Are You Living from You Essence or Survival Strategies?

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • In coaching, one of the first exercises I do with my clients is to help them identify their survival mechanisms and essence. This can set the foundation for deeper work, allowing them to understand themselves more and transform their relationships with their loved ones, physical wellbeing, romantic partnerships, career and many other areas.

    As I was particularly inspired by the power of this exercise this past week, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the steps to determining your own in hopes that your own insights might prove helpful with whatever may be blocking you from achieving your wellness goals.

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    Surviving is what we do as human beings the majority of the time when we are at work, meeting people for the first time, arriving at a party, conducting a meeting, interacting with those in our lives and any other activity that is part of our daily routine. As each of us grew up perceiving experiences in our own unique way and consequently making decisions about ourselves in terms of our weaknesses and shortfalls, we began to develop a set of ideas about what aspects of ourselves we needed to hide from others in order to protect ourselves or “survive”. 

    Determining what these aspects are takes a lot of courage because often times we’ve gotten so good at covering them up that even admitting them to ourselves can be challenging. The first step then is to make a list of those things that you don’t want others to think or find out about you. Don’t be afraid to have them sound really bad. Examples might include, “I don’t know what I’m doing”, “I pretend to like you when I don’t”, “I’m self-absorbed”, “I’m not good enough”, etc. The key is to have fun with this, so if at all possible, try to remember that these are the things that you made up about yourself and not the “truth”.

    The second step is to look at what mechanisms you employ in your way of being to hide these beliefs about yourself. Some possible answers might be “I make others laugh”, “I have to be right”, “I make sure that I’m a good listener”, “I am nice”, “I make sure you think I’m smart”, etc. This list might also be how you describe yourself to others or they of you. These are your key identity characteristics or strengths. Again, have fun with this. These aspects are not necessarily negative or even wrong. The idea is to realize that some of these strengths were developed to compensate for a made up belief that something was fundamentally wrong with you and needed to be “hidden”. By identifying your survival mechanisms, you have an opportunity to choose whether or not to display these characteristics, as you are no longer doing so blindly or for a reason.

    If you are inspired to do so, it can be really helpful to give your hidden identity a name that’s really ugly and makes you laugh, so that when you notice yourself trying to cover it up, you can feel free from it.

    The final and most important step of the exercise, is to identify your essence or true inner being that has nothing to do with any of what you’ve uncovered in the first steps. This is generally described as qualities as opposed to personality characteristics. Sometimes this step can be easier if you pose the question to those closest to you. After doing this exercise, many are surprised that their friends and family all respond similarly when asked, “What qualities show up when I do?” or “What qualities represent me for you?” Example might include, “passion”, “love”, “caring”, “fun”, “inspiration” etc. Once you have compiled your list, check the list to see what qualities show up repetitively and choose 4 or 5 that represent your “essence” or true being outside of your identity, personality and anything negative that you believe to be true about you and have consequently been hiding.

  • At this point, I hope you are feeling a bit of relief knowing that you are actually a set of qualities as opposed to characteristics. For me, my own realizations about my survival strategies and essence allowed me to begin to interact more with others from my true being as opposed to my fears. Of course, at times, I would catch myself in my identifying characteristics, but could be at choice as to whether I “needed” to be them or was just choosing to be. I also found it humorous to discover that when I shared those aspects I was trying to “cover-up” with the people close to me, most answered that they already knew it. Even so, they chose to cherish me in their life because of my essence and not because of those things I thought I was doing a good job hiding from them.

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    As a final practice, ask yourself how different parts of your life would change if you were to approach them from your essence the majority of the time as opposed to your survival mechanisms. Give it a try in your own life and see what happens. And above all, I hope that you’ll remember to have fun with it and enjoy what arises.

    Source: The Paradigm Shifts Coaching Group

Published On: April 27, 2010