I’m making an assumption here, but if you are the kind of person who decided to be a health coach, you are probably the kind of person that is empathetic, wants to help people and genuinely cares for, maybe even love, your clients. Good coaches are empathetic people. We can feel for our clients and build rapport with them.
Empathy is the ability to feel a part of others’ emotions. It is a necessary aspect of our survival. When we see someone drowning, we fear for them and have an impulse to pull them out of the water, just like we assume someone would pull us up.
This empathy and love that is helpful for you in creating a coaching alliance can also hurt. Think about a client or a loved one who is doing something unhealthy: they never sleep, they keep dating the wrong people, they drink too much. They keep getting hurt, but don’t seem to learn and change. Does it hurt you to think about them? How much money would you pay to take that pain away, to fix them?
As a health coach who loves someone suffering from addiction, I am very aware of this dynamic. When it was the worst for him, I would have done anything to help him get better: I would have emptied my bank account to pay for rehab if I had to. This overwhelming feeling did nothing for him. Instead, it brought me down and kept me from taking care of myself. Likewise, in previous jobs, when a client was in pain, I was inclined to take that pain home with me. I couldn’t understand how to feel happy in a world where I knew others were suffering. I wanted to give everything to help everyone.
Within recovery circles, the term “loving detachment” is used to describe a way for people to get space from their addicted loved ones. This extra space protects and gives both parties a way to prioritize themselves and their own healing first. This isn’t done out of selfishness, but out of self-interest and care. As Beverly Conyers writes for the Hazleden: “Detachment is neither unloving nor unkind. It’s simply accepting the fact that we can’t live our loved ones’ lives for them.”
I think of this in connection with the way that, as coaches, we learn about checking our “righting reflex.” When we want to tell a client that they need to quit smoking, we are doing it because we care. However, we know it doesn’t work.
If we realize that we cannot fix someone, we become free to support them instead. This means, while we care about them, we don’t feel the pressure to solve their problems. Instead, we can encourage them to develop their own solutions and skillsets.
By detaching with love, we can let our clients know that we are not going to fix them. They have autonomy and responsibility. As coaches, it reminds us that we need to stick to what we can do: we can guide them, support them, give them the tools they need, and help them identify what they want to do for themselves.
Detaching lets us focus on our growth as coaches and as individuals. It gives us freedom, peace of mind and clarity.