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.