As a coach, one question I'm often asked is: "What do you think is I should do?" It's a question full of honor, responsibility, and opportunity, and one I always respond to with the utmost reverence, dignity, and integrity.
I had a client ask for advice on how she should have responded to an argument with a family member where they disrespectfully talked down to her? Here's how the conversation unfolded...
Me: How do you think you could have responded?
Her: I could have said you shouldn't keep talking to me that way.
Me: OK, so what's wrong with that response?
Her: I've said it before, and they keep disrespecting me.
Me: There are two parts to the disrespect: 1. They're disrespecting you, and 2. You're allowing it. Why do you continue to allow them to disrespect you?
Her: I'm not sure.
Me: If you're not sure, then pretend that you know.
Her: I guess I don't feel like I know how to stand up for myself.
Me: Who would you need to become in order to stand up for yourself?
Her: I would need to become more confident.
Me: Maybe, I more see confidence as a byproduct of self-respect. How much do you respect
yourself on a 1-10 scale?
Her: Probably 2-3.
Me: OK, how much self-respect do you feel you would need to create healthy boundaries in a heated conversation?
Her: Probably 6-7.
Me: OK, so what does that path from a 2-3 to 6-7 look like?
Her: Ummmm, I'm not sure. Can you just tell me: What do you think I should have said?
Me: You realize by asking me this question, you're not placing yourself in the passenger seat of this situation, removing all accountability, and full disempowering yourself, right?
Her: Ugh, yeah, I do.
Me: And do you recall the one thing I told you I'm not willing to do?
Her: You're not willing to chase symptoms.
Me: Right! Let's pretend I'm giving you that advice from a self-respect level of 6-7, and you're receiving it at a 2-3; how would it even be possible for you to deliver on it?
Her: Huh, I never really thought of it like that.
Me: The fact of the matter is, advice rarely changes behavior, and if you want to exert a change, it has to come from within you.
Her: Yeah, you're right.
Me: I'm not saying it to be right, I'm saying it because my role in our relationship is to operate in your best interests.
Her: I know, and I appreciate that.
Me: Let's perform a brief meditation to connect you to the "2-3" part of yourself and hang out there until we increase your self-respect. Sound OK?
Me: Now, close your eyes and move towards your insecurity. While there, observe any thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise and remain steadfast. If it becomes too uncomfortable, you're free to move away.
Me: What are you noticing?
Her: I'm remembering many past experiences of pain and rejection.
Me: OK, and where do you feel it?
Her: I feel a burning sensation in my chest.
Me: OK, stick with it, breathe into it until it subsides, and let me know once it does.
* As several minutes pass, she experienced an increase in discomfort, but she remained steady, and it finally passed.
Her: OK, I don't feel it anymore.
Me: Imagine you're sitting in a space where your self-respect exists. Notice how it feels at a 2-3.
Her: It feels tight and difficult to move.
Me: With a spirit of patience and intention, start breathing into that space as if to expand it like a balloon until you feel you're unable to continue blowing it up.
* Several minutes pass again, there were alternating periods of shallow and deep breathing, and she stopped once she felt tired.
Her: I'm there.
Me: Great job! Remain in posture and tell me how much you've expanded your sphere of self-respect.
Her: It feels like a 5.
Me: Perfect! Now tell me how you would respond to the argument you had from this level?
Her: I would have told them that I respect myself too much to let them talk down to me, and I'm only willing to continue talking so long as we're respecting each other.
Me: Excellent! Where do you feel this in your body?
Her: I feel it in my chest, but in a prideful way, like I care about myself.
If I had fallen into a pleasing mode and gave her the advice she thought she wanted, she would have left our call as depleted as when we started.
But because her encouragement and empowerment were my primary measures of success, keeping her in position as the driver and catalyst of this engagement made the most sense.
I've heard from my client since this session and said it was the first conversation she had with this person where she really felt heard and taken seriously.
"An empowering perspective gives birth to an empowering life." Hal Elrod