Coaching is like magic when you’ve identified a “problem” and want help creating something new in your life.
I can’t seem to speak up in meetings without having a panic attack.
Every time my mother speaks I want to scream.
I want to make a million dollars but I’m afraid I’ll turn into Jeff Bezos and destroy the world.
Of course, these are painful experiences, but when you can identify the source of your pain, the direction of your work becomes clear.
But what about the times that you genuinely, truly, cannot figure out what the fuck is going on with your brain?
Because this experience is actually an integral part of the process of engaging with coaching (and simply being human) too.
Sometimes you know exactly what you’re feeling, and why. And other times, you may go for weeks or months or maybe even years feeling something that you don’t fully understand.
Recently I’ve been experiencing a lot of anger in a relationship, and it has nothing to do with the relationship. The person isn’t doing anything wrong, there are no boundaries being crossed, there are no violations happening. The relationship is amazing, other than my anger, and it’s clear that my anger isn’t tied to anything they’re doing or not doing.
And yet…the anger is extreme and intense, and I have no idea what exactly it’s about. I’ve coached myself, I’ve gotten (and am still getting) support from a team of amazing coaches, and with my current level of awareness and tools, I still don’t fully understand it.
All of the support hasn’t made the anger go away. But it has helped me learn to experience it differently.
Here’s how you can do the same:
The first step is to start noticing where you’re resisting your experience.
Most people try to resist negative emotions. We don’t like feeling anger, shame, embarrassment (etc) and so we try to push these feelings away and judge ourselves for having them.
But wanting any emotion to go away never works. The more you resist and judge it, the more intense it will become.
And so my first step toward understanding my anger was learning to process it. To drop into my body and feel it. To gently explore what my resistance was about, and what it might take to simply allow myself to feel angry.
When I allowed myself to actually feel my anger, I realized much of my resistance was because I was relating to my anger as unsafe.
Makes sense, right? Many women and children have learned that anger is unstable. Dangerous. A precursor to punishment or abandonment or harm.
And that took a while, if I’m honest. We’re talking weeks, going on months. Sometimes releasing resistance just takes a while.
Once I was able to shift into allowing my anger, I was able to see that it’s possible to feel angry without acting on my anger.
This is not the same as “solving” my anger – my anger didn’t magically go away when I started allowing it. I’m still experiencing it. But learning to allow my anger did help dissolve the resistance I was experiencing. And when that happened, I was able to meet my anger with curiosity.
I could ask myself:
- What does this anger feel like?
- When did it come up?
- Where might it be coming from?
- What do I think it might be about?
Notice that the goal here is not to solve and remove the anger. It was simply to understand it, and maybe be less reactive to it.
I still don’t understand where the anger is coming from. Some days, I feel like I understand the anger and it ebbs, only to come right back the next day.
I have support in this process – I’m working with my own trusted coaches and advisors. This is not a request for unsolicited DMs with ideas about what I should do. 😉
Because the point isn’t to solve my anger. It’s to remind you that we will all, at some point, encounter something that we just can’t seem to work out in our coaching. Something that we don’t have the tools to understand or see clearly. Something from long ago that we may never fully understand or shift. Or just something that we haven’t found the right angle on that will resolve as soon as we look at it in a new light.
That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong or that the coaching tools have failed. The goal of thought work isn’t to become a perfect person with perfect self-knowledge who doesn’t have any negative emotions.
The value of thought work is in inviting us to explore: How can I make peace with my current experience? How can I be where I am? How can I stop resisting the human experience I am having?
Sometimes we’ll use all the tools we have and still not be able to figure out what the fuck is going on. If you’re experiencing something that you just haven’t been able to figure out – whether that’s anger, panic, shame, etc. – this is an invitation to hold space for yourself.
Because that IS using your coaching tools.
To be a curious, compassionate witness to whatever your brain and body are trying to work out.
To create a space where your brain and body can communicate with you when they’re ready about what is going on.
To be with yourself even in those times, even if you never totally understand that thing or learn how to shift out of it.
This is what freedom looks like – not learning how to transcend all negative emotion, but rather learning how to hold compassionate space for yourself – yes, even the parts you don’t understand, even the parts that feel painful.
If you can’t do that on your own (which most of us can’t), coaching can help. Because the goal of coaching is to help you navigate the human experience, whatever it may bring.