“I've rarely experienced a 'training' program that so effectively combines rigorous methodology with generous heart. I now have a living compendium of precise, relevant practices.”
“Working with Joanne and Laura has been transformational at many levels of my life. Through their Integral Coaching® training, I have come to understand what “being human” means.”
“Integral Coaching Canada provides what we believe is the most complete and comprehensive coaching program available. ”
A Journey Through Powerful Emotions
Gwen is an Integral Master CoachTM, member of the Integral Coaching Canada (ICC) Faculty as an Observer and Phone Coach, Federal Public Servant, Wife and Mom. In coaching, Gwen has recognized the power of self-awareness, the freedom of authenticity and a belief that personal growth, resilience and motivation with achieve sustainable change. She strives to apply these principles in all of her roles.
Most importantly, through her ICC journey, Gwen has connected with the raw emotions of her heart, learned to be guided by the moment by calming her mind and to trust her instinct. These life lessons have fundamentally changed how she connects with what is important and contribute every day to her well-being.
Gwen lives in Kemptville, Canada, a country side of Ottawa, with her husband, two sons, and their dog Maggie.
When someone asks me about my ICC journey, I tell them that it has been a life changing experience. In particular for me, it was the second module, the Professional Certification Module (PCM) that was most defining.
Here I was, freshly accredited as an Integral Associate CoachTM, having found a method to achieve sustainable change and a purpose – I finally knew my place and a way to honor it. Little did I know that I would soon be engaging in a revelation of my edges and a deep dive into the lesser known sides of myself. In true ICC fashion, right from the preparatory PCM work and our first week of training, I was led into a reflection and uncovered what I considered back then to be “negative” emotions – pain, anger, vulnerability. My heart had been shattered open and I felt exposed and raw, with emotions I had kept hidden for so long that bubbled to the surface. To give you a sense of what my heart was carrying, let me take you back…
I have always wanted to be a Mom. This was a simple certainty that consumed my early adult life. But, for me, the path to being a Mom has not been an easy one.
At the beginning, my husband and I tried to conceive unsuccessfully for several months until finally that pregnancy test showed a positive sign. We were so ecstatic! The months of disheartenment were finally turning and I dared to dream. Our happiness, however, was short lived. At eight weeks of pregnancy, the fetus stopped growing and we lost our first child. It was too early to know if it was a boy or a girl. We planted a tree in our backyard to remember the baby by. The healing process was a difficult one. I hated my body; the body that had taken away my child. I doubted my abilities as a woman. I felt naïve to have thought that becoming parents, was just a matter of preparation and timing. I had never thought it would present so many challenges and heartaches. But eventually, with time and feverish desire to have children, my husband and I connected with our doctor to discuss next steps.
We started with fertility treatments: hormonal fluctuations, blood work and ultrasounds at regular intervals, the recurring cycle of high hopes followed by the disappointment of not having conceived. It took three tries and I eventually got pregnant again. I loved being pregnant. Even the nausea, the fatigue, the aches and pains were worth it as they were evidence of the presence of my child. The beauty of a pregnancy came through the dreams, the excitement, finding out we were having a girl, feeling her move, seeing her hands and feet pushing my stomach, my husband reading her stories and showing a soft side that only a Dad can have. We named her Alexie.
On my last day of work, two weeks before our little Alexie was to arrive into this world, I went to my weekly doctor’s appointment. What was supposed to be a routine appointment, turned my life upside down… There’s a lot I don’t remember from that day, but I do remember the masked look of worry in my husband’s eyes while trying to be strong when he joined me at the hospital; I remember screaming “I want my baby” over and over when they told us she had passed away; I remember my husband holding on to me.
She was born the next day, on October 6th, 2010. We got to hold her. She had already long dark hair; ten tiny fingers and toes; full lips in a heart shape; soft cheeks. She looked like she was sleeping. In the following months, we grieved, in the best way that we could.
My desire to have children was still ever present, but I couldn’t entertain the idea of getting pregnant again after Alexie was gone. Perhaps as a coping mechanism, I embarked on the idea of adoption. We did all the training, information sessions and home evaluations necessary to put forward an application. We completed our application shortly after the first anniversary of Alexie’s birth. The stars were aligned for us, and soon thereafter we met a vibrant, energetic, and charming 20-month-old boy named Connor. Connor was a breath of fresh air in our lives. Our sunlight. There was a steep learning curve to becoming parents of a 2-year-old with his own personality and quirks while also trying to create attachment. Connor was so resilient, so accepting, so full of love that it took no time at all for us to become a family.
We then considered tempting faith again and getting pregnant. We went with fertility treatments again. We were successful after three tries, again. I was followed closely and treated as a high-risk patient. I had ultrasounds every week to check on the baby’s progress. We found out we were having a boy. He moved quite a bit in there, just to reassure his Maman that he was doing well. I was induced early to limit any risks and we welcomed Zackary in March 2014.
I finally had all I had ever dreamed of: a loving husband, two healthy and busy little boys, a career with responsibilities, recognition, a title, and all the material offerings a good job can provide–but after a while, new emotions were creeping in and I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.
The roles I was trying to maintain were adding up and I was overwhelmed. I started to feel angry, I had little patience with my boys, I felt the pressure of having “to do” and definitely had no time for play. I felt so busy that I didn’t really ‘see’ my kids, didn’t hear them laughing and I was often annoyed at hearing them call me the name that I had so dearly desired.
Knowing that I was not feeling like myself, I connected with my therapist and my family doctor. Both diagnosed me with moderate to severe depression. Accepting this fact in itself was a hurdle for me. What “right” did I have to be in a depression when I had everything? I pushed through, but after three panic attacks, all in the span of a few hours, at home, on the bus, and one before entering my work building, I had no choice but to listen to my body and stop.
My body, my mind, and my heart completely shut down. I became a spectator in my own life. It took everything I had to take a shower and be presentable for the boys when they were coming back home at the end of the day. I was there, but not interacting. I had to shut everything out: family, friends, work. The little energy I had went to just functioning. I was painfully aware of how much of myself I had lost. Intellectually, I couldn’t focus, think, or make decisions. Noise was disruptive, even aggressive. Physically, I was tired. Emotionally, there was a lot of pain. There was so much questioning, confusion, and frustration. I felt like a stranger. Being around others was difficult—how do you tell the people that know you best that you don’t even know yourself?
My depression happened five years after the passing of Alexie. Losing my daughter made it that my “glass” was already half empty, but it’s life, just regular life, that ended up emptying my glass further. As we say, “life happens,” and it’s exactly those life events, added up over time, that, for me, resulted in a depression. When we speak of balance, it’s not balance in all your activities, it’s balance of how much you put in and how much you take out.
I sought out the resources I needed: prescriptions from my family doctor, talking through my frustrations and managing my overall wellbeing with my therapist, working with a coach to establish coping mechanisms and clarifying what was meaningful. I did get better but those solutions weren’t long lasting. I wasn’t dealing with what was consuming me, I was simply coping. My instinct had been to push the pain deep down and I had grown accustomed to its pressure.
Back into my PCM experience…
I had been carrying so much pain and anger – not that anyone would have noticed. I, myself, was so blind to it that it both scared and confused me when it showed up during my first week of PCM training. In our exploration of the new lenses, in particular of the Enneagram, I navigated an increased depth of self-awareness. Reading the truth in statements about my Enneagram type 3, made it all too real. These statements included:
- “Brushing their real feelings and needs aside to get the job done.”
- “Pressure to be outstanding in whatever they do is intense and draining.”
- “Needing validation from others to feel complete.”
- “Great loneliness and a belief that they must not need help or support.”
- “Leaving them unsure of who they are or what their own deepest values are.”
- “A crash is inevitable.”
It was difficult to accept what was so clearly “me” in these statements and the impact these beliefs had had on my life experiences, culminating in my hidden pain and anger. This breakthrough led me to face the reality of my emotions and how I was relating to my own “image” as a performing Enneagram Type 3.
Therapy was critical to my well-being and created within me the resilience to take on challenges, and provided a solid grounding and foundational support for this kind of deeper dive. In the months that followed, building on what I had previously achieved through therapy, and with the guidance, support and love of my ICC Teacher and Phone Coach, I explored my beliefs and strong emotions and paid attention to their messages. I reconsidered who I imagined myself to be and embraced a renewed coming to terms with the notion of super woman that was so distant from my deeper self. I developed new ways of allowing my emotions to guide me. I recognized that my anger was letting me know my limits. I learned to view my pain as part of my heart and the reason why I love so much, why I don’t take anything for granted, why I wish so much to contribute to something bigger than me.
With that calmness and new-found space in my body, I became acquainted with a new part of my being: my gut. Most surprisingly, I realized he was my natural leader, getting me to move, to make decisions, and to trust my instincts. I am still getting to know him and what a discovery he is! My head is grateful for the relief and my heart is more peaceful and able to bring in her character. I was able to become more integrated: heart, body and mind.
ICC’s Professional Certification Module certainly expanded my understanding and application of the Integral Coaching® Method, built my presence and opened new dimensions in me as a coach, and it was so much more. It was a journey into my sense of self. I have learned, and continue to learn, about myself and about life. I have learned to take it one step at a time. I have learned to allow myself some time to rest. I’ve learned what’s important to me and to focus on these things (and only these things). I’ve learned to forgive myself and not wallow in guilt. I’ve learned to have the courage to be honest with myself, to recognize my limits and my abilities. I’ve learned that my best will change from one day to the next. But most of all, I’ve learned to pay attention.
If you would also like to experiment with acknowledging when frustration, disappointment or anger (i.e. an emotion you would typically deem as ‘negative’) is present and exploring it as a source of information, I’ve included a practice below. You can try it with any emotion, as there may be another emotion you have a harder time with. When you first start this practice, please work with smaller, less intense emotions before building up to a what you may consider stronger emotions for you.
When your ‘negative’ emotion makes its appearance, start first by thanking your emotion for alerting you to your sense of self and to your values, wanting to re-establish your boundaries. This can help you to diminish the perceived threat of your emotion. Consider how you might relate to your emotion with compassion. Then, complete the statements below as spontaneously as possible, writing down your responses in a journal.
- Name the emotion as specifically as possible.
- What is this emotion wanting to protect or restore?
- What internal dialogue, if any, is happening and how would I describe the quality of the voices?
- What gesture of acknowledgement might I make to recognize and thank this emotion for manifesting?
- What happens in my heart and/or body when I focus compassionately on my emotion?
At the end of the practice period, reflect on the following:
- How did acknowledging my emotion change my internal response or reaction to it?
- What insights, if any, am I gaining about my triggers or my sensibilities and how I need to navigate my daily world?
- In what ways, if at all, might my compassionate connection to my emotions change my actions or responses?