By Mia Levitt Frank MA, MCC
Director of IPCTI- Individual Psychology Coach Training International
According to Adlerian theory, the goal of all and every behavior in the direction of avoidance or procrastinating is in fact, to safely look after and safely guard our feeling of self- worth and self-value. Our “guards” according to Adler provide protection for our self -esteem, protection from the threats of life tasks.
When a person is afraid of failure, or afraid of the possibility of doing something that will not be perfect/excellent/the best in the field (both options will result in “losing our sense of value”) – there is a possibility that this person may create different and creative thoughts and ideas, in order to protect or guard himself from the danger of losing his sense of value and worth.
When an individual holds an internal conversation or dialogue, which reflects his or her unique ideas, we can in fact recognize voices. In Adlerian Coaching we call these voices “our guards or guardians”. Our “guards” appear in different shapes, forms, words and sentences. Our “guards” have a tendency to be creative, sophisticated and efficient.
Examples of these guards’ voices might be:
Why should I even try or begin, I never seem to finish things anyway…
Why try this new venture, there is no money/future in this field…
You don’t have the time to do this, you really are too busy!
Maybe you don’t really want this…
There are certainly others better than you who can do this…
Common to all the voices, is the (unsuccessful) attempt of the guards, to maintain for the individual his or her sense of worth and value. Why unsuccessful? Because of course, refraining from doing something is not the way to build self-confidence, self-esteem and a sense of value. Every voice like those quoted above, has an aim to ensure that the individual will not embark on a journey of change, will not create movement, will not move in the direction of doing something that might end in a failure or perceived failure, or ultimately expose the individual as being someone who is….less than perfect!
So once we recognize our guards, what can we do to move forward?
In Adlerian coaching we invite the client to a dialogue with these voices. Alternatively, we ask questions such as: How much do you need this protection? How much power do you want to give this guard to have over you? What is he guarding you from? What other ways do you have for protecting yourself (besides not creating action).
This is how it may look like in a coaching process-
A client was working on creating a program for a professional project. Following a conversation about the planning, this conversation developed.
Client: “The fears and doubts are coming up again. I feel afraid again of starting out with this project, maybe it is too much for me”.
Coach – “What does this guard want for you, when he tells you that maybe it is not right for you?”
Client: “He wants me to feel safe, and not to face difficulties and maybe failure”.
Coach- “And how safe do you actually feel when you keep putting off the project?”
Client – “Not safe. I feel like a loser because I am not trying”.
Coach- “So what would you like to say to the guard right now?
Client- “That this is not really helping me, even though I know he means well.”
Adlerian coaching does not perceive these guards as good or bad. Their intentions are always good (to look out for us, watch over us and protect our sense of value). Many times the warning we hear is important and worthwhile. After all, these “guards” have been with us for many years. However, sometimes they take their job too seriously and prevent us from moving forward in the direction we want to go. It is then that we want to look at the guards and hold a courageous conversation with them.