How the Work of Dr. Brene Brown Applies to Coaching
Here is the beautiful thing about coaching, it is a safe space for a client to open up and be vulnerable in order to find their courage; to live their lives from a place of authenticity and whole heartedness.
It comes back time and again, as a transformational coach, no matter what my client says they are coming to coaching for, what it boils down to is vulnerability, courage to act, and the want to feel as though they are living a life thats true to them. In this paper I’m going to explore the theory’s of Dr. Brene Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher, and how they pertain to coaching.
I discovered Dr. Brene Brown through her wildly popular TED talks and have been a loyal follower ever since. Her work immediately summed up what I felt in every coaching session and what I want for all my clients. In her book Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead she says:
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.
The dictionary describes Vulnerability as:
- capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon: a vulnerable part of the body.
- open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.: an argument vulnerable to refutation; He is vulnerable to bribery.
- (of a place) open to assault; difficult to defend: a vulnerable bridge.
Dr. Brown adds her own definition:
I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure
One of the coaches most important roles is creating a safe space for our client to be exactly that; vulnerable. We want them to feel comfortable to talk to us about the things they are uncertain about, the things that feel risky, and the things that make them feel exposed. We want this so we can help them move through it, accept it, and use it to help them get greater clarity in their lives. No coaching relationship can be successful without this.
Imagine a client who doesn’t feel safe enough to share their true desires, worries, or fears with their coach. There is no chance for that coach to help the client if the client doesn’t feel comfortable enough to open up. For the client, if they are not willing to open up how can they possibly figure out whats holding them back?
Dr. Brown says the number one myth about vulnerability is that it is weakness. I fully agree with her. In today’s society, we instantly back away from highly charged emotions and people we perceive as
not being able to get their stuff together.
We call those people “needy” or “weak” because they can’t soldier on like we do. We have developed this measurement of how successful we are by how much we can handle without breaking or asking for help. This is especially true in the corporate culture. The thought of
I don’t care how you get it done, just get it done
has become the norm. Which leads to exhaustion as a status symbol.
Oh you stayed til 6 last night? Well, I didn’t leave until 9 and I didn’t even get to eat dinner! When we spend our lives pushing away and protecting ourselves from feeling vulnerable or from being perceived as too emotional, we feel contempt when others are less capable or willing to mask feelings, suck it up, and soldier on. We’ve come to the point where, rather than respecting and appreciating the courage and daring behind vulnerability, we let our fear and discomfort become judgement and criticism.
Dr. Brown goes on to say
Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable.
If we believe vulnerability is weakness then we believe feeling is weakness and without feeling what do we have left? Feeling is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. How can you love without feeling? How can you achieve without feeling? We as humans were born feeling creatures. We don’t amble around mindlessly because we were meant to feel, to think, to learn, and to experience the world not just live in it.
Dr Brown says that part of our fear of vulnerability is actually the fear (an emotion!) of darker emotions like fear, shame, grief, sadness, and disappointment. The hard emotions, the ones that tear at the heart.
The thing is, that if
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.
Then we have no choice but to feel the emotions. That is where Courage comes to play.
Vulnerability takes courage. The dictionary defines it as:
cour·age [kur-ij, kuhr-]
- the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear;bravery.
- Obsolete . the heart as the source of emotion.
have the courage of one’s convictions, to act in accordance with one’s beliefs, especially in spite of criticism.
As a coach, I want my clients to find the courage to feel the emotions; to acknowledge the fear. To help them ask for help when they need it. To help them find the courage to ask for what they really want and the conviction to go after their dreams. All of these things take courage and vulnerability. There is no guarantee that things will turn out as they want them to but it’s my role as a coach to help them dare greatly. There will always be fear but if we let fear rule our lives then we can never fully live.
Having the courage to take risks, to feel the emotions, to walk into uncertainty is the only way to live authentically and whole heartedly. As coaches, no matter what our client is coming to us for it starts with them being vulnerable and courageous. A client wants to start a new business, is that not vulnerable and courageous? There is no guarantee it will work but the client is willing to try anyway. A client wants to tell their significant other that they are unhappy and wants to work on the relationship, is that not vulnerable and courageous? Or a client has to make a big presentation at work for the first time, is that not vulnerable and courageous?
We are faced with vulnerability and its friend courage every day. It’s the coaches role to help their client move through these choices in the way that is most authentic to the client.
Dr Brown says
courage is to tell the story of who we are with our whole heart
Authenticity & Whole Hearted Living
Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.(page 49)
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
What I see as a coach with every client is people who are trying to discover their light and let their true selves be seen. I see people who are tired of hiding who they are. They are done playing “the game” and just want to be themselves. They no longer want to seek worthiness in the eyes of others but want to see it in their own eyes.
From the dictionary:
au·then·tic·i·ty [aw-then-tis-i-tee, aw-thuhn-]
the quality of being authentic; genuineness.
I believe if we all lived this way we would never again hear the terms “quarter life crisis” or “Mid life crisis”. I feel the reason these happen is because we are not, as a culture, living authentically and as Dr. Brown says, whole heartedly.
What is whole hearted living?
Dr Brown says
Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid but that doesn’t change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.
What happens when we don’t live whole heartedly?
Dr. Brown says
When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit in with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing and providing. Our sense of worthiness—that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging—lives inside of our story. The greatest challenge for most of us is believing that we are worthy now, right this minute. Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites.
For me as a coach, helping my clients live whole heartedly is helping them see that they are worthy just as they are. They are worthy of taking the risk to open that business or tell someone they love them. That even if what they want doesn’t work out, they are still worthy in and of themselves.
What is the biggest challenge to living whole heartedly?
Dr. Brown describes shame as
the fear of disconnection – it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection.
She further defines it as
the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.
In coaching we may also call shame an underlying belief.
- I’m not good enough to try that.
- I’m not at the perfect weight yet for someone to love me.
- I’m not smart enough
- If I ask for help it looks like I’m weak.
Are just a few possible examples.
This is how we get to a culture where exhaustion is a status symbol and where Mid and Quarter life crisis’s are rampant. We let shame take the drivers seat in our lives. Until we explore it and move past it we can never fully live from our authentic selves because living in shame means we are always trying to get our worthiness from outside ourselves. To do that we have to please everyone else whether or not it actually pleases us.
As a coach its our role to help the client find the courage to find these beliefs and work through them so they can move forward and make choices that are true to themselves. To me this is what Dr. Brown is talking about when she says
Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
We want our clients to discover there true desires, values, and core beliefs so they can start living whole heartedly. We want out clients to own their stories and see how they have grown from them. We want to see the world open up in the eyes of our clients with possibility. None of this is possible though without the conquering of shame, the power of vulnerability, the courage to try, and the want to live a life true to oneself.
Dr. Brown’s theory’s on vulnerability, shame, authenticity, and living whole heartedly are very much aligned with the core of what coaching is about. While we never aim to counsel our clients as therapists do, we are there to be partners with them as they walk this journey for themselves.
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.― Brené Brown
Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, NY: Gotham, 2012. Print.
Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2010. Print.
Brown, Brené. I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame. New York: Gotham, 2007. Print.
Brown, Brené. (2010, June) Brown, Brené : The Power of Vulnerability. Video.
Brown, Brené. (2012, March) Brown, Brené : Listening To Shame. Video.