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The Trouble with Coaching: Gaslighting

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

A fellow coach and I were talking yesterday about how the mainstream coaching industry, which is fairly new and founded primarily by white men of a certain age, is prone to gaslighting and can do some real damage to those seeking counsel and support. The heart of the belief is that if you align your internal reality, your mindset and feelings, with what you really want it will appear. If you don't, it's your fault for not being truly aligned.

The underpinnings of the philosophy are remnants of the Landmark programs, which are an ideology that swept American culture by harnessing the "bootstraps" mythology of American success and giving it more heroes to follow. There are echoes of this too in Joe Dispenza's work and that of Steve Chandler, two teachers who I have learned a great deal from. And yet, it's hard to shake that they are white men of a certain age espousing a philosophy of "limitless possibilities" in a world that affords them such privilege.

Of course, it's not only men. The wildly popular spiritual teacher Esther Hicks channeling Abraham has similar appeal. Her teachings espouse the "point of attraction", which is that the vibrational frequency you emit determines what you attract. If you spend enough time listening to Esther Hicks though, you will find more and more subtle aspects to her teachings and greater balance in her philosophy. But, it's popular in part because people yearn for a message that makes manifesting the life of your dreams as easy as 1, 2, 3. Personally, I enjoy her YouTube videos anytime I need a reminder to shift my own frequency, she's great at that level of motivation.

As you can imagine, this philosophy has some real value in pushing one to take responsibility for one's life. It breaks through the narrative of victim and puts the individual squarely in the seat of both responsibility and power. In fact, when you discover the power of this philosophy, you can feel like a superhero, at least for a time. The reason is that it is tapping into a universal law, one that has a great deal of power and possibility. But, as in every aspect of life, it's a lot more complicated than simply our mindset or 'point of attraction' that determines and creates our reality.

What about inequality? Abuse? Exploitation? Mental or physical diversity? What about all the research to back the idea that if you get everything you ever wanted you're not happy anyway? What if life isn't about getting what you want?

Not all of our limitations are in the mind. And no, we don't have full autonomy or control over all aspects of our life. Do we look an abused woman in the face and say, "if you just change your frequency your abuser will change or go away." Or how about a black person living in the United States? Do we really say, "oh, you just need to change your frequency and those cops will leave you alone."

The ancient wisdom of yoga invites a more nuanced view. It espouses that there is more than one law of the universe acting at the same time and that it is the interaction of these cosmic laws that create our living reality. Much like how gravity and centrifugal force interact to create our planetary orbit. Without one law, we would either burn up or be spun out into the nether regions.

Point of attraction or mindset are known in yoga as the law of magnetism. That law states that like attracts like, meaning that the vibrational frequency that you emit as you walk through your life will attract people, things, and experiences of a similar frequency. But, as I said, there are other laws.

A real doozy is the law of karma, which is pretty complex in itself, but in essence states that every action you take has a dual nature, as long as it comes from the ego, and ultimately needs to resolve to zero for us to be liberated. Karma is about lessons being learned on the path to nirvana or, as my tradition calls it, Self-realization. Individuals have karma, but so do groups. An individual can get caught up in group karma, thus it's not always tit for tat. And, plot twist, karma can be mitigated through a variety of counter balancing actions. There is a whole lot more to unpack here and as with magnetism, if viewed as the only law of creation it is imbalanced.

When my first equine coaching business came crashing down around me, I felt the weight of mindset ideology crushing my spirit. I flogged myself a lot, believed that my failure was all my fault. There certainly are things I will do differently in the 2.0 version of my horse and coaching work.

What pulled me out of the tailspin was my spiritual path: Self-realization. I started to listen more to my teacher Swami Kriyananda's old talks and began to remember that life, for me, isn't about success, it's about growth and learning and love. I remembered how brave I can be when I surrender my life into the hands of the Divine and let it flow as a co-mingling of my best effort, grace, acceptance, and a healthy dose of humor. Little by little I gained a more nuanced perspective from which I could take the gems of learning forward into my next chapter.

There are other laws in this universe than those I've casually mentioned here. If we really want to explore and understand them, it will take more than a blog post to dive in. I highly recommend a lifetime study of the wisdom traditions, personal commitment to inner practices, service to others, and good old trial and error to make sense of it all.

In the end, finding our way through life is not only about magnetism or karma or mindset. It's about moving toward the highest expression of our own self.

Ultimately, I see the field of coaching as a very good thing. It is a movement toward self empowerment and away from victimization. It's also a movement toward believing in our own highest potential. But, as with all things, it is flawed and worth engaging in with a grain of salt and wide open eyes. And, as with all things, it needs to mature past the single-lens view into a multifaceted understanding of the much more diverse world we find ourselves living in.

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