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  • Ricka Robb Kohnstamm

What is the advantage of creating space for paradoxical feelings? 

"How are you?" The answer I give to that question can either be performative "I am fine, and you?"

Or real... "I am feeling overwhelmed."

Or, I can go a bit deeper and notice the paradoxical feelings under the surface. Paradoxical feelings remind me that I am not one or the other, in or out, either/or. I am both/and. There is richness under my surface and when I chose to look at it and share it, I see more of myself, as well as allowing myself to be seen more fully by people I care about.

When I take a closer look, here is what I feel: "I am feeling overwhelmed because I am miss my friends and I know I won't be able to see them for the foreseeable future. And, I am so grateful that I have technology available so that I can see their lovely faces online and hear their familiar laughter.

When I stop at "I am feeling overwhelmed", I don't give myself the benefit of seeing the rounder experience, the paradoxical feelings that are also just as true. As humans, we are wired to notice what is not working to help keep us safe. And as humans, we can also make the choice to watch for what is also true.

But what is working is just as valid and rounds out our thoughts. I make it a habit to expand what I experience and regularly notice the paradoxical feelings by practicing these three things...

Pause to show up. When someone asks how I am, I pause to actually consider "How AM I feeling?" instead of rushing headlong into a habitual response. I show up for myself.

Expand my feelings/needs vocabulary. I keep my feelings/needs lists handy so that I am reminded of the wide variety of words available to name my feelings. For me, the more words, the better. I pay attention to what feels right in the moment.

Practice acceptance and compassion. I remind myself that feelings aren't good or bad, they are simply a source of information to help me identify needs that are being met or needs that are unmet. "This is what I feel." Period. I own it.

When I show up for myself and notice, with intention, the paradoxical nature of my feelings, it is like opening my eyes wide open. My experience is richer and rounder. I remember that yes, there are difficult circumstances and challenging situations. And yes, there are opportunities to savor and notice that which is hopeful and filled with promise. Both/and.

And interestingly, when I show up for myself, I am much better to show up for others. I can share what is under my surface with those I care about and build stronger, richer relationships. And I can be aware that everyone - clients, colleagues, children, partners, vendors - has paradoxical feelings, many of which remain unseen (by me) under their surfaces. I can give them some kindness.

I use my tools to expand my awareness of paradoxical feelings in order to strengthen my capacity to live a whole-hearted life.

And I remind myself that actions, aligned with values, support optimal health.


Hello, I'm Ricka.

Ricka Kohnstamm Executive & Physician Coach Profile Photo

I'm a Nationally Board Certified (NBC-HWC) Integrative Health and Wellbeing Coach. I specialize in working with physician leaders, corporate leaders, non-profit executives and their families to navigate complex work and personal issues so they can strengthen their relationships, heal, and feel hopeful about the future again. 



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