by Agnieszka Hermans- Konopka

The self can answer to emotions in many different ways. {quotes}One of the most crucial issues in dialogical emotional coaching is how does the person relates to his or her own emotions.{/quotes}One of the most crucial issues in dialogical emotional coaching is how does the person relates to his or her own emotions. As Greenberg (2002) says, what we are doing with our experience shapes our selves and makes us who we are. This process seems to be at the heart of the change in emotional coaching. A client told me that he was totally fed up with his anxiety and during the emotional coaching trajectory he he expressed that he would like to get rid of it. I answered that I cannot help him to get rid of the feeling but I can support him in learning how to be with this feeling, trying to get its message, to understand it and to respect it as a possibly important signal. Sometimes emotions just need to be heard without the necessity of any direct change of them. People who experience a lot of negative feelings often try to change them, suppress or delete them from their minds. This creates and inner struggle against one’s feelings and even endorses them. Feelings want to be heard and they require the person to allow them. The majority of copying strategies with emotions are focused on transforming negative feelings into positive ones. These are, in essence, hedonistic strategies. Such strategies represent a natural tendency because most people want to feel well and to experience happiness as connected with pleasant feelings. However, there are pitfalls in this tendency. Negative emotions have often very important messages which need to be heard. Anger can tell us that some border has been violated and it is time to say no in order to protect ones needs. Sadness can invite us to start deeper reflections about loss and important values.

Our western culture motivates us to master and change our emotions what can easily create internal wars. The problem is often located not in the nature of one’s emotions but in the struggle against them.{quotes}The problem is often located not in the nature of one’s emotions but in the struggle against them.{/quotes}In this way, we advocate a transformation of the relation with your emotions: from struggling against them towards a more dialogical accepting relationship with them. Such a transformation that results in awareness is a main task of emotional coaching.

When one of my clients learned to be with her pain in a more open, accepting way, just to be with it, to feel it without the necessity to immediately do something to it, this transformed her tension and anxiety which covered this pain. She realized that she can feel her pain and that also she can BE with her pain. Her pain was a part of a “composition” together with anxiety, tension, but also joy. She knew that she can survive this experience and she does not have an urge to escape. She also learnt that her pain is not identical with herself and that there is a space beyond it from which she could relate to her pain without being identical with it.

Dialogical emotional coaching is focused on improving the relation between self and emotion. In order to stimulate a dialogical relation with an emotion, it is necessary that the message of the emotion is heard and understood. Then the person can decide to follow this message or not. Dialogical relations with one’s emotions allow to experience the emotion, feeling it in its embodied form, getting the message and giving an answer to the emotion. In this way emotions are respected and, at the same time, the self has the freedom to follow them or not. Neither emotions nor the self should be enslaved. When I feel the anger I can allow it, respect it, try to get the message, but because I am not identical with my anger I can decide to follow it or not. Of course this is more difficult in the case of very intense feelings, but (self)training supports this learning process. {quotes}Dialogical emotional coaching is focused on improving the relation between self and emotion.{/quotes} The fact that I can give an answer to an emotion creates a space for emotional freedom and this space enables me to give an answer that is not an automatic, habitual one. Like in dialogical relations two parties need to be in good contact but at the same time able to take their autonomous perspectives, the dialogical relation between the self and emotion gives a space for both freedom and connection.

When we talk about the relation between emotion and the self we should take into account that a person can relate to his or her emotions from different I-positions (e.g. I as artist, I as critical). We can also talk about the I which fluctuates between different emotions (emotions then can be treated as temporary I-positions)

Working on relation with one’s own emotions in emotional coaching

Using a stage model of work with emotions (Hermans & Hermans-Konopka, 2009), we stimulate the movement of the I in relation to different emotions. Flexibility to enter and to leave different emotions is crucial for psychological health (Greenberg, 2002) as has been showed in investigations using the Self Confrontation method (Hermans & Hermans-Jansen, 1995). As my client said, “being able to feel these different emotions I am becoming a more complete human being”. Also in his work as a manager this emotional flexibility allowed him to be more authentic and convincing in work relations. {quotes}Flexibility to enter and to leave different emotions is crucial for psychological health{/quotes} Emotional flexibility can also stimulate more flexibility in behaviors, because different emotions arise different action tendencies (Frijda, 2001, Hermans-Konopka & Hermans, in press).

Flexible movement of the I into an emotion allows for identification and understanding the emotion from within in an embodied way. Movement out of an emotion allows for disidentification and finding a space beyond the emotion. We consider both movements as important in emotional coaching work. Identification with emotion is like swimming in the see, diving into it, while disidentification is more like looking at the sea, but not being immersed in it. Disidentification allows to look at emotions and being with emotions at the same time and this “looking at” and “being with” seems to be especially important for the development of awareness. Awareness has been considered as the main therapeutic factor in psychotherapy already by Freud (Epstein, 2007). He used to talk about an “ego split”, where the content is distinguished from its observer. We could say that I go a bit above the content of the momentary experience and look at it from some distance. This bare attention which relates in a not-judgmental observing way towards all what arises in the present moment is according to Epstein (2008) a particular way of “constructive control” over ones emotions. This control is a paradoxical one, in a sense it is control without control when being with one’s experience allows experiencing a space of freedom. Awareness is considered to be a process which can be stimulated by art. During emotional coaching sessions clients are asked to make a composition of stones in which the different stones represent different emotions. When the person looks at the composition of his own emotional self, the spatial distinction between emotion and an observer is pronounced (the emotion is in the stone) There is on one side a space from which the person observes and from the other side the content of the self which is observed. This artistic look at the composition of the self seems to stimulate an experience of awareness, because some clients become aware not only of their emotions and different positions but also of another space in the self from which they can look at them, from which they are aware of these emotions and positions. This has been suggested by following statements: “ I am in my awareness”, “this is ‘I am’ space”, “sky-like position from which I can see my feelings”, “ I feel a new space and I am in this space”, “I can be with my anxiety, but I am not my anxiety”, “ I is central like the sun”. It seems that a movement into the direction of awareness can change the relation with one’s emotions into a more open and accepting one. It allows to BE with emotions of the self and others. I think that learning to BE is one of the most challenging issues in Western culture which emphasize so much doing and changing. Especially in times of uncertainty many people need to learn to be with their own uncertainty, anxieties and other negative emotions and finding an answer to them. They are parts of being human and not always need to be immediately changed. Freedom to be with whatever arises in you is a freedom from the necessity to change things immediately. This freedom allows feeling deeper and hearing what our feelings have to tell to us. Many managers, who have to deal not only with their own uncertainties but also anxiety of their teams are often expected to be just strong and optimistic. For many of them it becomes a heavy and lonely process. Sometimes it can lead to an estrangement from themselves and from their coworkers. There is a need to learn to be with negative emotions of themselves and of others, make them more open to create authentic relations with them. This allows leaders to be with their doubts and uncertainties and to give productive answers to them. In this way, a person can become a more complete human being in his or her leadership.



by Agnieszka Hermans-Konopka
In this article we are going to argue the importance of work with emotions in coaching. {quotes}Especially in times of uncertainty created by globalization and economical crisis many people need to learn how to deal with negative emotions in constructive ways. {/quotes}Managers often need to develop new skills which allow them to relate not only to their own anxieties and uncertainties but also to difficult experiences in their teams. This new challenge requires the development of coaching and training programs which help to stimulate emotional wisdom in which emotion and the reason become synergic forces. There is a growing interest in role of emotions in organization and in successful leadership. In 1997 Magazine Executive called emotional intelligence a factor which “underpins the most dynamic businesses and the most satisfying and successful lives, while Observer (1994) concludes that it is the “final frontier for performance improvement in companies”. Emotional skills are more and more in the centre of interest of many organizations and a growing number of professionals dedicate their careers to work on them. We are not going to talk about emotional intelligence here, but about a methodology of emotional coaching (Hermans & Hermans-Konopka, 2009) based on the more dynamic concept of the dialogical self which takes into account the relational, dynamic character of the self. We are going to use the term “emotional wisdom”, which is treated as a result of dialogue between reason and emotion and as a consequence of dialogical relation between emotion and self in general. One of the central aspects of emotional wisdom is the stimulation of a dialogical relation between self and emotions. This relation is bidirectional: emotions can transform the self and the self gives an answer to emotions. We are going to argue that to BE with your own emotions is a challenging art for the Westerm culture, accustomed as it is to the control or change emotions. A very important step needed for developing being with emotions is self-acceptance, stopping the internal struggle with oneself and making the relation between emotions and the self more dialogical.

Relation between emotion and the self.

Do you often talk with your clients about their relation with family, friends and colleagues? The answer seems to be obvious and probably you will say “yes”. Do you also usually explore their relation with their own emotions? Have you ever reflected on your own relation with your emotions?  In emotional coaching (Hermans & Hermans-Konopka, 2009), which is based on dialogical self theory, we pay special attention to the relation with one’s emotions, because the quality of this relation deeply determinates the social functioning and development of the person. There can be many examples. When people can not deal with their own sadness, they are not likely to be open for the sadness of another person. When they do not allow some types of emotions to play a role in the relations with other people, these relations are at risk to become superficial and shallow. When they do not want to hear the voice of annoying unpleasant emotions, people can miss a very important message that tells them that something crucial in life needs attention. Avoiding feelings of powerlessness prevents the person to be in a deeper contact with oneself and others.




The Self Confrontation Method, created by professor Hubert Hermans (1995), is focused on self-exploration with special attention to personal stories, feelings and basic motives (the striving for self-assertion and the longing for connection with others).

The method is a relational procedure in which client and coach work together in order to gain insight in the content and organization of the clients'personal meaning units that are part of their self-narratives.

This is done by inviting clients, on the basis of a series of open questions, to tell their most important meaning units ("valuations'') referring to their past, present, and expected future.

In the theory behind the method, a distinction is made between a manifest level that refers to the manifold variety of one's valuations as they come and go in the course of time and a latent level that refers to a limited set of basic motives that constantly influence the content and organization of the valuations on the manifest level.

A deeper insight in the organization of one's valuation system is reached when clients see which parts of their valuation system are under the influence of which basic motives.

In this way, the exaggerations, biases and lacks of the valuation system are assessed and, moreover, the way in which these features influence thegeneral well-being of the client. This information is used by client and coach to formulate particular action plans that contribute to the further development of the valuation system as a whole.

Self - knowledge developed during in the process of self confrontation is especially usefull when clients are in a time of transition or intensivechange, or when they want to make important life decisions.

This method is used in coaching for the stimulation of professional and personal development.


Trainings on Self Confrontation Method




by Hubert J.M. Hermans

As argued earlier (Hermans, Kempen, & Van Loon, 1992), the proposed conception is a step beyond individualism and rationalism and differs essentially from the Cartesian cogito. The Cartesian conception of the self is traditionally phrased in terms of the expression ‘I think’. This expression assumes that there is one centralized I responsible for the steps in reasoning or thinking. Moreover, the Cartesian ‘I think’ is based on a disembodied mental process assumed to be essentially different from the body and other material extended in space. (For a comparison of the separated Cartesian self and the dialogical self, see also Fogel, 1993.)

In contrast to the individualistic self, the dialogical self is based on the assumption that there are many I-positions that can be occupied by the same person.{/quotes} The I in the one position, moreover, can agree, disagree, understand, misunderstand, oppose, contradict, question, challenge and even ridicule the I in another position. In contrast to the rationalistic self, the dialogical self is always tied to a particular position in space and time. As Merleau-Ponty (1945/1962) would have it, there is no ‘God’s eye view’. As an embodied being, the person is not able to freely ‘fly above’ his or her position in space and time, but he or she is always located at some point in space and time. Even the most advanced arithmetical problem involves a system of numbers originally based on the counting of 10 fingers, which is in turn indispensable for the child to understand the activity of counting at all (we also measure in ‘feet’). The dialogical self is ‘social’, not in the sense that a self-contained individual enters into social interactions with other outside people, but in the sense that other people occupy positions in a multivoiced self. The self is not only ‘here’ but also ‘there’, and, owing to the power of imagination, the person can act as if he or she were the other and the other were him- or herself. This is not the same as ‘taking the role of the other’, as Mead (1934) meant by this expression that the self is taking the actual perspective of the other. Rather, I’m able to construe another person or being as a position that I can occupy and as a position that creates an alternative perspective on the world and myself. The constructed perspective may or may not be congruent with the perspective that is defined as the perspective of the ‘actual’ other (which can be checked by entering into conversation with the other). It should be emphasized, however, that the other may be partly the product of my imagination, closely intertwined with the ‘actual’ other, and can be even completely imaginary.

Mind as Society

In computer brain sciences there are developments that use ‘society’ as a model to comprehend the complexities of the brain. Such models may contribute to an understanding of the multivoiced and dialogical nature of the self. Computer scientist Minsky (1985), for example, considers the mind as a hierarchically organized network of interconnected parts that together function as a ‘society’. In his model the mind consists of a host of smaller minds, called agents. Many of these agents don’t comprehend one another because most agents are not able to communicate with each other at all. In this respect, the mind resembles a human society in which many agents have their own action programs and simply do their job without knowing all the other agents who are part of the community. However, at the higher levels of organization, agents may be involved in direct communication.

Minsky developed a computer program for block building in which he describes the conflict between two agents at the same level of organization:a Builder and a Wrecker, who is only interested in breaking down what Builder has achieved. At this level, agents may agree or disagree with one another:

Only larger agencies could be resourceful enough to do such things. Inside an actual child, the agencies responsible for Building and Wrecking might indeed become versatile enough to negotiate by offering support for one another’s goals. ‘Please, Wrecker, wait a moment more till Builder adds just one more block: it’s worth it for a louder crash!’ (Minsky, 1985, p. 33) In this model, conflicts between agents tend to migrate upward to higher levels in the society of mind. If the conflicts between the disagreeing agents are not solved, the higher-level agent under which they are subordinated is weakened. If Builder and Wrecker, in the above example, cannot solve their conflict, they reduce the strength of their mutual superior (e.g. Play), with the result that this superior will then be surpassed by competing agencies on the same level (e.g. Sleep or Eat). If Builder and Wrecker are not able to settle their disagreements, the child stops playing and wants to sleep.

Another computer scientist, Hofstadter (1986), also uses the notions of voice and dialogue in his attempts to comprehend the workings of the mind. In his model the mind, with its billions of neurons, resembles a community made up of smaller communities, each in turn made up of smaller ones. The highest-level communities are called ‘subselves’ or ‘inner voices’. In Hofstadter’s view, each inner voice is composed of millions of smaller parts, each of which is an active part of a community.

Under specific circumstances, these smaller parts are all ‘pointing in the same direction’, and at that moment an inner voice crystallizes and undergoes a ‘phase transition’. The voice proclaims itself an active member of the community of subselves. If it is strong enough, it exerts pressure in order to be recognized and to get in touch with other voices. A hypothetical dialogue may take place: ‘. . . a dialogue between two persons both of whom are inside me, both of whom are genuinely myself, but who are at odds, in some sense, with each other’ (Hofstadter, 1986, p. 782). If the disagreeing voices are able to solve their conflict, or when one of the voices becomes stronger than the other, the person is able to take a ‘decision’. Hofstadter (1986) and Minsky (1985) share the idea that the brain is a community of agents or voices that, at its higher levels, may entertain mutual dialogical relationships, with one voice being more dominant or active than the other voice. The multiplicity of voices, as postulated by computer scientists, is well in agreement with the original formulations by James (1890) on the ‘rivalry and conflict of the different selves’ (p. 309) and with the metaphor of the polyphonic novel as proposed by Bakhtin (1929/1973). Moreover, the models of the two computer scientists share the idea that the decisions that are reached do not result from a centralized and unified ego or I that, as an authoritarian leader, keeps its followers under control. Decisions are taken ‘from the bottom up’ rather than ‘from the top down’.

Despite the apparent commonalities between the two computer scientists, it should be kept in mind that they use the notion of society, voice and dialogue more as metaphors for comprehending the workings of the brain than as means for understanding the social processes in actual communities of people. Dialogicality in the Bakhtinian sense is not restricted to ‘inner voices’ within the individual mind but also includes ‘external voices’. Both dialogical forms are needed for a model of self and culture. As featured on


Compositionwork is a method inspired by an old tradition of Japanese gardens and based on the scientific theory of the Dialogical Self (Hermans& Hermans-Konopka, 2010).

Read more: Compositionwork Method