Building Awareness of Feelings

How do we help clients build awareness of feelings in the moment? Many people are alienated or cut off from their emotional state and struggle to identify their internal reactions. If asked what they’re feeling, they identify their thoughts. Marshall Rosenberg distinguishes feelings from thoughts and asserts that starting a sentence with these words invariably means the speaker is sharing his thinking, not what he is feeling:

I feel that…

I feel you…

I feel as if…

I feel like…

I feel she…

I feel I…

Following the word “feel” immediately with an emotion (internal state) helps people connect. To relieve alienation, you can awaken capacity for experiencing feelings and support emotional awareness by asking:

What’s your internal reaction?

How do you feel when you think she’s betrayed you?

What do your bodily sensations tell you?

Do you feel sad, angry or hurt?

Which feelings resonate with you?

Feelings mixed with judgment

Sometimes people use pseudo feelings to describe what they think other people are doing to them. For instance, when Jorge says, “I feel abandoned,” that’s actually what he thinks someone else is doing, whereas his actual internal feeling is hurt, sad or angry. We can help people identify their emotional response by asking, “How do you feel internally when you think someone has abandoned you?”

Pseudo Feelings

AbusedDegradedInsultedRejectedAssaultedDespisedLet DownRipped offAttackedDetestedLovedShamedBelittledDiminishedManipulatedTraumatizedBetrayedDiscountedMarginalizedUnappreciatedBulliedDisrespectedMisunderstoodUnpopularCheatedDistrustedPatronizedUnwantedCherishedHatedPicked onUsedCoercedInterruptedProvokedValuedCorneredIntimidatedPut-DownWorthless

Coaching questions help people shift from thinking to the felt sense of their experience, which gives the feelings a place to call home. Rather than seeing a feeling as something dangerous happening outside of themselves, they develop self-intimacy by honoring their internal emotions.

Stay present to emotions

How do we work with feelings, creating a space of safety and courage that facilitates self-acceptance, understanding and integration? How can we be fully present with shift ing emotions and help people connect with all their inner wisdom in times of difficulty, as well as joy?

Listen to the body

The body serves as a resource for staying present and deepening awareness of emotions. Just as a lightning rod channels the currents of electricity to prevent destruction, our bodies have the capacity to digest emotions that release turmoil. Th e first key is to breathe and remind ourselves that we do not have to save our clients, give them the answer or change their experience.

Transform judgment

Our job is to notice and release judgments, both of our clients and ourselves. To hold a deep caring acceptance of the people we coach, we start with transforming self-judgment into curiosity.

Hold true

We could say many soothing things that aren’t necessarily false, but if they don’t come from the heart, we disconnect from our clients. Mollifying or placating our clients serves no one.

Resist the urge to lead

How do we just be present with our clients? We don’t need to lead them through their emotions. With patience, we trust that the process is beneficial, even though it may seem to be “going nowhere.”

Offer presence

Presence means inhabiting our bodies and hearts in ways that tap our personal power, aliveness, creativity and flow. An awakened presence is fully connected to self and others. Being present is to be aware and available in the moment: centered, attuned, focused and attentive. We have the opportunity to be present with whatever emotions arise, while offering compassion, integrity and courage. Our clients know we are with them, because we respect their feelings, and hold space for more feelings to emerge.

Engage with the intensity

We hold the full range of emotional experience. Sometimes people have a more diffi cult time being with joy, fulfillment and their own magnificence than sadness or anger. We help them step into all of it. We do this by simply asking them to pay attention to their experience. We breathe with them. We don’t need to create an elaborate plan of what to do with what they are noticing. We notice their energy and ask questions that further their self-awareness of their life force.

Create space for courage

By trusting that our clients have the answers, we help them gain access to their inner well of strength. Especially when they might not immediately see their strengths themselves, we recognize their wholeness and invite them to access their courage for exploration and change.

A pathway to a fulfilling life is to discover the lost parts of ourselves and embrace them. That means loving every aspect of ourselves in every moment. As a coach, we can show people the path to fulfillment by fully accepting every part of them, and all that they experience, no matter what. When we offer unconditional love to the parts of them that are angry, hurt or scared, they realize how to do this for themselves. As those lost parts get welcomed back into the fold, they come back home to themselves. When they love the fragmented parts back into sync, their healing becomes our healing, and transformation is shared.

The work of the coach is to undo the powerful conditioning and unconscious programming that tell people their emotions are bad or their desires are selfish. We empower people to heal themselves as they journey toward unconditional self-love. As we invite them to open their hearts, they fully experience each and every moment as opportunities to love themselves. Th e healing pathway to wholeness embraces the discarded parts of self which leads to a peace that surpasses all understanding.

Experiencing the Moment refers to witnessing the here and now, honoring what’s going on emotionally, understanding deeper needs and processing the inner experience.

Powerful feelings may arise during coaching that open the door to deeper awareness. Our clients’ emotional life has great impact on their choices, creativity and action. Becoming adept at being in the present moment helps people feel safe, look deeply and come to greater clarity before moving forward.

When we only work with their thoughts about what they want or what’s getting in the way, it’s like watering the leaves of a plant without getting water to the roots. Working with emotions brings surprises, deep insight and new energy.

We can help people explore what is below the surface so they can learn to feel into their joy and their wounds with love and compassion. When they stay in that timeless world of their emotional reactions, they experience the freedom to express the fullness of their feelings. They can more readily access their creativity and integrate their experience and take action in a more meaningful way.

Regardless of the language clients use to describe their experience, our role as coaches is to read their feelings and energy so that they experience being received. Meeting people right where they are goes a step beyond seeing, hearing or understanding them.

If a client struggles to identify emotions, we can shift the focus toward bodily sensations. If a client says, “I’m being manipulated and can’t seem to touch on how I feel about that,” we can ask, “Where does that live in your body?” or “Where is the disappointment?” or “Does your whole body experience it or does it live in your chest or belly?” These questions help the person being coached shift from thinking to the felt sense of the experience, which gives the feelings a place to call home.

Rather than seeing a feeling as something dangerous happening outside the self, we support self-intimacy by honoring the internal emotions.

If a person has a low threshold for a certain emotion, say fury, it may be because of an innate value of tenderness that they’ll do anything to protect, even if it means numbing parts of their own bodies. When unconditional love permeates our coaching, experiencing the moment becomes a hotbed for transformation.

Excerpt from Coaching for Transformation by Lasley, Kellogg, Michaels and Brown. 

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