by Agnieszka Hermans-Konopka

According to many authors emotions involve and change the self (Morgan & Averill, 1992), they are considered to be a key factor of self-organization (Greenberg, 2002). In research made during my dissertation (Hermans-Konopka & Hermans, 2009), I discovered that emotions can dramatically change the way a person experience him- or herself. I discovered that emotions can dramatically change the way a person experience him- or herself. Participants were asked to describe the influence of 14 emotions on their selves by using verbs like e.g.imprisoning, warming or liberating. It appeared that love, joy, self-esteem and tenderness led to the most positively experienced changes in the self. On the other hand inferiority, anxiety, weakness and loneliness provoked the most negatively experienced changes in the self.

Within the group of negative emotions, anger led to the most positive changes in the self like e.g. strengthening , and at the same time evoked the most negative action tendencies, like e.g. forcing, using violence.The results showed that the self can be transformed by emotions. This can be a temporary change, because a person can feel very hard and strong towards another when expressing anger, but then, after having access to his or her love, can become soft and tender. There is also empirical evidence that emotions can reorganize the self on a long term. Magai and McFadden (1995) discovered that episodes connected with strong emotional experiences can even lead to permanent personality changes and lead to be turning points in personal stories. For example, a sense of a weak self can be build up by unresolved experience of anxiety or the perception of oneself as being open can result from a loving relationship which has deeply influenced the self in the past.

Emotions can dramatically change the self and, as a consequence, the way we perceive the world and others is changed. As Anis Nin ones said: “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are”. Especially under influence of a strong emotion, our attention becomes restricted to selected aspects of the world, whereas other (relevant) aspects remain simply unseen. One of our clients who experienced a lot of anxiety saw the world as threatening in a highly generalizing way. She became aware that there is in her always a hidden expectation that something terrible can happen. “There can be always a hidden threat” she said; she functioned many years in that way, not being aware that she was dictated permanently by the voice of her anxiety. She even did not feel this anxiety clearly, but only as a vague tension which was always there. She experienced herself as weak and the world as threatening and this was one of the main obstacles in taking free actions, including taking calculated risks which were needed in order to develop her own business. People may be not aware how emotions influence the way they perceive themselves and the world. Sometimes we experienced ourselves as weak but we do not know that it is a way in which emotions changed us. We can see the world as threatening not being aware that it is just a result of our anxiety.

A very important step in emotional coaching is to become aware how our emotions define ourselves and our relations with other and the world. {quotes}A very important step in emotional coaching is to become aware how our emotions define ourselves and our relations with other and the world.{/quotes}In this way using the Self Confrontation Method (SCM; Hermans & Hermans-Janssen, 1995) and emotional coaching can go well together. The SCM as a way to discover the affective patterns of valuations and emotional coaching as a way to work on emotions as significant parts of these patterns can be a promising, effective and theoretically coherent combination. Research on counseling shows that emotions play a central role in processes of change, regardless the therapeutic approach (Whelton, 2004). As Honos-Webb, Surko, Stiles and Greenberg pointed out, change in psychotherapy occurs by replacing a dominant, maladaptive, emotionally based voice by a more adaptive one (1999). We need to take into account that emotions are forces of transformation of the self and they need to be used and taken seriously into account if we want to stimulate a deeper change in the client.

At the same time we need to remember that emotions are not isolated phenomena’s that function as “natural phenomena” like weather fluctuations. It would also be a misunderstanding to see the person as being hopelessly subjected to the influence of emotions without being able to give a response. Emotions influence the self and the self can influence emotions and in a sense they function as part of a highly dynamic interaction. The final quality of emotions is always a result of bidirectional interaction between the self and emotions.