Understanding the difference between your essential and social self.

14 08 13 bodycompass

Have you ever felt sick with worry? Felt your heart bursting with pride? These are more than just clichéd expressions; our bodies have physical reactions to our emotions, and reflect how we truly feel about a given situation. Your “gut feeling” can steer you in the right direction, if you allow yourself to listen properly.

Balancing the essential and social self

American sociologist and life coach Martha Beck coined a tool called the Body Compass, differentiating between the “essential self” which is instinctual and our “social self” which is more compliant to social obligations. Our essential self is what physically reacts to situations, either positively or negatively. The idea is if we are able to listen to the signals our bodies send us, we should be able to evaluate whether or not we are truly happy with our decisions. Catherine Thorburn (catherinethorburn.com), a Martha Beck certified life coach based in Toronto, Ontario explains: “Often we feel anxious because we are in conflict with our essential versus social self. What we really want to be doing versus what we believe we should be doing based on some societal norm. If we use our body compass to walk us through both scenarios, we can determine which scenario feels best and will be the best decision for us.”

Be selfish before you care for others

Taking time to analyze and evaluate our own feelings is very healthy, however many of us (particularly women) have trouble prioritizing our own mental health over the well-being of loved ones. Thorburn explains: “We live in a society that suggests it’s negative to be selfish when in fact, we should all be a little more selfish! If we put our own needs first, we will become better mothers, lovers, daughters and friends. I often refer to the oxygen mask scenario on commercial flights: we should attend to our own mask first before attending to our children. The rational behind this is you are going to be of help to them if you are conscious, whereas you won’t be of any help if you don’t put your own mask on, and fall unconscious from lack of oxygen.”

Managing your essential self with responsibilities

Of course, as adults we have real-life obligations and just because we don’t feel like going to work or paying our bills, does not mean that we just plain don’t have to. For example, if you are feeling resentful or tired of work, Thorburn has some suggestions on how to bring some positivity to your 9-5 day, to make your essential self a bit happier. “I start by asking: ‘why did you take the job in the first place?’ Often there was an initial source of joy or accomplishment, that sometimes gets forgotten along the way.” She also suggests finding something you truly enjoy and trying to incorporate that more into your day. Take advantage of your lunchtime break to clear your mind and do something to make you happy.

Working through problems with life coaching

If you are feeling stuck in your career, a life coach can be extremely helpful: “A life coach helps to identify limiting beliefs that may be holding us back or causing us to be afraid. Once those limiting beliefs are identified, we can begin to dissolve them and identify next steps. For many of us, simply working with someone else to being breaking things down into smaller steps is helpful,” suggests Thorburn. An example of a limiting belief that Thorburn uses is the saying we all grew up with, ‘money doesn’t grow on trees.’ With this nagging at the back of our minds, many of us feel pressured into staying in jobs we don’t like or positions we aren’t happy in, for fear that we won’t be able to find anything else.

Be strong and ask for help

Asking for help when you feel overwhelmed is not a sign of weakness—a life coach can help you manage stress and anxiety. Thorburn concludes: “We can’t see some things properly because we are too close to them. It’s true for all of us—even coaches. It’s not a weakess, it’s simply a fact. Recognizing this fact and acting upon it is a strength. That’s why a third party perspective can help us.”

For more information on Catherine Thorburn and her services, visit catherinethorburn.com