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Emotions 101: Clients with Mixed Emotions

Don't be mixed on mixed emotions!

Diverse people holding emoticon masks
Does your 1 client sometimes feel like 20?

This week, Certified Life Coaching Institute feels ambivalent about the idea of mixed emotions. It can be uncomfortable, painful even, to have mixed emotions. What’s the deal with being able to feel guilt and happiness at the same time anyway? As conflicting as the topic may be, there’s nothing wrong with feeling multiple emotions at once and as a coach, it’s good to create a space where a client can feel free to sort through the different emotions they may feel all at once.

Join us at CLCI Live while Brooke Adair Walters (ACC), Jerome LeDuff Jr (MCLC), Anthony Lopez (MCPC), Lisa Finck (PCC), Misha Safran (PCC), and Jen Long (MCPC) hold a space for ambivalence while diving into how coaches can utilize the variety of emotions from our clients so that they may better achieve their goals.

Contradicting Combinations

Emotions rarely stand all on their own; it's not often that our feelings are discrete, separate, and easy to parse. What seems to be the case is that our emotions are wrapped up and connected with each other, forming a state where we feel many overt and subtle emotions simultaneously.

An article in Psychology Today points out some common times we might feel multiple emotions at once, giving examples of when sadness can combine with guilt, happiness can combine with painful senses of loss, and how one can be sad and happy at once. It seems rather strange. Shouldn’t those be contradicting? Shouldn’t a contradiction cancel one emotion or the other out?

Nothing is so simple in the human experience. As a coach, it is important to remember that our clients will frequently feel mixed emotions on something in their lives. Hold a space for those combinations and contradictions. Listen actively. And maybe one emotion will guide the client away from the other.

FOMO, One-Time Chances, and Hard Choices

Person standing on the road to future life with many direction sign point in different ways and only yellow one.
It can sometimes feel like every choice is the wrong choice.

Being split between feelings isn’t pleasant. It can range from the discomfort of having to make a choice between two things you’d like to do, to the painful pressure of cognitive dissonance. Clients don’t want our actions to be at odds with our attitudes. Other times, they might have two options they really like; and the choice made for one decision might always feel like the wrong choice.

FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is not entirely the process being discussed here. But how often have we heard of FOMO in our everyday lives? It is a phenomenon most typically tied to social media and comparison. However, LCSW Hilary Hendel explains that there are 5 facts of life that play into FOMO; of them, note the first two:

  1. “There will always be choices."

  2. "We can always find a better and a worse option than the one chosen.”

Maybe we flip a coin to determine which option we’ll think is worse. Maybe we get advice. Maybe we languish over the choice and miss both. Maybe we choose a route and then spend the whole time imagining what would have happened if we’d picked the other option. Mixed emotions can be pretty inevitable in these situations.

Commit to things you want to do.”

But what happens when we want to do both options? What happens when we want to take up more time at work for the money, but also want to go on a vacation that a promotion’s schedule won’t allow? What happens when we want to pursue a relationship but also want to keep a friendship?

On the opposite side of things, what happens when we don’t see ourselves wanting to do either choices life has laid out for us? This leads to mixed emotions too.

Clients might be facing any mixture of these scenarios. Acceptance of missing out or having to go through with something unwanted is hard. And having mixed emotions is hard enough with the strain it can cause.

Something important that clients will eventually face is the inevitability of these situations, the mixed emotions distress it may cause, and the acceptance that there will have to be a choice. Guha also writes on how this realization is one that must be accepted:

Recognize that we cannot have it all at the same time. We have finite hours in a day and only so much time, energy, and money.

Ultimately, whether someone is conflicted between two desirable choices or two hard places, we have to pull the strongest emotions out of the mix. An article in Psychology Today asks, “Which emotions will influence behavior?” Their answer is the “strongest emotion.”

But it can take time before we are able to tell what that strongest emotion is. It can take time to determine a priority. Especially when preemptive regret hangs over our heads. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It takes self reflection. It takes patience with ourselves. Not only that, but it can take having the support of a listening ear while we wade through that emotional quagmire.

Let’s go back to the idea of FOMO again. In her article, Guha explains that, “It is easier to manage FOMO when you know what your core values are and try to make choices aligned with them instead of making choices based on fear of loss. As an example, if you know that you value health, you might be more able to comfortably say no to an alcohol-filled dinner and yes to a Saturday morning yoga workshop.”

When we experience mixed emotions over worrying that we will regret not making a different choice, then we might vent about this worry. We might talk aloud about everything good we imagine from these opportunities. We might not know what we want most yet—but speaking often filters through the lens of personal values.

You can probably see where this is going in terms of life coaching.

Listen Actively, Question Accurately

Happy female coach is consulting young woman
Maintain eye contact, summarize, and show interest. It's that easy

That’s just our job in a nutshell, isn’t it? Active listening is one of the ICF’s core competencies for good reason.

The ICF defines active listening as a coach that

Focuses on what the client is and is not saying to fully understand what is being communicated in the context of the client systems and to support client self-expression.

This is further split into different patterns of active listening, and is followed in the core competencies by Evoking Awareness. This process then “facilitates client insight and learning by using tools and techniques such as powerful questioning, silence, metaphor, or analogy.” Questioning. Silence. Metaphors and analogies.

Sometimes, being listened to—truly listened to—is enough for us to become aware of our own priorities and opinions. How many of us say “I don’t know?” How many of us feel like we don’t know when we say it?

And how many of us might have that aha!-lightbulb-moment after just getting the chance to lay our mixed emotions out and hearing what we have said?

Just asking someone to tell you more about what they don’t know can open a floodgate of mixed emotions that might just free up those values and priorities that they would most like to commit to. In fully committing, many of the more negative and straining emotions become more muted.

Have a coaching space of active listening. That’s the type of coaching space that welcomes many different emotions at once.

Holding a Space for Mixed Emotions

An article in the Harvard Business Review discusses the reality. Mixed emotions are not always welcomed. They’re hidden. They go unwanted by the world around them—often when they are already unwanted by the one feeling them!

“People often hesitate to share their ambivalent [mixed positive and negative] emotions with colleagues, fearing that they’ll taint the mood or appear emotionally vulnerable — like they don’t have it all together".

And despite the vulnerability inherent in a coaching-client space, some clients may take time before not just feeling it is safe for them to admit to having mixed emotions, but that they are encouraged here.

The differences in having that space to be open in the experience can be powerful. The HBR article recommends listening “in an empathetic, non-judgmental, and respectful manner”—active listening, once again. Active listening “not only makes employees more aware of their ambivalence but also more tolerant of it.” They point out that “feeling and showing mixed emotions is an accepted and appreciated reaction to events that take place at work and in life and isn’t something to feel ashamed of.”

Mixed emotions can be a difficult thing to experience, but they are an inevitable part of life.

As coaches, it is important to create a safe and understanding space for our clients to feel comfortable expressing any ambivalence or contradiction that they may be feeling. Active listening is essential in order to help the client identify their core values and priorities, as well as to facilitate insight and learning. It is also essential that we do not judge the client for having mixed emotions, but rather provide empathy and respect. By doing so, we can help the client work through their conflicting feelings in order to make the best decisions for themselves.


Thank you,

Brooke Adair Walters (ACC), Jerome LeDuff Jr (MCLC), Anthony Lopez (MCPC), Lisa Finck (PCC), Misha Safran (PCC), and Jen Long (MCPC)!

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The reality that these circumstances are inevitable, the conflicting feelings and discomfort they may create, and the realization that a decision will need to be made are all significant issues that clients will eventually have to deal with. Great to participate and experience open knowledge. Useful source of information brings high message value basketbros


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Techniques such as active listening, geometry dash empathy, and helping clients explore the root causes of their emotions are crucial.


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Theo Hernandez
Theo Hernandez
May 28, 2023

It's a very interesting article that opens up new sides to the client's behavior, reveals their feelings and emotions, which can sometimes be quite ambiguous. Mental health is a topic for more than one article, but the author managed to convey the essence. Emotions can sometimes lead you to a completely different place than you would like to go, and the same goes for feelings, so it is so important to understand them and control them. At the university, we were assigned to write an essay on this topic, and since I'm a little weak in medicine, I asked for help writing the paper, and they did everything flawlessly, the teacher even suspected that it wasn't my work, it…

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