A Coaching Power Tool created by Silvia Richter-Kaupp
(Business Coach, GERMANY)
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous’?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
From: Marianne Williamson
A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles
- Are self-doubts and self-reproaches part of your everyday life?
- Do you tend to focus on your shortcomings rather than your strengths?
- Do thoughts like ‘I knew I wouldn’t do well’ sound familiar to you?
If you answered some of these questions with ‘yes’, chances are you suffer from low self-esteem. Why do some people think highly of themselves while others almost permanently put themselves down? Why are some people listened to when they speak up in groups while others have difficulties to assert themselves? Why do some people say ‘o.k. let’s tackle it’ while other people halfheartedly move back in the face of a new challenge? These different ways of thinking and behaving result from different self-esteem.
Self-esteem is defined as the evaluation we ascribe to the image we have of ourselves or, in other words, our judgment of our worth and how we feel about it. Another term for self-esteem is ‘sense of self-worth’ or ‘feeling of self-worth’. With good cause it is not called ‘knowing of self-worth’. This is because self-esteem is not about objective reasons why we are worthy or unworthy. It is rather about our subjective evaluation of our worth. ‘Sense of self-worth’ is comprised of three words: sense + self + worth. ‘Sense’ indicates that self-esteem is about how we feel about ourselves. ‘Self’ points to the subject being our identity. And ‘worth’ points out that something is being measured.
We are not born with high or low self-esteem. The awareness of oneself and the own importance develops over time through the experiences we make and the meaning we ascribe to them. The corner stone is laid in our childhood, but our self-concept and self-esteem can change throughout our whole life. This can be viewed as good because it allows for the possibility to improve our self-esteem. The downside is its instability: Self-esteem is a ‘state of fair weather’: As long as things run smoothly, it is easy to develop and present a high self-esteem. But if setbacks and strokes of fate have to be coped with, self-esteem easily drops.
Self-love, in contrast, is defined as the all-embracing acceptance and boundless love of ourselves. Nicely said, you might think, but how do I get there? Well, self- love does not fall from heaven, it develops through accordant behavior. Just as it is not possible to love any person we meet on the spot, it is not possible to love ourselves as of now. But love can grow over time, including self-love. If we want to love ourselves, we should start behaving like someone who we can love!
In order to develop the consciousness state of self-love a third ‘self’ is required: self-compassion. Self-compassion is described as a mindful, accepting and friendly attitude towards oneself. According to Kristin Neff, Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas at Austin http://www.self-compassion.org/ self-compassion is comprised of three elements: self-kindness, accepting our humanness and interdependence, mindfulness.
Self-kindness entails being gentle and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer or feel inadequate rather than ignoring our pain or minimizing ourselves with self-criticism. Self-compassion also involves recognizing our essential interdependence and that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of our shared human experience. Lastly, self-compassion requires a mindful, receptive and non-judgmental mind state in which we observe our thoughts and feelings without trying to suppress or deny them and without being identified with them.
Self-compassion is not equivalent with self-pity, self-indulgence and egoism. When feeling self-pity we become so immersed in our own problems that we forget that others have similar problems. In contrast, with the perspective of self- compassion we see the related experiences we share with others and widen our view. Being self-compassionate also does not mean to let ourselves get away with anything since it entails that we want to be happy in the long term. Self- compassion is comparable with the empathy we show for other people:
Imagine you are on your way to an appointment and you are late. When you stop at a red traffic light, a man pushes for your car and tries to clean the windows. You think that the windows don’t need any cleaning and try to scare him away. You feel annoyed. If you saw this man as a person who makes an effort to earn a little bit of money to improve his situation, you would probably feel compassion for him. Empathy for the situation of the man would make it easier for you to be patient despite your being late. Compassion for others results from empathy. The same with self-compassion: it arises from self-empathy. Thus, self-empathy is a prerequisite for self-compassion and self-compassion a prerequisite for self-love. The good news is: self-empathy is a skill which can be learned and developed!
Self-esteem refers to our perceived value. There is little doubt that a low self- esteem is problematic, but a high self-esteem can be problematic, too! Self- esteem is often based on how much we stand out. Therefore attempts to raise our self-esteem may result in self-absorbed and aggressive behavior, lead us to ignore, distort or hide personal shortcomings and put others down in order to feel better about ourselves. Self-esteem is also often contingent on successes or failures. It produces positive feelings only when we experience ourselves as valuable. This is usually the case when we are successful with our endeavors and get acknowledged by others. But due to the volatile nature of self-esteem the great feelings easily turn into unpleasant feelings when we fail. Our self-esteem fluctuates depending on ever-changing circumstances.
In contrast to self-esteem, self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations. We don’t have to feel better than others to feel good about ourselves. With self- compassion the good feelings don’t result from our successes but from the fact that we take care of ourselves – especially when things don’t run smoothly. With self-compassion we behave like a friend would do it: She calls us to hear how we do. She lets us talk and listens to whatever we say – sometimes for hours. She is simply there for us: present and empathetic with open ears and an open heart. Being self-compassionate means that we treat ourselves like a best friend.
Research indicates that self-compassion is superior to self-esteem in difficult times. Self-compassion catches us when self-esteem lets us down. People with pronounced self-compassion have more accurate self-concepts, less narcissism and reactive anger, more caring relationships, higher self-efficacy and emotional resilience, they are more likely to reach their goals, suffer rarely from depression and anxiety and recover better from strokes than people who meet themselves critically. Self-compassion is an indispensable qualification for mental health.
If you would like to check your self-esteem here is a quick non-scientific test. Mark all statements you agree with:
a. I don’t want to hurt others. (S)
b. Rough chumps require rough chocks. (W)
c. For every conflict there is a solution. (G)
d. I don’t think that my view of the world is the absolute truth. (G)
e. I don’t care what other people want or don’t want. (W)
f. I want other people to think highly of me. (S)
g. I am willing to reflect my behavior and change it if necessary. (G)
h. If I don’t understand something, I systematically inquire. (G)
i. To me, giving in is a sign of weakness. (W)
j. One should always be polite and friendly and don’t burden others. (S)
k. When I am upset I try to calm down before I speak to others. (G)
l. I rather hold off than getting on someone’s bad side. (S)
m. Never show any weaknesses! (W)
n. One should provide others no opportunities for attack. (S)
o. One must not be gingerly, if one wants to amount to something! (W)
Now count the number of S-, W- and G-statements!
If you have predominantly checked S-statements, you tend to a self-esteem dysfunction which I call ‘sheep-behavior’. Sheep behavior is characterized by deferring to others and politely holding off, trying to please others and beating around the bush or saying ‘yes’ although one would like to say ‘no’. ‘Sheep’ have too much gentleness and politeness. They are insecure and tend to behave passively and submissively. They should not be surprised when others soar above them. ‘Sheep’ are well advised to learn to champion their own suits and express clearly what they need and want.
If you have predominantly checked W-statements, you tend to a self-esteem dysfunction which I call ‘wolf-behavior’. People with this tendency are prone to react impulsively, aggressively and in a dominant way. They tend to forge ahead, pass others over and steamroll them. ‘Wolfs’ have too much aggression and egoism. They perceive life as a battle which is to be won. They appear to have a high self-esteem, but in fact their self-esteem is as low as that of ‘sheep’. They just try to hide their low self-esteem by demonstrative dominant behavior. They are well advised to learn how to calm down, pause and reflect.
If you have predominantly checked G-statements, much points to you having a healthy self-esteem. G stands for ‘giraffe-behavior’. The giraffe is the land mammal with the greatest heart. Thanks to their long neck giraffes are far-sighted and their spittle allows them to decompose and swallow even thorns unhurt. They stroll through the world with uplifted heads – gladly in groups – and they are very peaceful animals, but know to defend themselves, if need be. ‘Giraffes’ know that people are human and have weaknesses and don’t act out of maliciousness but because they try to meet needs. They love themselves and know what they need and want so that they don’t have to minimize or balloon themselves.
Now, if you tend to one of the two main self-esteem dysfunctions ‘wolf’ or ‘sheep’ you might want to consider learning self-empathy in order to develop self-love. Self-love develops over time when we treat ourselves lovingly – like a best friend.
Nonviolent Communication® suggests a five-step approach for self-empathy:
- Note what you have observed. Pure facts, no interpretations! What have you seen or heard? What would a camera have recorded?
- Note your thoughts. What interpretations, evaluations, judgments, fantasies,
- reproaches, assumptions absorb you?
- Check how you feel. No pseudo-feelings such as ‘misunderstood’, ‘ignored’,
- ‘betrayed’, ‘pressured’ or ‘attacked’ that express how we interpret others!
- Identify the needs behind your thoughts and feelings. Needs such as ‘peace’,
- ‘freedom’, ‘autonomy’ are universal and the ‘motor’ of all human behavior.
- Commit to a strategy which is suitable to meet these needs. Find a concrete activity you are able and willing to do to meet your needs.
If you love yourself you have no need to increase your self-esteem by making yourself indispensable. When you support other people you do it out of love and not to compensate your sense of inferiority with helpfulness. You rest in yourself, independent from praise or blame of others.
Take a few minutes time, notice what you observe and think and how you feel, identify your met or unmet needs and commit to something (small) you can do to make your life a little bit more beautiful right now!
What does someone has to do for you to be able to love him? And what does someone has to do for you to turn away from him? Now re-read your answers and ask yourself how you treat yourself – do you demonstrate the behaviors of those people you can love or of those people you turn away from? … If you act more like those people you turn away from, well, you should not be surprised if you have difficulties loving yourself!
Praise yourself for every little success with things you don’t like or are not good at. You will see over time your self-concept will change from ‘I am too stupid for this’ to ‘I can handle many things and always find a way’.
Make a list of limiting beliefs that have formed you. To start with, you can use common lore such as ‘no pain, no gain’. Then turn the statements around so that they are unrestrained positive for you, e.g. ‘no pain, much gain’.
Take an empty piece of paper and write ‘Those who have me in their life are lucky because I am …’ and then find at least 20 qualities you have.
Nowadays where perfection seems to be omnipresent – women in their thirties with family and a management job in size zero without any wrinkles, double income couples with beautiful homes including pool, separate vacation home, several cars and children in private schools – it isn’t easy for many people to accept weaknesses. Surrounded by all these allegedly ‘perfect’ fellow men it is no wonder that many people develop feelings of inferiority.
People with low self-esteem tend to have beliefs like:
- I am not good enough.
- Others are more liked / more attractive … than I.
- I am not accepted and cannot assert myself.
- Others make the rules and I can only comply.
- Not before I am smarter / thinner … I can do …
- Others can be naughty, but I can’t.
- I don’t really know who I belong to.
- Nobody should see who I really am.
What can coaches do when they work with clients with signs of low self-esteem? How can they support these clients to shift to a state of self-love?
Inform the client about the concept of self-esteem, self-compassion and self-love.
Nudge and guide mindfulness and self-empathy:
Nudge and guide the client to pause, note his observations, perceive his thoughts and sensations, check his feelings, identify his needs and brainstorm strategies.
Help the client see and appreciate their ‘light’, i.e. their strengths, talents and passions; help them accepting unpleasant traits and behaviors and uneasy feelings as indicators to suppressed parts and unmet needs and coming up with strategies to deal with them.
Identify and change limiting beliefs:
Help the client become aware of minimizing beliefs and help change or dissolve them and establish beneficial beliefs.
Help the client see the invigorating within the heaviness; support them in finding recuperative affirmations and defining rewarding goals.
Needless to say that as coaches we should be coming from a place of self- compassion and self-love to avoid projecting feelings of inferiority on our clients!
- What examples could you use to illustrate the differences between self- esteem, self-love and self-compassion?
- How can you nudge your client to practice mindfulness and self-empathy?
- What methods and tools could you suggest to them?
- What coaching tools could you use to promote your clients’ self-acceptance?
- How can you help your clients’ become aware of limiting beliefs and what methods could you use to help changing or dissolving them?
- What should you keep in mind when you support clients in finding invigorating affirmations and rewarding goals?
Fritsch, G 2009, ‘Praktische Selbst-Empathie‘, 2nd edn, Junfermann Verlag, Paderborn
Mohr, B & M 2011, ‘Das Wunder der Selbstliebe‘, Gräfe und Unzer Verlag, München
Neff, K 2011, ‘Self-Compassion’, Harper Collins, New York
Nuber, U 2011, ‘Sei nachsichtig! Mit dir selbst!‘ Psychologie Heute, September 2011, pp. 21-25