Self esteem has always ended up being consciously talked about with all my clients. I cannot recall a time when the idea of how a person values themselves and their abilities has not arisen.
It is a tricky issue though. Self esteem runs intertwined not only with how we think both about ourselves but also how we think about our relationships, our society and the meaning of our lives. It can often be oversimplified. Self esteem is seen as the must have centre from which a good life will flow - or good feelings will flow. This is not accurate as an approach because like many aspects of how we think about ourselves, it is subject to comparative outside forces beyond our control.
What kind of self esteem do we really want to have? One that is easily knocked about, subject to easy fracture or collapse? If we base our self esteem on variable factors outside our control then we will need to accept that we will not be focussing our self awareness on enduring stable esteem. Self esteem that is centred around a different configuration will have more to offer in terms of stability and ongoing good feeling.
So what can we centre our clients esteem around that will provide them with more stability?
I think three things are key:
- The acceptance that there are limits to what they can actively control. Think of the weather. Most of us would consider basing our self esteem on our ability to affect the weather to be unwise, even dare I say foolish. But the more we define our esteem by our ability to control external events then so we we run the risk of responding negatively to ourselves when we reach the limits of our control.
- Centring esteem around abilities that we can retain full choice around in any given circumstance. For instance if being polite and taking time with people forms part of your value system then that is something you can pretty much always chose to do with people. On the other hand basing your esteem around a specific skill can have pitfalls. For example a client some years ago was very proud of their ability to make hand made black and white prints for photographers. He was sought after and brilliant at it. Then the digital printing revolution came along and almost overnight his services and his ability make money from them disappeared. This knocked his self esteem as it was in part focussed around his printing ability and the recognition he received.
- Listening to the right person. Yes, that is you! In the end every opinion given to you by an outside person is subject to change. Why? Because people change. If we feel esteem based only on what other people reflect back to us them we will be in for a bumpy ride. Now it may the case that our own opinion of ourselves is bumpy too. Think negative thought patterns etc. But nevertheless these can be overcome or managed. You cannot take away or manage anyone else's thoughts, positive or negative. But we do have the ability to affect our own. And that is a more solid base on which to focus self esteem.
In executive coaching we do of course practice this reflection with our clients. When asked that question by a client “What do you think about……?” I tread carefully. Being drawn into an immediate response that involves offering my thoughts is full of risk for the client. That is not to say that we do not share a perspective on the subject at hand. It just means we need to be aware of context and impact.
So during a coaching session, when self esteem comes into the conversation, it can useful to share these three points and explore how they have their self esteem constructed within themselves. Self esteem that is founded on these approaches is more enduring and resilient to the buffeting of life.
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