A Coaching Power Tool Created by Stephanie Uribe
(Wellness Coach, SOUTH AFRICA)
Denial vs. Acceptance Reframe Flip It Tool
Loving-kindness is being open to ourselves just as we are with a quality of acceptance and even warmth.
Holistic human wellness is achieved when we can fulfill and balance all the areas of our life that we find important including physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, family, social, and purpose. When one of these areas is thrown off-kilter or we are not accomplishing a goal we establish in one of these areas, it is not so uncommon for our wellness to be compromised.
What is difficult about accomplishing wellness and our wellness goals is the fact that it is human nature to look for excuses when difficulties surround our experiences and expectations Instead of recognizing our role in challenging situations, it is easier to deny we have any control or responsibility for the circumstances we find ourselves in. We have an idea of how we think we should be or even how our lives should be, but when we don’t achieve that certain image, we find ourselves denying or making excuses for our role in achieving that image and look for and blame external factors that keep us from being who we think we should be.
For example, for many years I struggled with an eating disorder. I would find myself feeling out of control when it came to food. Food controlled me. My day would revolve around food. My moods would revolve around food. My self-esteem would revolve around food. I was stuck in a vicious cycle where I was in constant denial about my role with this all-consuming challenge that I faced daily. Instead of looking within myself and accepting who I was at that very moment, I was self-critical and quite mean to myself. I had no kindness towards my being and that only exasperated the issue. Surely something was wrong with me. I was a broken human being stuck in her food shackles for the rest of her life. I looked externally to try and figure out the problem. I wonder if it is my reaction to some childhood trauma? No. I wonder if I am not praying enough. No. I wonder if I have some sort of brain issue. No. I wonder if it is my thyroid? No. The day I got my results back that my thyroid was normal and I cried, I knew I had to do something about it because even therapy wasn’t helping. I dug into the research. What I found after years of self-work and research was mind-blowing. I was in control of my actions. I was the one doing this to myself. No external factor or force was causing me to have this relationship with food. I was in control. In fact, my brain had everything it needed to have a healthy relationship with food. As soon as I accepted the fact with self-compassion that I could control the “animal” part of my brain with my “thinking” part of my brain, and that I could form new habits and neuropathways around food, my life changed. My acceptance of my own involvement in this issue and my acceptance of who I was then and there sprinkled in with loving-kindness for myself gave me space and patience to heal and change my neuropathways. I no longer was living in a state of denial but in full acceptance. I broke myself free of my food shackles.
This power tool, DENIAL vs ACCEPTANCE, is a reframing flip tool technique that can be used both for personal and professional situations. Utilizing this particular reframing technique can change a client’s story and perspective of themselves that they might have been holding for many years. With the use of this particular tool, an individual can break free of the shackles of their habitual way of thinking and find that the barriers they were facing are something they can overcome or perhaps aren’t even the barriers they thought they were in the first place. That is where true freedom lies and client progress can begin to be made.
What is denial?
According to the Meriam-Webster dictionary, denial is a “refusal to admit the truth or reality of something (such as a statement or charge)”. Often when human beings confront a challenge or an issue that is difficult to process (we can call this a stimulus), it is easier for our brains to process it as something that is outside of our control or to look at external factors to explain the phenomenon happening. Neuroscience teaches us that our brains store information into categories when taking in a stimulus (the challenge in this example) to be able to make sense of things. Our brains are powerful but they also expend a lot of energy so it is easier to identify the stimulus and categorize it as something we can typically do nothing about or store it away to worry about later. As a result, our truths or realities have stories created around them to make sense of them in the way we understand things using our life experiences to explain what is happening. These stories also come without self-awareness and result in little action or effort required by the individual. The reverse would be to utilize self-awareness and acceptance of one’s role in reaction to the stimulus to see other plausible truths (especially one’s where more effort by us is required), but very often these other truths are ignored in the process as they take a lot of effort or sometimes external support to bring to light. If this stimulus continues to be part of our lives, our brains will continue to create that story or truth and it takes effort to try and look at it with a different lens.
In my shared example above, the stimulus for me was food. The story I created was that there was something wrong with me and that there likely was some kind of external reason or force that was impacting how I behaved around food. I could not see past myself nor my experiences and I was stuck in this particular story of denial and I was the victim. I had not even stopped to ask myself, maybe I do have power over food and maybe the answer is simpler than what I thought it might be.
What is acceptance?
According to Meriam-Webster, acceptance is to recognize something/someone as true or to endure something without protest or reaction. As mentioned above, it is easier for our brains to take a stimulus and quickly categorize it as something we have recognized before in our lives and store it away. From there, we create our stories that we rely on and stick to where oftentimes a minimal amount of effort is made by us in terms of overcoming the stimulus (challenge or issue). With that said, utilizing tools that heighten one’s acceptance and self-awareness that they might have a role in changing the stimulus/issue/challenge, empowers the individual to place the stimulus into a different or perhaps even new category. This changed placement can entirely alter their story created around the particular stimulus. With a new story or understanding can come empowerment and change. Understanding things are how they are and that one can influence a different outcome or chose a different perspective is where true acceptance begins. This ability to re-categorize a stimulus takes self-awareness, self-compassion (or kindness), and reframing of one’s perspective.
In the example I shared above, it was not until I accepted that what I was doing to myself with food was something in my control and that there were no external forces or reasons that would come to my rescue, was when I was able to change my story about what was happening with me and my relationship with food. My story went from me being the victim to me being in the driver’s seat. The story also went from one where something was wrong with me to one of more self-compassion and a recognition that the issue was one where my “thinking” part of my brain could have power over my “animal” part of my brain. The realization was powerful and my relationship with food changed to a healthy relationship permanently.
When clients focus on the story of denial they have created, it is really difficult to get themselves to see other potential perspectives without resistance or misunderstanding. This denial and story creation can cut across multiple contexts from a personal challenge to a relationship challenge, or a work challenge. Regardless of the context, the story can have a profound negative impact on one’s holistic wellness goals or can be the barrier that keeps them from accomplishing the image they have in their head for their own personal wellness area. To support the use of this reframing tool, it is important for the coach to:
- Develop a relationship of trust and rapport with the client
- Powerfully listen to the client to fully understand his/her perspective
- Powerfully question the client to dig deeper and understand the client’s world better as well as pick up on the unsaid tone of voice, emotion, and body language.
- The coach should listen for incongruencies in the client stories to practice direct communication to point out incongruencies.
Upon recognition of incongruencies, the coach should utilize the reframing flip tool as a visual to support the client to accomplish his or her goals and push them to see new perspectives. The best method would be:
- Have the client share the story and goal
- Use powerful questions to challenge the clients thinking
- Have the client envision different realities by asking,
- If it was someone else in this reality, what would you tell them?
- If you didn’t have this barrier, what would you be acting like?
- What power does this barrier/challenge have over you?
- How does this barrier/challenge serve you?
- How else could you see this barrier or challenge?
- What would you tell a close friend or family member struggling with the same challenge if you saw it?
- How might you take that same advice and apply it to your reality?
- Once the client is in a place of greater self-compassion, ask:
- It sounds like you have been stuck in a cycle, how else might you be able to look at it?
- What would your situation look like if you realized you actually had all of the responsibility in the outcome, what would you do to take control?
- What are the steps you might need to take to understand how you can push yourself out of this cycle?
- Once we are at a place where the client realizes they could look at the situation in a different way, pull out the reframe flip it tool cards:
- When it comes to this barrier, pick an image that calls out to you. Why? (if we are working on denial we’ll focus on denial, but you can also use these denial vs acceptance cards with other reframe flip it tool cards and allow the client to choose on their own before the coach and client have realized denial is the issue).
- What if I told you that can break out of the cycle?
- Now when I pull out this card, what comes up?
- Denial – Read out the definition of denial “refusal to admit the truth or reality of something (such as a statement or charge)”.
- Now I gently tell them, in your situation how might you have been refusing to admit the reality of your challenge and barrier? How did this make you feel? Have them verbalize and pick an image
- Then I flip the card
- Now the opposite of denial is acceptance. Acceptance is to recognize something/someone as true or to endure something without protest or reaction.
- How might you feel if you felt the opposite and you accepted the reality and were totally fine with it no issues? What would you do? How would you feel?
- What would be your role in the barrier/challenge? How might you take the driver’s seat and change your story? What other stories could be out there?
- Then go into action planning
This tool is definitely a lot more of a direct communication power tool used to reframe perspectives. I think when utilizing the word denial, you want to be very careful that you have developed a strong and safe relationship with your coach-client as to not lead them to get offended. In fact, it likely is ideal after calling out incongruencies in communications with direct communication and helping them to realize that they have one story they have held on to but perhaps there are others. That is when you as a coach can introduce the topic of denial gently. Another time you can utilize this tool was mentioned above doing a flip it reframes exercise with images and showing several different nouns/verbs to choose from. If the client chooses denial then you can go with it as well. Once the client is in acceptance, that is when the true action work can begin and change can take place. Note that this is only the beginning and you will want to direct them towards other acceptance and self-compassion exercises like mindfulness or love notes to themselves to help continue to grow their self-love and reduce and potential self-criticism.