Over the past few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about self-help, new-age spirituality, and the coaching profession.
Some big questions came up that make me feel uneasy but also challenged me to address them and clarify my positions and thoughts around the topic:
- Is individual healing possible?
- Is coaching contributing to a narrative of hyper individualization?
- What role does community play in regards to individual healing?
In the communities that I am part of, I often see an overemphasis on individual responsibility for well-being and healing. It is a narrative that I have personally bought into without much consideration. The message is compelling, it inspires hope in me! You can do it! No matter what! Just believe in yourself!
It is also the message I give my clients, coaching is all about activating the inner resources of the client, helping them see themselves in a better light, identify their strengths and find their confidence. The message is "You have full control over your life! Realize that, seize it and all your dreams will come true (if you put in the work)."
I think that there are two sides to this, on the one side it is an empowering message, it allows us to rise above no matter what challenges we are facing. It can help us to step out of the victim role that we might be keeping ourselves locked in. Once we start taking full responsibility for our actions it is much more likely that change will happen in our life.
But there's also the flip side: "If you haven't built your dream life yet it is your... fault."
This is obviously not the explicit message but it is implied. Own your successes and your failures. And if everything in your life is failing, that's your problem too! When we don't manage to get better it can feel like another piece of evidence that we are not good enough, that there is something wrong with us! "Why can't I just meditate to calm my mind? Why am I not working out even though I know I'll feel better? Why am I still feeling like shit even though I've read all these books and done all these courses?" etc...
What coaches seem to forget to consider here is that humans don't exist in isolation. We are embedded in a social context that has vast implications for our well-being, our ability to achieve our goals our job opportunities etc. In other words: there can be many reasons outside our control that can impact our well-being. The focus on the individual can thereby exacerbate a feeling of disempowerment.
More than that, our individual well-being depends to a very large degree on whether we have a supportive community around us or not. I have yet to see a coaching program that fully embraces that idea and the consequence of that.
I believe that it is time to look at healing not only through an individual but through a broader lens. We need a perspective that places the individual within a social context and understand that if we are unable to thrive it can have little to do with us as individuals and much more with our social environment. Happiness, life satisfaction, and success are highly collaborative endeavors, no one is self-made, everyone depends on a huge range of people. I'm not talking about your linked-in network this isn't just about your career, it is about connection, mutual trust, and support.
Sometimes life is too much to bear for us individually.
Sometimes we are in a place in our lives where our internal resources are not enough for us to cope with what life throws at us. In those moments what we need is a supportive and reliable social network to catch us. Loneliness exacerbates the risk for depression and anxiety and therefore, trying to get better all by ourselves will never work or at least be extremely difficult.
The question for me is: "What can I, as a coach do to not fall for the myth of individual healing?"
To be honest I don't have an answer to that question right now. It is much more difficult to address the issue of loneliness and disconnection that seems to be rampant in society. What I can do and will do for now is to try and give my clients this perspective too.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Does what I write resonate? In what way? Please comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org