A Coaching Power Tool By Monika Sałach, Burnout Coach, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Knowing the Distinction Between Attachment vs. Appreciation
Change is an inevitable part of everyone’s life, and even more – life is a change. It can be for better or worse, can happen instantly or take a long time, can be sudden and unavoidable, or planned and performed carefully. It can be simple like changing a job or severe and impactful like rebuilding a life after a divorce.
In 1979, William Bridges described a Transition Model which applies to the big changes affecting one’s life so profoundly that they also cause the person to rethink and redefine their identity and plan the future from scratch. A Transition is a kind of “rite of passage”between two distinct phases of life, and to be successful it requires 3 steps:
- The Ending
- The Neutral Zone
- The New Beginning
For the purpose of my coaching, I created a model called “No U-Turn”, with similar philosophy embodied in 4 steps:
- Say goodbye to the old path
- Prepare for a journey
- Walk, walk, and walk a little more…
- Welcome to the new path
In both models, the Transition starts with parting with the current life as we know it, which has to be done before we proceed to define and pursue future goals. The “Ending” or “Say goodbye to the old path” step is far from simple. Regardless of the quality of the previous situation, it was a known, predictable reality, with many memories and an environment we were accustomed to. We may be attached to the past and present so strongly that we cannot imagine anything else, we do not envision that something different may be equally or more satisfying. To be able to move forward we have to review these feelings of attachment to the current living environment and change our perspective to free us from it and form the past.
What I propose as a coaching Power Tool is to replace a limiting attachment perspective with a positive and motivational Appreciation, so we keep what was best in the past, but we do not feel restricted anymore.
Attachment vs. Appreciation Definition
Cambridge Dictionary, defines attachment as:
- A feeling of love or a strong connection to someone or something,
- A feeling of love and need for another person, for example for a mother by her child,
- An extra piece of equipment that can be added to a machine,
- A computer file is sent together with an email message.
It is interesting to note that the psychological connection is described using the same word as a physical connection, which suggests a strong and hard-to-break relationship. Psychological attachment to people or things in the most common meaning is a positive experience related to love, connection, and loyalty. But attachment can also be too strong and draining, e.g., when a child is so attached to his/her mother that they are not able to become independent (or overly attached mother does not allow children to start their own life). Strong and unhealthy bond can be also formed in hostile conditions, e.g., in case of an abusive relationship or even kidnapping (Stockholm syndrome, ), when an abused person feel attached to and stay with their abusers, frequently justifying their actions.
In the same dictionary,Appreciation is defined as:
- The act of recognizing or understanding that something is valuable, important, or as described,
- The act of recognizing someone’s worth as a person or showing that you are grateful for something that person has done,
- An increase in the value of something.
Appreciation is all about positive feelings towards someone or something, assigning value and importance, and being grateful for what happened. The feeling towards people is completely unselfish, and when shared with them it increases the appreciated person’s confidence and joy. Appreciation of experiences, past events, or places forms good memories and brings warmness when the memories are brought back, even if sometimes it is accompanied by nostalgia. In any case, appreciation is never restricting – we enjoy the feelings or the memories, and it can cause us to look more optimistically at future events and situations.
Too strong and limiting attachment may need to be addressed in various coaching contexts, but I would like to concentrate on its impact on the Transition process. As mentioned before, Transition cannot be executed until the person separates from the past, and one of the biggest obstacles is an attachment to the current situation, in most cases accompanied by a general fear of change and the unknown.
Everyone experienced such situations in life when rooting in the known past prohibited the person from smoothly proceeding to the next stage. It could be when a graduate from high school still feels like a teenager, is attached to friends, and has a relaxed lifestyle. Or a university graduate faced with adult life with a regular job and possibly a family, but missing fellow students’ company, flexible schedule, and no strict responsibilities. Attachment and nostalgia for the previous life can be experienced by young parents, when they have to significantly redefine their roles and the way they spent time and money, or people deciding to completely change their profession and the environment they live in, which affects their lifestyle, relations, financial situation, etc. Even seemingly negative events like unexpected divorce can be affected by an attachment prohibiting them from moving forward – people miss the good past, or even not so good but familiar, and resist change being stuck in the thoughts about the past and dreaming about its return.
To define a new path and move forward we do not have to – and should not – erase all memories and abandon friends, but we cannot stick to the present selves and our current place either. What I propose is to switch from a limiting perspective of Attachment to an opening perspective of Appreciation. We would recognize and cherish all good memories and the people we had around us, and we would be grateful for how the past shaped our personalities and values. These memories and values will still be still part of our identity. But along with this positive appreciation, we also understand that there is no going back, and with all gratitude towards the past we have to start looking into the future.
Attachment vs. Appreciation Perspective Switch
A switch of perspective from Attachment to Appreciation is a must-have requirement for successfully executing the first step in the Transition process, and in many cases, a person can benefit from involving a coach to help in this important change.
International Coach Academy (ICA) designed a Power Tool approach used to reframe the client’s perspective during the coaching process, and its steps can also be applied to the Attachment to the Appreciation perspective switch.
1. Find it
To determine if a person experiences a Transition and if Attachment is an important factor preventing progress, a coach can ask the client to think about the following questions:
- What change are you experiencing in your life now?
- What will be its impact on your lifestyle, relations, job, location, family, etc.?
- What challenges do you expect?
- What is stopping you from dedicating to the transition or slowing down the progress?
- What are the aspects of your life that you would lose if you proceeded?
- How important are they in your life?
2. Feel it
The realization that the impact of the transition will involve losing the things, people, and places the client is attached to requires pausing for a moment and getting an insight into the underlying feelings. A coach can help with this exploration by asking about the feelings about letting go of the past in the transition they are facing. The client may experience both positive and negative feelings, but the ones suggesting a possible limiting attachment may be the following: sad, confused, powerless, lonely, nostalgic, distressed, resentful, betrayed, abandoned, unable to move, lost, fearful, etc.
3. Frame it
Knowing that the client faces a Transition, a history that they have to leave behind, and their current feelings, a coach may conclude what the customer is attached to. It would be a feeling, someone, or something they miss the most and for which they are confident that it will never come back. It would be something valued as “the best that happened to me in my entire life”, which causes thoughts like “it will never be the same”. In such a case, the coach should share an observation about a possible overwhelming attachment, as well as a limiting belief that starting from now life can only be worse.
4. Flip it
It is now a good time to propose the client flip the perspective from attachment to appreciation, form good memories, understand the positive impact of past events and relations, and analyze how the best things and experiences can be preserved without affecting progress in the Transition. The questions asked by the coach may include:
- What have you enjoyed in the past and how would you like to remember it?
- What are you grateful for?
- Who was important to you? How can you share your gratitude with them?
- Which relations, friendships, and habits can you continue?
- What values and priorities have you formed at that time that you will carry for the rest of your life?
- What learnings can you apply in the future?
- How can you replace the things you will miss most?
Various Aspects of Life: Attachment vs. Appreciation
Attachment is not a bad thing by definition, and it is very important in many aspects of life, especially in the case of relations. But in cases when the excessive attachment starts our abilities to grow (like a “good enough” job or an easy life in a “golden cage”), it is time to take with love whatever was valuable and proceed to the new future.
 W. Bridges, Transitions. Making Sense of Life’s Changes, New York: Hachette Books, 2019.
 “Merriam-Webster Definition: Rite of Passage.”
 “Cambridge Definition: Attachment.”
 “Wikipedia: Stockholm Syndrome.”
 “Cambridge Definition: Appreciation.”