel that their work should be better.
Also, to tie in everything in the coaching session, the questions at the end of the sessions can always help the clients to summarize what they accept. It is important to have the clients to talk about what they learn and assure themselves that they are indeed worthy.
Questions to help us in reaching the acceptance phase:
- What is learning for today?
- How can you apply the learning in life?
I came across this perspective during my ICA journey. In the same year as my study at ICA, I had gone through major changes in my personal life and changes in myself. I would say it has been the most difficult and overwhelming year for me. As I am going through my studies and classes, I find myself completely stressed out by going through mentor coaching sessions. I had a hard time truly opening up and I feared vulnerability desperately. I was so afraid to talk about my personal issue but it was something that haunts me wherever I go. It bleeds into my work life, my relationship with my family, and to myself at the very core of being. My divorce and a very dramatic break up have been physically and mentally exhausting. However, I was in denial for months pretending I was ok and functioning. It is the issue, however, that I wasn’t admitting to all the heartbreaks and the effects on me.
After burying all the negativities for months, I wasn’t able to conceal it anymore. Six months after my divorce and ten months after I started my business, I broke down. My health was affected and I simply didn’t want to function.
I finally came to the realization that I need to accept the downs that occurred in my life. I need to acknowledge how it affected me. I saw my divorce and heartaches as failures so I used work and my business to mask my pain. While I set goals for work to make a breakthrough but I couldn’t feel peace at the end of the day.
It wasn’t until I finally broke down one day and accepted that it is ok to be in pain and for once in my life, to just be vulnerable. Accepting that I have scars and wounds was a step I had to take to becoming a new me and a better coach. If it weren’t for recognizing my vulnerability, I would never have forced myself to see the most fragile side of myself and reach self-acceptance. I now know that I am on my way to heal and understand myself at a new level.
In my practice of being a language instructor and coach, I have seen many cases where students who have a lot of pride in being the best dislike facing areas they are weak at. They would often avoid certain aspects of the language such as grammar or writing by stating that they simply do not need to work on those areas. After coaching with the clients, I realized that they are simply embarrassed to face the lessons. The embarrassment also results from the denial of vulnerability. Once they are able to accept their weakness in grammar and writing, they often started to improve exponentially and gain confidence in language learning.