Stop trying to make people feel better: why spiritual diagnoses & positive outlooks are doing a deep disservice to your clients & friends

June 25, 2020

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How do you help the people around you to feel better about themselves?

Think of the last time a friend opened their heart to you… how did you respond? Did you jump to ‘fix-it-mode’ with your problem-solving hat on?
Did you share a relatable story about your own experience?
Did you have some advice to give?
Did you try to help them frame it in the positive?

If you did any of the above, I want you to know: You are not helping the people around you.

Yesterday I received this thank you email from a client…

“the people around me, who I know care for me very deeply, are quick to try to make me feel better about [my weight] when I open up to them. And opening up about it is really difficult for me because I’m something of a perfectionist and it feels like “failure”. Then to have someone I love immediately tell me to not feel bad because I look amazing and am still so strong or athletic is incredibly frustrating.”

While her friends were trying to help her feel better about her weight. I was doing the opposite.


This client was being challenged to open & feel all the ugly, tender feelings she holds around her weight. Not because she “should” be skinny or because she is fat-phobic. But because without knowing how she really, truly feels about her own body – and embraces ALL of the life force bound up in the currently unwelcomed/unexpressed feelings, how can she ever gather the life force fuel required to do or feel something different?


I believe we ALL need to stop trying to make people feel better.

Making people feel better is often secret code for “let’s avoid that tender, vulnerable feeling”.

In our attempts to avoid the painful, we end up silencing & shaming the vulnerable tenderness that’s trying to be shared with us.


This has serious consequences.

1. Our friend/clients learn we are not a safe space to land with these raw feelings – because they ignored & brushed aside with a facade of positivity. Our relationships become more shallow & avoid the ‘big topics’.

2. When we shut away the ugly feelings we shut away the life force energy that is bound up with them. That life force is fuel – fuel for making decisions & actualizing our most radiant self in the world. Your star is destined to burn only half as bright if you’ve left 50% of your life force fuel bound up in the “negative feelings” that you don’t want to embrace.

3. As a coach, if your clients don’t feel safe to go into the deepest, most shame-filled facets of their feelings then you’re never going to truly help them. You might be able to skate over the surface and create action plans that look great on paper, but if those actions aren’t anchored in depth-first then they will never come to fruition. Equally, as a practitioner, you may have the gift or skills to be able to diagnose the energy & mindset & spiritual dynamic that’s unfolding. But if that “problem” is kept at arm’s length & remains more of a theory than a felt reality – 


To help them get to the edges & spaces that they are having trouble accessing themselves. 

To reclaim that frozen life force energy that’s living within the shame, rage, frustration & longing they fear to feel. But most of us don’t show up with the SAFE & LOVING parts that our friend/clients were so hoping for…


In Feminine Embodiment Coaching, we have specific tools (which are trauma-informed) to partner with our clients into deep & rich vulnerable experiences. The first step – whether you’re a coach, lover, mother, friend, or peer – is to not discount the uncomfortable. 

But why do we (so easily & habitually) discount the uncomfortable? At the macro level, we could blame our hyper-masculine cultures that are only interested in doing-doing-doing and moving forward. But this is an incomplete analysis. I believe we have a hyper-masculine culture at the moment BECAUSE moving forward is the only direction left when you are UNWILLING to dive deep. 

When the chaotic, feeling currents of the feminine are denied – the linear, direction-orientated masculine is all that’s left.

So yes it’s a result of our cultures (but our cultures are a representation of our values, and when we continue to sorely undervalue the uncomfortable in our primary relationships, what hope does our culture have of shifting?).


On the micro-level, it’s simple.

We don’t want to poke around in someone else’s vulnerabilities, because it means we’ll have to open our heart – and maybe even feel our own. 


So how do you avoid vulnerability with your friends or clients?

My research has shown there are 4 key strategies…

STRATEGY 1: STORY

“Let me share my experience with you”
“This is what happened to me”
“I know the feeling, for me it was like this…”

Earlier this year in the Coaching Certification we were discussing how we either embrace or avoid vulnerability with our clients. One of our blossoming coaches shared that her current practice had been to relate through story & she was struggling to let go of this mode of operating (in favor of the coaching model, which is focused on asking powerful questions so that the client’s body can lead).

Now of course – everything is with nuance. I am not here to say story = bad. There is a time for story, and storytelling is a rich, age-old way to connect and support another. But we have to ask…

Does your story take you both deeper into the underworld of raw intimacy?
OR
Is it hijacking the conversation to center you & a more convenient level of ‘emotional-risk’? Most stories are the latter. Most stories are detours to higher, more safe & polite ground. #vulnerabilityfail


STRATEGY 2: SPIRITUAL DIAGNOSIS

My ex-job as a kinesiologist was to keep people’s messy emotionally human self at bay by spiritually diagnosing their issues & magicking them away.

By attributing everything to a chakra or meridian there was no need to feel anything too uncomfortable. Not need to do any of the feel-it-to-free-it yourself.

This is known as spiritual bypassing.

90% of our modern ‘spiritual’, mindset and new-age energy practices are actually sophisticated systems to avoid vulnerability.

Recently a client told me she had been feeling off. It had been a big month astrologically, with an eclipse and a new moon and lots of wonderful things happening in the sky. My client wanted to know – is this the reason I feel so off?

Now again, the answer here is nuanced.

Yes, the starts and moons traveling above your head may be impacting your body. Yes, your chakras or meridians may not be flowing with your fullest life force energy. Yes, you may have a cord you need to cut and an energy vampire in the form of your ex-boss who still plagues your dreams which means your past life trauma is unresolved. Yes to all of this.

I believe in ALL of the magics and energies. I am part witch.

But I also believe that – this is all being experienced inside YOUR body. This temple, this body, is the one-and-only vessel that you are experiencing life through.

The root texture of your being, the way you can know what is truth inside of you, is how you FEEL.

Our internal felt sensations – the currents of energy that are alive inside us as sensation – are our root truth.

So if you’re feeling anger – you could externalize the why of that anger & find a million reasons in the stars, moon, or chakras. But your anger is still yours and it’s still here to be felt in YOUR body.

Labeling and diagnosing what we feel is only useful if we are still willing to FEEL it.

In my experience, rather than searching for the answers or the reason why we feel a certain way “out there” or in some esoteric model, it’s much easier to simply feel what we are feeling & enter it fully so that we can move into the heart of knowing it, and understanding it.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with anger. There’s been so much frustration in my system that has been bubbling up in unhealthy ways (like getting frustrated at my daughter when she won’t sleep). My husband has been asking me “WHY are you angry?” In an attempt to help me solve it. But this anger can’t be solved right now. I don’t know why I’m angry. I can’t tell you WHY I feel this way.

I could mentally masturbate over what this means and why it is (it has been mercury retrograde after all😆).

I could beat myself up for being angry at my daughter (which is unjustified).

I could lay on the mummy shame and hide this part away from me (and you dear reader). But who does that help? Fucking no one. Certainly NOT my anger. No one benefits from us hiding the messy, uncomfortable, shame-filled parts of us.

No one benefits from a diagnosis that helps our mind to understand the feelings but prevents our heart from actually feeling them.

I am angry. I don’t know why. But I am allowing every opportunity that the fire bubbles up from my hips and my shoulders to be felt and allowed so that I might let my anger speak to me & tell me what it’s trying to say.

Whatever your body is bringing to the surface is wisdom.

What we need is someone to help accessing the wisdom of these feelings. That help doesn’t need to take the form of a spiritual diagnosis or yet more labels that put more mental acrobatics between our head & our heart. #vulnerabilityfail

More nuanced disclaimers – There are a few (small percentage) of amazing energy medicine practitioners that are also skilled in the embodied arts. Women who can weave together the somatic and the spiritual. But the spiritual that remains conceptual & dis-embodied doesn’t help anyone.


STRATEGY 3: FIX IT MODE

Fix it mode is one you likely know well. We ALL do it ALL the time (and it is needed, at times).

When there’s a problem expressed, or a vulnerability opened, we get into brainstorming mode to solve that problem and come up with a speedy solution.

A lot of coaches work this way. Skating the surface and taking the shortest path between problem & solution.

My husband does it to me a lot as well (and I probably do it to him). Wanting to know “okay well what can I do to fix that?”. It’s the most beautiful quality – but not always the medicine needed.

Fix it mode is orientated towards a forward-moving solution.

It’s about taking the current pain & discomfort and making it go away by solving the problems.

Sounds logical. Yet when it comes to matters of vulnerability – like the hatred you hold towards the extra weight you’ve put on – an action plan isn’t what’s fucking needed. #vulnerabilityfail

Some of our Coaching Certification students are women who are already coaching with clients, but their coaching feels dry and lacks depth. They are tired of fixing their client’s problems and seeing the best-laid plans fail (yet again). Something within them whispers.. there must be a deeper more sustainably successful way to work with clients. And so they find us.

The urge to get into ‘fix it mode’ is such a strong, culturally-celebrated one that we often miss it.

As a coach, it’s doubly risky as we are bringing our preconceived ideas of what the ‘solution’ (or goal) looks like. This means we might end up ‘fixing’ our client in a direction they didn’t even want to go in!

You’ll know you’re a fixer if you meet vulnerability with statements like…

“have you tried” “what worked for me was… “


STRATEGY 4: GIVE ADVICE

We have a rule in our school & community spaces. Unless someone explicitly asks for advice, assume it isn’t welcome. Because most of the time, it isn’t.

You’ll know you’re an advice-giver if you say things like:
“well if it was me I would…”
“what I would do is…”
“I think the way to approach it would be…”

Advice giving is classic ‘let me make you feel better by talking about myself for a while and centering me’.

It has a place – when it’s asked for & invited. It doesn’t have a place – when your friend/client is sharing with you some heavy shit that JUST NEEDS TO BE FELT.


Next time a friend/client approaches you with some raw and tender feels, just remember… What they are really asking is:

I don’t want to feel better
I don’t want you to make me feel better
I want to be intimate with all that I’m feeling
I don’t need a solution just yet (the solution will come from within once the body is given time to liberate all of it’s currently frozen life force back into flow)
I need a safe space to feel what I’m shit scared about feeling


If you’re interested in more somatic skills for supporting friends/clients to find their power by moving into the mess of their vulnerable feelings, we’re hosting a workshop soon.

You might be interested to join us

Empowering Others with Embodied Arts

Working with the feeling, flowing feminine arts for personal & professional mastery
Workshop with Jenna Ward RSVP here: https://jennaward.mykajabi.com/workshop

2 Comments on “Stop trying to make people feel better: why spiritual diagnoses & positive outlooks are doing a deep disservice to your clients & friends”

  1. So what you’re saying is give the feelings the floor?
    Stand back and let them take up their space, have their moment in the light.
    Avoid centring myself and my story/perspective, that I know and control.
    Simply step aside and invite in a luminous burst of emotional energy.
    Sounds like an experience best enacted in a safe environment, between consenting adults.
    What if other people don’t want to go deep?
    How do I create that safe environment to get to depth?
    Thanks for sharing. This is gold.

    • What if other people don’t want to go deep?
      They may not know they want to go deeper, they may not want to go first. But if they are in a space/partnership with you then there’s a reason why. Perhaps simply take the lead & go first

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