By Susan Litwiller, Ed.S, MBA
What is your favorite story from the Bible? David & Goliath? Jonah & the Whale? Gideon? As Christians, we love these stories. Why? Because these familiar stories bring hope. They bring life. They tell us that we are a part of something bigger. The stories tell us how to feel human and that we are not alone as we navigate our journey. We have a powerful God who leads us in triumphant victory.
When we meet someone, we inquire about their story as we share parts of ours. Sometimes it is more of a nicety, other times we are intrigued and begin to form friendships. However, as coaches, we know there is always more to the story. It is what I would call an ‘understory’. What is shared on the surface could be a cover-up. The story could be masking a plethora of wounds and insecurities, both conscious and subconscious. As we work with our clients, we never know what thoughts pull the strings that can unlock lifelong bondages.
Understories are usually birthed out of fear, feelings of humiliation, and a need for belonging. We are designed to feel loved, safe, and valued. Somewhere along life’s path, messages that have left us lacking have generated thought patterns, so we develop cover stories to counteract the pain. The brain is brilliant like that. And for survival through traumatic events, necessary. However, those stories keep us stuck when they no longer serve our present-day life.
How do we help our clients expose their cover stories and tap into their inner genius that is waiting to burst onto the scene? One way is to recategorize and rehumanize the inner dialog to draw out the new creation they are in Christ. Every thought has a sponsor. Either the truth from God’s Word, a lie from the pit of hell, or a repetitive mantra recorded without their knowledge or approval. The automated thought systems control 90% of our daily decisions. The key is to determine which operating system is directing our paths.
Symptoms such as comparison, impostor syndrome, procrastination, and perfectionism allow the brain to go back to the automated understory. As we work to uncover our clients’ understories, we listen for language such as “always”, “never”, “have to”; and “should” to cue for the story that is keeping someone blocked, stuck, and in overwhelm. As we tune our ears to hear the understory, we can guide the context of the conversation to times when that hasn’t been true in every situation.
Questions such as “When does that pattern show up in other areas of your life?” “Are you sure it is always?” Or open statements such as “Tell me about a time when it did work for you.” These serve to bring about a shift in the internal dialog of our clients and give coaches insights into the understory by the phrases and descriptions used to explore these answers. With practice, we can learn to hear the clues of the understory to bring clarity and direction, and most importantly, transformation.
How can you help your clients see their “understory”? I would love to hear your thoughts.