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Self Imprisonment: How We Become Our Own Jailer And What This Means For Our Coaching Clients

By Elizabeth Saigal, Ph.D.

Oscar, the white mouse, was born into a loving mouse family who believed that everything they did for and taught him was in his best interests. His parents made mistakes in his upbringing, but they did their best according to what they themselves knew and had been taught. Whenever he stepped out of line and did something they believed was potentially dangerous he was punished. And so over time he adapted his behavior eschewing conduct that had bad consequences. His actions became almost entirely things that were approved of and so rewarded. To adopt behaviors that would lead to punishment he had to feel very strongly about them indeed.

His environment consisted of an incredibly complex topography. There were wide open plains, mountains, valleys, and everything in between. Everywhere you looked you found life and community. To young Oscar, from the nook in which they lived, it seemed a place of wonder and excitement that invited exploration. But, when he set off in the direction of the mountains his parents pulled his tail and told him to go back to the nook. “You can’t do that” they said. When he set off to the plains, they tweaked his whiskers squealing “It’s not safe”, and sent him back to the nook. When he set off to the valleys, they barred his way. “Something is out there” they said with fear in their voices.

Soon, he no longer set foot toward the plains, or the mountains, or the valleys. Oscar played and scampered around the nock and for the most part had what he needed. When, occasionally, it crossed his mind to leave the nook, he remembered the warnings that he couldn’t and that it was too risky and stayed put.

So Oscar and his family pottered around in their nook, never venturing to try anything different that might lead to discovery of different options and possibilities or alternative ways to live. They were completely unaware of the invisible bars they had placed around the nook. Oscar had become his own jailer by incorporating the attitudes passed down through generations before him into his own mindset.

Do you identify with Oscar?

Coaching is about supporting our client in removing those bars so they can stop being confined to their nook and start choosing to explore the world of possibilities that is their birthright? One way to do this is by bringing these bars into awareness. If a client makes any statement that limit them, make sure they also hear what they have just said using mirroring and direct statements.

Once clients become conscious of the prison inherent in their mindset they automatically begin to question it. The coach can accelerate this with powerful questions such as “Is this mindset actually true?” “What would it be like to complete … (name the action they have identified as not being capable of)” “What can you do to test this assumption?” “What is the risk?”, and “How can the risk be managed?”

Another way to remove the bars is for the client to connect with their core being. What is it fundamentally that makes them tick? Working with them to increase clarity about what they really need and want for themselves raises the stakes. If they have a mindset that is at odds with this vision then assisting them in tacking this mindset is one step on route to making it a reality.

Identifying the client’s vision for themselves and questioning related mindsets reduces the barrier to actually taking action. They can then identify steps to take to put what they have learned into practice. This often includes adding new conduct that negates the assumptions the bars are founded upon. In the face of these contradictions, the bars crumble and the client, no longer restricted to their nook, can select from an expanded horizon. This newfound freedom to explore and experience your potential is one of the gifts of the coaching relationship.

Dr. Elizabeth Saigal is an ILCT Certified Life Coach. Her ideal client is one who is intent on connecting with their inner truth and aligning with their intuition to live a life on purpose. You can connect with her by email at