Click here to hear Lisa talk about understanding, working with, and loving our “worst selves” on The Daily Connection.

Because right now, our best and worst selves are emerging. Nearly everyone we work with, talk with, and know has shown us both their best and worst selves recently. We know that we’ve been at our best and worst as well.

How can we not be? As human beings, we feel threatened when our Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness (a sense of safety with others), or Fairness is at risk, according to David Rock who created the SCARF model to summarize the common factors that activate a reward or threat response in social situations. (Read more about the SCARF model here). These perceived threats signal danger to our brains, activating the same brain networks that are triggered by a threat on our life.

In other words, right now, we’re all triggered. Right now, our sense of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness are ALL threatened, calling out our worst selves hiding right below the surface, waiting to emerge.

We all have a worst self. It’s usually the mirror image of our best self. I may be a considerate, giving, accommodating person. My worst self may concede to everyone, whether or not it’s the best move to make. Or I may passively withdraw from a conversation, nursing my hurt feelings because others are taking advantage of me. I may be a direct, forceful, quick-to-make-decisions-and-take-action person. My worst self may take over, steamroll colleagues, and move ahead without thinking things through. Or I may explode at my teammates (or loved ones) and shut them down by shutting them up.

You get the picture.

The thing is that right now, it’s very hard – if not impossible – to keep our worst selves from emerging. Again, they are poised right below the surface, and rightfully so. We therefore have to learn to understand, work with, and appreciate them.

We’ve learned a few things about worst selves over our decades of coaching clients. First is that our worst selves most likely were “birthed” as a response to a perceived or real danger that we experienced. We may have learned to acquiesce to stay safe, or we may have been taught to always be the first to pick – and win – a fight. Either way, we developed these selves to protect ourselves. Second, our worst selves somehow still think that we’re in danger and need protecting, especially in times like these, when there is real and perceived danger and nearly everything is completely new and uncertain…and we don’t know how long any of this will last. Lastly, we’ve learned that: your worst self probably triggers my worst self and vice versa, and trying to restrain our worst selves – or fighting against them – only makes things worse. Like pouring water on a grease fire.

So, what do we do? How do we understand, work with, and love our worst selves? It’s not necessarily easy, but it’s relatively simple:

  • Acknowledge your worst self is present and acknowledge the “danger” you’re in.
  • Remember that your worst self thinks it’s protecting you, so calmly remind it that you don’t need protection. That you’re not, in fact, in danger. (You can actually thank it for wanting to protect you, if you’d like.)
  • Admit to others that you know your worst self is there and acting out. This might invite them to acknowledge their worst selves to you – which is great because it’s very rarely a best practice for you to point out someone else’s worst self to them. Just sayin’…
  • Chill out. Take a breath. Get up and walk around. Go to the bathroom. Get a glass of water. Give yourself a hug or put a hand on your heart to calm yourself. Whatever you can and need to do to soothe yourself, so you can think and act rationally.
  • Appreciate the energy your worst self has and brings to “solve” the problem it perceives. (This is the love part.) Then do your best to find a solution to the problem that uses your best self instead. (Hint – your best self and worst self are, again, generally mirror images. Your worst self is operating out of scarcity and fear, while your best self is operating out of opportunity and love.)

Now is a time when we are seeing the best of people. And now is also a time when we’re seeing the worst of people. Especially as leaders, if we can offer compassion and understanding when our – and others’ – worst selves emerge, we can more likely act as our best selves.

Click here to sign up to hear Lisa on The Daily Connection talking about understanding, working with, and loving our “worst selves” tomorrow at noon EST.

How have you seen your best and worst selves? What have you done to try to be more at your best?
Click here to leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For support in showing up – and leading – more and more often as your best self, contact Lisa at

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