Asking for Help

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For people who find it hard to ask for help:
Self-awareness and relationship awareness are two key components of emotional intelligence. Awareness is a fundamental life skill because you can only change what you are aware of. Being aware of your thoughts and feelings creates the possibility for new action. If I have a good relationship with myself but I cannot translate that when I am relating to others then my growth area is in relationship awareness. This requires being aware of myself and the other person I am in conversation with. Alternately some people are more skilled at building relationships with others than they are with themselves. This means their growth is in self-awareness. Strong relationships and emotional maturity requires self-awareness and relationship-awareness to be present.

Asking for help is a relational skill. I am one of those people who find it hard to ask for help. It feels like risky behaviour to me. The first risk I am aware of is that my request might cause the recipient some irritation. The second risk is hearing ‘No’ which I tend to take personally. When I became aware of my issue I began to observe this phenomenon more closely.

When we are not aware of something we act automatically in circumstances. In my journey of discovery I became aware of two beliefs I held; Firstly, that it is not okay to ask for help. Secondly, when someone asks you to do something you have to say, “Yes.” These revealed my complicated view of asking for help. If I ask someone for help then I automatically feel bad about myself, as if I have done something wrong. If I am asked for help, and I say, “Yes” to the request when I would rather say “No”, I set myself up for feeling some form of resentment. This is clearly not an ideal state of affairs when wanting to show emotional maturity and build authentic relationships.

While I was in my own struggle to ask for help, I heard a quote by Brene Brown: “When you cannot accept and ask for help without self-judgment, then when you offer other people help, you are always doing so with judgment.”
We know that giving help, if done for the right reasons, makes us feel good. So if you are happy to help others but can’t ask for help then some alarm bells should be ringing loudly inside of you. If you can’t ask for help then an unconscious thought of judgment will be present when you are doing the helping. This sets up an obvious relational issue.

So now what? Awareness allows us to recognise where the problem lies. Action is what shifts our way of being. Being able to ask for help, without emotional angst, is a necessary skill if you want to build authentic relationships. The way to build skill is practice. When asking for help there are three possible responses to a request: Yes, No and Maybe. Each response is valid. We must be consciously available to the possibility of each one: a ‘Yes’ is easy to work with; a ‘maybe’ sets up a negotiation, another relating skill; and a “no” can be the hardest to hear. However, when we are able to pause and look at it from both perspectives, a true ‘No’ is as healthy a boundary as a true ‘Yes.’ Where there is total honesty, there is the foundation for authentic relating.

Identify opportunities to ask for help and then practice. Any new behaviour will feel uncomfortable to begin with; it’s like putting on new shoes. I would recommend low risk requests to start. Notice how you feel when you get the response, journal about it. Be curious if your discomfort continues. Celebrate when it works for you, because you are building the skill of asking for help, and being able to give help authentically.

Working from our Centre

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The concept of working from our centre means we are able to respond to events and people from our true self. When we make decisions or communicate from our centre there is a quality to our words and deeds that is different from when we don’t. The word ‘centre’ describes the alignment between head, heart and body. When the answers to “what am I thinking”; “what am I feeling”; and “what am I sensing in my body” feel coherent and aligned then we are coming from our centre. It is a place of knowing rather than thinking. It is self-management and personal mastery in action.

Our centre is not dominated by our ego. The ego is entirely head based. Traditionally we have been taught to think through things and be rational. This is useful for managing our mental processes. However, it doesn’t include the emotional or sensory input that accompanies everything we do. This preference for using our cognitive capability over the other two is probably the single biggest cause of conflict in our lives.

Our thoughts are products of our interpretations and opinions. They can be very useful, and they can be the exact opposite. A thought like “I am capable” supports my action choices positively. A thought like “I’m better than you” distracts me from personal mastery and can trip me up when I am communicating or taking action. The issue is that we create a thought unconsciously and then act on it as if it were true, when there is no evidence to support that. The key to managing our thoughts and using them as a support to our personal mastery is awareness because we cannot change what we are not aware of.

If I believe “I am better than you” it will influence my behaviour towards you. I will show up as superior, patronising or even arrogant. This is egotistic behaviour. When I display these attributes, it will not motivate inspired action or spontaneous admiration from others. If I am aware of my need to position myself as better that you I immediately create a space for change. We expand our awareness in two key ways: through reflection and seeking feedback. These activities give us perspectives that were not previously available to us. New perspectives create the potential for new thoughts.

Let’s look at the thought “I’m better than you” from an emotional perspective. This thought expresses superiority however the emotional basis of it points to a low self-worth. If I believe the thought that ‘I am better than you’ it becomes apparent that my emotional system is not in agreement. In fact the opposite is possibly true; my emotional centre is confronted by feeling less worthy than you and my thinking system is trying to act against this emotional signal. This is a misalignment. Any communication or action made from this perspective will not be experienced as authentic.

If we look at these two states: the thinking state that says “I’m better than you”; and the emotional state that holds “I am not feeling worthy,” it becomes clear that neither is likely to be entirely true. “I’m better than you” as a non-specific generalisation is a defence mechanism generated by the ego and feeling unworthy is an emotional interpretation that has no real evidence to support it. And I have often encountered people acting out these two states and wondering why the outcome they seek from their actions is not the one they get.
Now add to this, the sensing capability within our body. Our body filters our experiences continuously. If we are not aware, this misalignment shows up as various body postures and actions. If I think ‘I am better than you,’ I am likely to take up physical space: I may stand when I speak so that I can be seen; I will probably speak loudly and more than anyone else in the room. The emotional context of low self worth means I will be checking how everyone is receiving my contribution; I need to be sure they can see me, hear me, and agree with me. If they do not agree with me, I also have a thinking tactic of managing that discomfort which further reinforces the view that ‘I am better than you.’ Our body is effectively a mirror to the world. It reveals our coherence or our misalignment.

We come back to our centre by re-aligning these three important areas. Theoretically, you can implement a change in the thoughts, emotions, or the body. In my experience as a coach it is not as easy as it sounds. We often hold thoughts and emotions very tightly so it is more difficult to shift them. I find the best results come from working through our body, to find a more light-hearted way to create awareness.
In our example we used the ‘I’m better than you’ thought, which is expressed as the emotion of feeling less worthy and the body posture that shows up as arrogant. There is alignment between the body and the thought; however the original thought is not true. ‘I’m better than you’ is too general and non-specific to ever be true. Feeling less worthy is fundamental to the problem, because the thought and the body alignment act to hide this emotional state. And ‘I’m less worthy’ is also too general and non-specific to be true in the emotional context.

A simple way to create alignment would be to find the place you would like to be. Pick a more resourceful emotional state like ‘I feel worthy’. Now ask yourself the question, ‘How would a worthy person enter the room or begin the conversation?’ Their body posture would not appear arrogant, or loud, or needing attention. It would express being present, confident and open. Explore what this body posture looks and feels like for you. Practice it in the mirror. Once your body moves into the posture, the emotional position of worthiness will begin to feel real. Now notice what you are thinking. Your thoughts begin to shift as well. Your need to feel ‘better than’ begins to shift and you will be able to see the other person’s value as well as your own. Now you are in your centre because your head, heart and body are communicating coherently. This coherence creates the foundation for effective self-management and personal mastery.

The Value of Boundaries

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‘It’s important to have boundaries’ is one of those sentences that trips off my tongue. I understand exactly what the words mean cognitively and, to really act on what I think or say continues to be a challenge to me.
Brene Brown defines boundaries as ‘what is okay for me and what is not okay for me.’ This in itself is not hard to establish, what makes it an issue is when I know what is okay or not okay and I don’t communicate that. I end up justifying my actions as ‘keeping others happy’ and then comes the emotional impact. If I don’t hold a boundary that is important to me I know immediately. I end up feeling angry, hurt or resentful. I also believe that I am able to hide that feeling from others and my experience has shown me that is rarely true. If the words I speak are not the words that declare my boundary then what I said and what I mean are inconsistent. This will be a felt by both parties in an interaction even if though it may be hard to articulate. This is important because it impacts the quality of our relationships.
Everyone has his or her own experience of a boundary being crossed. When someone steps over one of my boundaries I get angry, my chest contracts and I have the feeling of being taken advantage or disrespected. I struggle to say what I need to say and most often I will withdraw and disengage. Others may be more aggressive in their response directing their anger at the person who has overstepped the boundary. Both reactions are inappropriate because the person who has invaded the boundary is unaware of what they have done. In both cases conflict is the immediate result, be it inner or outer. The point is not to judge the reaction. The point is to be curious about what has happened. Our emotional reactions are flags telling us that we have a concern that needs to be attended to.
Coaching offers us tools and practices to help us recognise when we have not been clear about a boundary and what to do about that. The action required to put clear boundaries in place may not endear us to everyone; it may even alienate us from certain people. If someone wants us to do something they will not appreciate it when we are not able to meet their need. This can feel very uncomfortable at first. It takes practice to become skilled. Our default settings, like ‘keeping everyone happy’ or ‘needing to be in charge’ are automatic until we start to notice them. When we practice something new like ‘keeping myself happy’ or ‘allowing others to take the lead’ it will not feel natural or normal. The one way to know if it is an effective new strategy is to observe the quality of your relationships. If you feel more connected to yourself and to others you are putting boundaries in place that serve you.

What really hurts us

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What hurts us is believing things that aren’t true and acting as if they were.

We exist in a culture that sends us myriad messages that we may not be conscious of receiving. Messages like ‘being emotional is bad’, ‘riches and power make you successful’, ‘what work you do is who you are’ to highlight a few. When we don’t question these ideas they become an invisible backdrop to all the decisions we make and the opinions we hold. For example: if you think that being emotional is bad then you will judge people as bad whenever you feel or see an emotional response. This becomes instinctual over time. You will see the emotional response and, before you know it, you will be standing in ‘righteous’ judgment. Righteous because you believe what you see is bad. The path to transformation lies in being able to look more deeply at the situation. The problem is not being emotional. The problem is believing that it is bad. This is an important distinction for emotional intelligence. Here’s what is more true:

1. We are all emotional.
2. To be authentic as individuals we need to fully embrace this idea.
3. To be effective in our lives we need to be clear about our emotion state constantly.
4. To make a difference we need to understand and master the expression of our emotions skilfully.

This work is not just important for emotional intelligence. It is at the heart of being human. When we reject an integral part of our nature we reject ourselves. When we reject ourselves it shows up in the world as rejection from others. Others sense our own judgment and follow the lead we have given them. This is when the hurt begins. When we feel it from outside of ourselves it is easy to assign it as an external force. They are rejecting me. Many people get stuck here and because they are unable to accept their response as something inherently personal. If you want to heal the place to start is with yourself. Preventing the hurt in the first place begins with the ability to be with our emotions as they arise. Our emotions are spontaneous and they are catalysed by our experiences. So initially you cannot stop them occurring. The best tool you have to work with is your curiousity. Be interested in what causes a certain response within you. When you reflect on your reactions you will begin to see that your responses follow patterns. For example when someone says something to me in certain way I always react in the same way. Your reaction will be caused by a thought that you believe is true. When you become curious about the cause of your reaction you will begin to see that you believe something that might not be true for the other person. For example a habitual angry reaction towards perceived rudeness can become an inquiry into behaviour that you perceive as rude. A simple and brave conversation about what you perceive and feel has the power to shift a strong emotional reaction instantly. This is the start of self-awareness. You can only change things that you are aware of so once you see a pattern of reaction you can explore what that means for you. You may be comfortable with it or you may wish you could direct your emotional energy in a different way. The path to shifting habitual patterns is generally not a smooth or easy one however it is an inspiring one. Open communication is a powerful tool for change. This is emotional intelligence in action. Developing emotional intelligence changes our lives. When we are able to respond in a way that feels skilful we hurt less and we are able to connect more authentically with others.