Research Paper By Madison Clements
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
Considering your life and relationships right now, do you feel that you truly belong? There is, in fact, a difference between true and false belonging. Many will go about their day to day lives without realizing that they might be harboring a false sense of belonging, despite their yearning for something more. It isn’t until someone invests in a professional coach that they might discover where their deep sense of lack is coming from. Throughout this paper, I will use my research to explain how professional coaching can have an invaluable impact on one’s search for true belonging. The focus on self-awareness, the relationship between coach and client, and the forward focus of coaching each cultivate a nourishing environment for the client to learn and change the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that hinder them from developing meaningful relationships.
True vs. False Belonging
After a decade of research, Brene Brown summarized that true belonging is “the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are” (Brown, 2017). There often comes a time in our adulthood when we realize that we’d like to feel like we truly belong amongst those around us, rather than simply fit in. But, how did we end up simply fitting in, in the first place?
According to Maslow’s renowned Hierarchy of Human Needs, belongingness is the first psychological need following the satisfaction of our basic physiological and safety needs. Though, he clarified that a need does not have to be completely fulfilled, but rather “more or less” satisfied before moving on satisfying the next (McLeod). Thus, there is room for one to satiate their sense of belonging just enough so that it can be surpassed. Many of us may fall into this “just-enough” trap of false belonging simply because of our innate need to belong as a child. Seeking approval is a survival mechanism ingrained into our very being. It’s much safer to mimic others and guarantee blending in than to be our own unique selves and risk being an outcast. In contrast, true belonging does not involve trying to survive by fitting in. It leans closer to the effort of thriving at our fullest potential. So how do we transition?
Coaching’s Role in the quest for True Belonging
Awareness of the Self
Like with any desire for change, the first step is self-awareness. Knowing where you currently are about where you want to be is crucial. In Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown tells us that “when we feel isolated, disconnected, and lonely, we try to protect ourselves. (…) The brain’s self-protection mode often ramps up the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, creating stories that are often not true or exaggerate our worst fears and insecurities”. Our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors are so ingrained within our subconscious that it can sometimes be challenging to know everything that rules our actions. This is where coaching comes in.
Active listening, powerful questioning, and the observations of professional coaches are formulated specifically to elicit more awareness of the thoughts and beliefs held by the client. One of the International Coaching Federation’s (or ICF)’s Core Competencies of Coaching is creating awareness, which is defined as the “ability to integrate and accurately evaluate multiple sources of information and to make interpretations that help the client to gain awareness” (The Gold Standard in Coaching). Cultivating the awareness needed for sustainable change is, in essence, the cornerstone of a coach’s purpose. Sometimes we aren’t aware of our own beliefs until they’re simply reflected in us. Additionally, it can take time and effort to get to the root of your current circumstances, but a coach is specifically trained to tune into the values that your choices stem from.
Brene Brown goes on to say that “because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance”. Self-acceptance isn’t the easiest practice to claim, because it requires getting to know yourself, your whole self, even the parts that make you cringe or turn away. Though, by having someone who is encouraging you to say more and is entirely nonjudgemental of your true nature, you can begin to open yourself up to recognizing that you’re worthy of love just as you are.
The relationship between a professional coach and their client is unlike personal relationships that involve judgment and have an “us” focus. When you sit down with a coach, the entire conversation is about you. Not only that, but they are there for you fully and that includes leaving their judgments, biases, and preconceived notions behind.
Another of the ICF’s Core competencies states that a coach must cultivate trust and safety by partnering with the client to create a safe and supportive space that allows the client to share freely and to create a relationship of mutual respect and trust (The Gold Standard in Coaching). A coach can understand the feelings underlying what you are experiencing in life and thus, show genuine empathy as you share your situation and perceptions. What better space to allow yourself, as a client, to give yourself permission to be yourself and show your true colors, even if you’re still discovering them.
In The Enneagram for Belonging, Christopher Heuertz supports the need for this relationship by pointing out that “when belonging is contingent on beliefs and behavior, it suspends the necessary step of becoming, which prevents the fruit of transformation that is inevitable when we absolutely know and trust that we belong”. That is to say that without the coach-client environment that cultivates such self-love and self-acceptance, those of us stuck in false belonging cannot reach a sense of true belonging that fulfills us. A professional coach will uphold a non-judgemental relationship, within which every belief of the clients is taken to heart as truth and which creates space for the client to show themselves compassion without fear, shame, and doubt. These are all necessary if a client is to step into the vulnerability of owning their true self and stepping out of their element to find those who are capable of loving said client whole-heartedly to belong with each other.
Change is not easy and I think it is safe to say that we all know how reassuring it can feel to not walk that path alone. We aren’t meant to. Something that differentiates coaching from other avenues for growth is it’s focused on action steps that will guide the client toward their goals. A professional coach’s role in change is crucial as they work with the client to find ways to be supported, to be held accountable, and to discover beneficial resources that will lay the stepping stones of the client’s path toward true belonging. This journey is an especially vulnerable one as it takes courage to show your non-conforming self to others.
Though, Brene Brown makes another supporting point in saying that “we can spend our entire life betraying ourselves and choosing fitting in over standing alone. But once we’ve stood up for ourselves and our beliefs, the bar is higher. A wild heart fights to fit in and grieves betrayal” (Brown, 2017). Once we know what it tastes like to be our wild, goofy, eccentric self with another and have them draw closer to us in return, we see the power in the vulnerability that we shared. Though, none of this is achievable without the help of a coach who provokes us to create the small steps that lead us to that momentous moment where we raise the bar for ourselves. A professional coach will help to facilitate client growth by partnering with the client to design relevant milestones, action steps, and accountability measures that resonate and build on the client’s new learning (The Gold Standard in Coaching).
With the support of coaching, no one has to suffer through the throws of false belonging and merely settle for fitting in. Through an approach that promotes self-awareness, the client can get to know themselves fully. Within the trusting environment that a professional coach creates, the client can accept each part of themselves, even the parts that are challenging to face. Once you truly belong to yourself, you are ready to take the next steps toward cultivating that belonging with others. The coaching relationship thrives on the very basis of human connection and the shared human experience. Every single one of us wants to feel heard and loved. Every single one of us deserves a relationship that will prove that for our truest self. Coaching is a vital tool in the journey toward fulfilling our innate need for belonging.
Brown, Brene. (2017). Braving the Wilderness: The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone.
The Gold Standard in Coaching: ICF – Core Competencies. (2021, January 09). Retrieved January 12, 2021, from https://coachingfederation.org/core-competencies
Heuertz, Christopher. (2020) The Enneagram of Belonging: A Compassionate Journey of Self-Acceptance.
Mcleod, S. (2020, December 29). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html