What is Emotional Hygiene Coaching?
Lumia alum Carey Averbook discusses Emotional Hygiene Coaching: what it is, how it works, and methods for incorporating it into your coaching practice.
Guest blog by Carey Averbook
Carey (she/they) comes from a long line of Ashkenazi Jews who came to this continent while escaping pogroms in Eastern Europe. She has studied well-being across cultures and disciplines for over a decade. They are a Ways of Being Coach because they believe that different ways of being aren’t only possible, but necessary.
She has trained as a coach with Lumia Coaching, The Westfeldt Institute for Emotional Hygiene, The Compass, and is pursuing an ACC credential with the International Coach Federation. They went through a one-year ceremonial Tree of Life adulthood initiation and she is anchored by mentors and elders in her work and in her life. She continues to bridge her coach training with wisdom from her Jewish lineage through practicing and studying Earth-Based Judaism and Hebrew Priestessing.
Carey Averbook is a 2020 graduate of the Lumia Coaching Intensive. You can follow her work on Instagram @waysofbeingcoach or by visiting www.waysofbeingcoach.com.
Emotional Hygiene: What It Is, And How to Incorporate It Into Your Coaching Practice
Emotional Hygiene changed my life, first as a client and now as a coach practitioner.
As I’ve experimented in working with a variety of coaches, something I discovered is that a traditional (and modernist, patriarchal, capitalist) coaching focus on “making plans” and “taking action” isn’t often the approach I need in order to move forward. In fact, this over-emphasis on goal attainment has had the opposite effect.
It took time for me to recognize that this form of coaching was minimally effective because it was only addressing the layer of my survival patterns. Rather than forging ahead in an effort to achieve measurable outcomes, I needed to slow down. To learn more about the root of my blocks in the present moment. To learn about what was happening out of my conscious awareness.
Ironically, slowing down to go deep and transform at the roots helped me make conscious change, fast. This is because I was actually addressing the roots layers of my blocks AND I was meeting myself, my nervous system, my developmental parts, and my brain right where I was, greeting myself and re-relationing myself with love and clear sight.
With Emotional Hygiene, I learned about what was happening outside of my awareness that was self-sabotaging.This in turn has brought into my awareness those thoughts, reactions, and behaviors that had been happening unconsciously and automatically. With this awareness, I began to develop practices for new patterns, behaviors, beliefs, and ways of being.
I call my coaching practice Ways of Being Coaching because I believe that different ways of being aren’t only possible, but necessary for the times we live in. We’ve lost and forgotten so much of how to be human and, specifically, how to become emotionally developed adults.
What do I mean by emotionally developed adulthood?
A well developed adult is someone who takes responsibility for their emotions and behaviors at both the conscious and unconscious level. Sounds simple enough in theory, but challenging for most of us in practice. We live in a fragmented time, without many models available in the dominant culture of high functioning self-responsibility.
A well developed adult knows how to parent themself by taking responsibility for meeting their own needs. They don't expect anyone else to attend to those needs on their behalf (unless there is conscious consent or agreement).
A well developed adult practices self-awareness, self-regulation, healthy and actuating use of one’s anger tool, an ability to “be with” one’s fear, capacity to turn towards and spend time with one’s pain, hurting well (grieving, being sad), experiencing unencumbered joy and play without guilt or shame, healthy boundary management and self-protection, not waiting to be saved or validated by others, and being empowered in the driver’s seat of their life, not in the passenger’s seat.
With all these capacities in place, a healthy adult can step fully into their place in the world, relating responsibly both to the human and more-than-human world in a way of responsibility and service, feeling woven into the web of life.
In the words of a formative mentor in my life, Rachel Ruach Golden, "Our society is in an adolescent state - and the fires we are facing are fires of initiation. We as a people will either get lost down the river of grief if we don’t metabolize it, or we will ford across the river and make it to the banks of responsible adulthood as a society."
As a coach, Emotional Hygiene is one rich set of foundational practices that I draw on to support people as they wade that river, to come into different ways of being and adulthood, at any age—I’ve worked with clients in their 20s to their 60s.
So What Is Emotional Hygiene?
According to Tim Westfeldt, Emotional Hygiene Coach and Founder of the Westfeldt Institute for Emotional Hygiene:
“Emotional Hygiene is about allowing our emotions and learning to use them as tools to increase our safety. Emotional Hygiene includes 1) cleaning house by getting our protectors to retire themselves or be repurposed to work for our benefit and 2) revisiting critical developmental events [in the present] so that our emotional tools (fear, anger, sadness, joy) can work properly.”
Emotional Hygiene is an integration of cross-cultural ancient wisdom and contemporary science, drawing on the likes of:
- Dr. Steven Porges, (Polyvagal Theory)
- Dr. Darcia Narvaez (neurobiology, wisdom, and culture)
- Gabor Maté (human development through the eyes of science and compassion)
- Elder Dr. Malidoma Patrice Somé (West African Elder, author and teacher, as representative of his village in Burkina Faso)
- Dr. Paul Ekman (expert on facial expressions)
- Ron Kurtz (Hakomi Institute)
- Richard Schwartz (Internal Family Systems)
- Pamela Levin (Nurse & health practitioner)
- Stephen Jenkinson (founder of Orphan Wisdom)
- And others.
Emotional Hygiene is a rich set of both universal and culturally specific creative practices that humans used to do, individually and collectively, with social-emotional technologies such as grief ritual, fire ceremony, rites of passage and initiations, solo time in Nature/wilderness, and circles, which many of us living in Modernity have largely lost.
I see an Emotional Hygiene practice as having three connected pillars:
- Learning about emotions as tools for our safety, and how to use them well so that we get the benefit of them.
- Developing an inner mother and father to parent, nurture, and protect ourselves, to meet our needs, and to move us towards secure attachment.
- Completing, in the present, developmental phases that were wounded or interrupted.
Practicing emotional hygiene is just that—a practice. The more we practice, the more these practices become unconscious and automatic, leading to a new way of being.
And just like other forms of hygiene, NOT practicing emotional hygiene has consequences on our holistic well-being as well.
Practicing Emotional Hygiene moves us toward more self-regulation, an increased inner sense of safety and ability to keep ourselves safe, progress or completion of development stages and getting to know our developmental parts, increased ability to meet our own needs and communicate with others in relationship about them, and movement toward secure attachment. Ultimately, this all leads to an emotionally developed adulthood in our wholeness, and a very different way of being.
Emotional Hygiene is emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual. It is individual, familial, and collective. It is ancient and it is contemporary. It is universally human and both culturally and individually specific. It is modern science and it is ancient wisdom familiar to our ancestors. Most importantly, to live an Emotionally Hygienic life is a birthright for every single one of us and critical to our wellbeing
Ways To Practice Emotional Hygiene
1. Get curious.
Consider these same patterns and get curious about how they help you today in getting your needs met or in moving towards your goals. Notice what is coming up as a part of you, not the whole you, and start getting curious about it:
- What are you feeling?
- Can you accept what you’re feeling and thinking?
- If not, can you accept that you are judging what you are feeling and thinking?
- Explore how this part has helped you, what you need now, and how you can bring love, care, and protection to you now?
2. Honor all that is happening.
Your current way of being was developed for your survival and safety. Without those behaviors, ways of thinking, limiting beliefs, and stories, you may not be alive. So they did their job: they kept you alive. Bring acknowledgement, respect, and care to them.
3. Dive into Emotions 101.
Start approaching your and others’ emotions (fear, anger, sadness, joy) as tools. With this perspective, we can re-relation ourselves with our emotions as 1) tools for our safety, and 2) information about what is happening inside us.
First off, anger has gotten a bad rep in a lot of spaces, especially spiritual spaces. I know that what I’m about to say is divergent from many a spiritual master, but I really want to yell from the tree tops that learning how to have healthy anger expression, how to channel the actuating energy of anger, how to protect ourselves and others, and to run anger’s energy vertically Earth to Sky to Earth versus horizontally at other people…this is a spiritual practice.
Anger is part of being human. Being human is about being connected. Being connected is “spiritual.” Anger is spiritual. And anger can be fully supported in ritual, ceremony, and by the elements, especially fire.
Emotional Hygiene’s approach to anger is a tool to pick up and keep yourself safe, to protect yourself, from real or perceived threat. To learn about your relationship with healthy anger expression, try one of the below three experiments.
Before you start, turn towards yourself to notice what is happening in you. Notice yourself during the experiment. Allow whatever happens.
- Growl at yourself in the mirror until you use your voice up, try to growl for as long as you can.
- Take a stack of 10 sheets of paper and fold them. Now rip them up until you can’t even recognize what it was. This should be hard, but not too hard to do. If 10 sheets is too hard to tear, then use fewer sheets. If 10 sheets is too easy to tear, then add sheets. Use your voice, sound, vocalize as you do this.
- If you’re like me and don’t have the top of a mountain you can readily go to, scream into your pillow until you use up your voice. Try to scream for as long as you can and to scream from your belly.
What happened? What did you notice?
Did sadness come in? Did doing the experiment feel like relief? Did you feel frozen and afraid to do it? Were you afraid of being judged? Were you judging yourself? Are you reading this like “I can’t even think about doing any of those?”
Whatever it is, it’s all allowed. You are learning about yourself. Get curious with what you learn and explore it further.
If sadness comes in, welcome it, be with it, greet it with a hug. Experiment with:
- Saying to yourself: “I’m here with you. I’m not going anywhere. You’re allowed to be sad. You’re allowed to hurt.”
- Resting your dominant hand on your thigh or on your non-dominant arm, just above your elbow, holding as you would if you put your hand on a friend’s shoulder.
- If you have a bowl of water, dip your hands into the water, maybe use your fingertips to bring some water to your heart or your face. Sadness comes with water—crying—and this element, the basis of Life, is showing up for you to help you, to help with this hurting, with this clearing, with this loving of yourself. Water is here to support you as you are watering/crying/flowing in pain and hurt, and you can draw on it as a support in sadness and grief.
And again, what happened? What did you notice?
Was there judgment? Was there relief? Did you start laughing? Whatever happened, it is all still allowed and you continue to learn about yourself.
This is a start to learning how to hurt well.
When we don’t hurt well, all that hurt accumulates and gets stuck. It can’t flow, just like water gets stuck behind a dam. Anger can be a key to that dam, allowing us to do the hurting now for losses in the past that we couldn’t express at the time.
We can also learn how to hurt well with new losses and costs in the present moment.
At the end of a coaching session using these practices, I ask my client: “What is one take-away of something you learned about yourself from the session?” As you try these experiments, consider:
- What’s one thing you learned about yourself?
- What is one thing you can continue doing?
Emotional Hygiene In Coaching
Emotional Hygiene Coaching also deserves some discussion because it has its own unique flavor as an approach to coaching.
Like all forms of coaching, Emotional Hygiene Coaching takes place in the present moment. It’s a “show not tell” kind of coaching, an experience where the body is centered. Body centered in this way means both that we attune to and sense our bodies—both the client and the coach.
The coach is trained to observe facial expressions for emotion, body languaging, and breath reading that provide information about what may be happening outside of the client’s conscious awareness.
As an equal partner team, these observations are part of what the coach brings to the relationship. And we bring these observations and expertise as theories, not facts. As a coach, my role is to be in a state of curiosity with my observations. I always offer the gift of being wrong, because I’m also not invested in being right. As an Emotional Hygiene coach, my investment is in learning about what is happening inside my client, and that the client feels fully in their autonomy and agency.
One reason I find Emotional Hygiene coaching so unique is that we co-create theories with our clients. We then use present moment experiments to learn more about the theories: what is happening, and what interventions are most effective. In this work, the client is always the expert on themself, and the coach brings an unconditional loving presence to allow and greet whatever comes up.
As we practice Emotional Hygiene, we get to know the parts of us who have helped us stay safe and to survive—our protector parts—and how they are working in the present moment. As we reconnect with them in the present moment, we can learn about the ways they are benefiting us now and/or are unconsciously sabotaging us now. As we reconnect with blocked and hidden parts, we work with them to either retire or be repurposed to consciously work towards that which we want.
One of the goals of Emotional Hygiene is to raise awareness—to bring into conscious awareness that which is happening out of the client’s awareness so that a person can have access to choice and make conscious change.
Tim Westfeldt teaches that as Emotional Hygiene coaches, we do not coach in order to help our clients, but rather we are good tools that clients can use to help themselves. He prompts us to reflect on how we feel when we are coaching. What do we get out of our role as a coach in the coaching relationship? How does doing this work benefit us?
If we can be rooted in clarity of what we get out of coaching for ourselves, we can allow other people to draw on us as a tool to help themselves. We get out of our own way of “needing to help” or “being the helper” (and the baggage that goes along with trying to meet these needs for ourselves) and we honor our client’s sovereignty and agency.
I love being a coach. I love what I experience when I am in coaching presence with another, and I love how I feel afterward.
I also need what I get out of it. I feel more connected to myself, another person, and that which is greater than myself when I am being the best tool I can be for someone who’s consciously and autonomously partnering with me to make change in their life. I am receiving the gift of giving and being in service. I am doing work that feels meaningful, self-actualizing. And I know this work is part of my theory of change and liberation in the world.
From this perspective, I’m not there to “help” my client. I am coaching for me. AND I am in service to clients and my mission. I’m not bogged down in needing to be helpful, in helping, or needing to make things better. I am focused on the quality of my presence and “being with” my client.
As an Emotional Hygiene Coach, you are encouraged to bring your whole self and to integrate these practices with the uniqueness of who you are, and your own lineages. As a part of my presence, I’m also a radio receiver attuned to specific channels of the things I’m most familiar with through my own lived experience and training. As a Jewish person, I integrate kabbalistic, Chasidic, earth-based ritual, and psycho-spiritual wisdom into my coaching practice.
Ways To Integrate Emotional Hygiene Into Your Coaching Practice
While additional training is recommended to specialize in Emotional Hygiene coaching, there are ways that you can introduce some of these principles and techniques into any coaching niche or specialty. A few include:
1) Unconditional loving presence in your coaching presence. Be with, greet, and honor whatever comes up in your client (within boundaries you’ve already set for your safety).
2) Center the body. Utilize body check ins, returning to “what are you noticing,” “what’s happening in you right now,” and coach body awareness.
3) Look through the lens that everything that is internally happening in your client has been learned for their survival and safety. Those behaviors, ways of thinking, limiting beliefs, and stories once worked for them, helping them stay alive, even if it is unconsciously and automatically sabotaging them now. Thus, you can honor all that is happening, acknowledge and respect it, and be in curiosity about how to shift it.
4) Integrate an approach to emotions that acknowledges them as tools for our safety. This will change your world in how you approach yourself, and also how you connect with other people. It’s about seeing that we are all doing the best we can to keep ourselves safe. Once you’re doing this, you can get curious with your clients about how this is working inside them around a particular pattern or block they are having.
5) Take on an experimental mindset, with the goal of learning more about the client. Run experiments, try things, and see what the clients notice. What do they learn about themselves?
6) Let go of any attachment to the story that you are a coach to “help people”. Reorient to thinking of yourself as a good tool that other people can use to help themselves. Get clear about how you feel when you are coaching—why YOU need this—and focus on making yourself the best tool and receiver that you can uniquely be. This way, you do end up helping people… by letting them help themselves (and getting yourself out of the way).
“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms,” - Muriel Ruyekser
We live our lives by the stories we tell and embody, consciously and unconsciously. We change our lives by changing the stories we tell and embody.
As an Emotional Hygiene Coach, I don’t want clients to work with me because of my story, which is a go-to approach to coaching marketing and branding. Sure, I’ve been through and still go through hard shit in my life. I’ve experienced transformations and have stories to tell, which I’m happy and transparent about sharing. But, I want my stories to matter only so much as it is one part of what makes me a tool that clients can use to reconnect, develop Emotional Hygiene, complete their development, return to their wholeness, and embody a new way of being.
My vision is a more emotionally hygienic world, full of well developed adults who are connected to themselves, other people, and the more-than-human world—prepared to hurt well, love fiercely, and meet the challenges of the times that we live in.
If this approach interests you, you can learn more about me and my Emotional Hygiene coaching practice at www.waysofbeingcoach.com. If you’re curious about how you might specialize in this area as a coach, you might like to explore Emotional Hygiene Coaching Training with the Westfeldt Institute for Emotional Hygiene.
Want to Become A Coach?
One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our coaches like Carey ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power and you’d like some partners in the process, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.