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Why Life Coaches Should Never Get Botox (and Other Surprises)

Posted by Julia Stewart

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Life Coaches and their colleagues (such as business coaches and executive coaches) need empathy, that sense that you can identify and even feel what another is experiencing. It's an important part of what leadership coaching and emotional intelligence expert, Richard Boyatzis, calls "compassionate coaching", the type of coaching that's been found to be most effective.

Have you ever wondered how we know what someone else is feeling? 

Neuroscientists tell us that we have something called mirror neurons that cause us to experience what others experience, both physically and emotionally. You're even more likely to feel what someone else is feeling, if you're closely bonded to them. That's one of the reasons that connecting with a client is so important.

Why does it matter that life coaches have a strong sense of empathy with their clients?

A tremendous amount of information passes between a coach and client during a coaching session. We think about six times faster than we can talk (Rock, 2006) and we feel almost instantly, so if we over-rely on the content of the client's words, we will understand only a thimble full, compared to the volumes of information we can glean via empathy. Of course, we need to be sensitive to that information and accurately interpret it, while checking in with the client, in order to stay on track. This can take considerable practice.

So why should life coaches never get botox?

The concept of mirror neurons doesn't really describe the complex wiring that goes into empathy, which is an evolutionary enhancement that many animals don't have. The more social a species is (think: reptiles, to mammals, to primates, to us: the world's most social animal) the more sophisticated our emotional wiring must be.

As Stephen Porges, author of The Polyvagal Theory (2011) tells us, all animals have something called the vagus nerve, a conduit for a host of smaller nerves that connect the face, throat, chest and abdomen, and communicate between our organs, facial muscles, and brain. It is this collection of nerves that is the seat of emotion. That's why you feel emotions in your torso, throat and/or face.

In reptiles, who experience little or no emotional bonding, emotions are simply about survival. Reptilian vagus nerves enervate the gut and produce "gut feelings" that signal danger, while the reptilian brain (analogous to the human brain stem) signals a "fight, flight, or freeze response." Humans and other mammals also possess this primitive wiring, which Porges calls, "the vegetative vagus". 

It's official; your gut feelings are real.

But mammals are more social and need more complex emotional wiring to navigate relationships. We also possess the "smart vagus" that enervates the heart and lungs. This is the vagus that has gotten a lot of press lately, since scientists discovered that the vagus delivers oxytocin, the "love hormone" that triggers much of what we call bonding between humans and other animals.

Hold on, I'm getting to the botox part.

In primates, and especially humans, vagal nerves also enervate the throat and facial muscles which communicate so much to empathic others via our facial expressions and also via our voices, which change slightly according to muscle contractions in the throat. This is why we can intuit what someone is feeling when we talk to them on the phone. In turn, the listener experiences minute contractions in their own face, throat, chest and abdomen. It's those contractions that tell you what someone else is feeling, because you are then feeling it too!

The most highly empathic people respond to tiny, almost invisible contractions around the eyes, rather then just the mouth. In fact, people who are autistic, and therefore are not usually highly empathic, tend to avoid looking at eyes and so miss important information.

When you talk to someone face-to-face, or on the telephone, you intuition is highly influenced by the minute contractions around your own eyes and other parts of the face and throat. According to Porges, if you've had botox, you will be cut off from that information. Plus, others will have a harder time reading your feelings. Less empathy all around. Bad for your relationships. Super bad for your coaching.

Botox literally cuts you off from your complex and subtle ways of knowing.

Would you like to learn more about the science of coaching? Consider joining the Certified Positive Psychology Coach® Program or simply take the modules you're most curious about. All are ICF approved and IAC licensed. Click below for more information.

Become a Certified Positive Psychology Coach

Topics: executive coach, Business Coaches, Life Coaches, Certified Positive Psychology Coach, Positive Psychology, positive psychology coaching, Neuroplasticity

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