Coaching at the Identity Level
by Robert Dilts and Deborah Bacon
The human race is clearly in a challenging period. Problems such as terrorism and global warming show that we have been becoming increasingly disconnected from ourselves, others and the world around us. We have gone to such a collective state of disconnection that it has caused a crisis that is waking a lot of people up. People are becoming riper and riper for change and transformation. Increasing numbers of people are asking themselves what really matters and reevaluating their life’s direction. This awakening has led to a growing need for coaching at the identity level.
All coaching processes are organized around the movement from a present state to a desired state. In the case of coaching at the identity level, the desired state is to be deeply connected with ourselves and to live from a place of centeredness, presence and fullness. These are key qualities that we have found are a “difference that makes a difference” when we have modeled successful and creative people. As the famous dancer Martha Graham said:
“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening [an energy] that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not yours to determine how good it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open.”
From this perspective, evolution, transformation and satisfaction in life come through “keeping the channel open.”
Our deepest goal at the identity level is to continually answer the question “Who am I?” We answer this question by how we respond to life from moment to moment. When we are centered, present in our bodies and connected with ourselves and the world around us, we become naturally in touch with our life’s purpose and meaning.
The main dilemma in our lives that works against our natural self-evolution and satisfaction is that we disconnect from ourselves in order to protect ourselves. Because of this, we lose contact with our true needs and take refuge in activities and behaviors that keep us disconnected. We become reactive or withdrawn and begin to “shut our channel down.” We move away from what we fear rather than being in touch with what we want to do and be in our lives. This leads to several dynamics that cause us to “shut down our channel” and live from less than our fullness. These dynamics, which are often unconscious, include:
1. Holding on to an “idealized self” (that which we feel we must be in order to be loved and to gain approval)
2. Identification with thoughts, beliefs and stories that limit our expression of our true identity
3. Lack of understanding how to relate to difficult feelings (frustration, fear, anger, self-doubt, etc.) that emerge as a natural response to life
The fundamental purpose of coaching at the identity level is to help people recognize when their “channel is open,” when it is “closed” and what they can do to open it again. This implies learning to recognize the ways we disconnect from ourselves and discovering what allows us to come back “home.” A key outcome of coaching at the identity level is to enable people to expand and deepen their sense of who they are and respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by life from a place of increasing presence, resourcefulness and authenticity—even during times of challenge and crisis. From the perspective of identity coaching, it is important for us to view our lives as a “hero’s journey’ and find the call to action present in events and challenges we face. In fact, it is often through the crises in our lives that we come into greater fullness and are more able to find our unique expressions in life.
At a deep level, human beings share the same fundamental fears such as fear of suffering or pain, fear of abandonment or suffocation, fear of non–existence, etc. The way those fears get expressed can vary from culture to culture and shift emphasis depending upon our life circumstances. Our response to fear, however, is generally to disconnect from our vulnerability and live from survival strategies that cut us off from our rich inner life and from the fertile ground of our being.
The process of coaching at the identity level helps people to identify these fundamental fears in the form of what might be called “demons” and “shadows”-feelings and parts of ourselves that we have become disconnected from and do not want to face. It then supports people to find the resources necessary for them to change their relationship to these fears, reopen the “channel” and live from a place of deeper connection, faith and trust.
Identity challenges frequently emerge during times of transition. It has been said that things are always changing but not necessarily always progressing. While we can neither prevent nor truly control transition and transformation in our lives, we can learn to accompany these natural movements and participate in them more consciously, rather than being unconsciously carried down the river of change. One of the goals of coaching at the identity level is to help people internalize practical skills and principles with which to manage life transitions with greater ease, flow and resourcefulness.
When we are centered in who we truly are, we live deeply connected to ourselves and to others. Refinding and supporting this connectedness is the essential element for healing our world. In this way, coaching at the identity level contributes to transforming our collective reality.