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emotional intelligenceIn a previous article I talked about the painbody and how it undermines emotional intelligence (EQ). Now let’s talk about how to deal with the painbody in our lives. But first . . .

There are many ways we typical react to the painbody that erupts in our lives and relationships. Here are a few:

  • —Most importantly and most often, we identify with the painbody. As I mentioned in Part 1, the painbody often takes over our mind and we think as it dictates us to think. We cannot tell the preverbal “forest from the trees.”
  • Act it out. (This is similar to identifying with it.) For example we might start a fight with our spouse just to prove s/he is a hurtful person.
  • We numb it. There are many ways to numb pain. Here are just a few:

o   Drink alcohol or get stoned (most addictions are part of the painbody)

o   Work, work and work some more

o   Complain until you run out of friends

o   Eat a high caloric snack (when no is looking) and then go back for seconds.

  • We try to fight the painbody. This is the most interesting because it seems like the “right” thing to do. We desperately try to dispute it and fight emotion with facts. Sometimes this works for a short time but like Dorothy’s witch, she keeps coming back. Very often when we fight the painbody, it only gets bigger. It’s like some sci-fi monster that eats up your energy and turns it on you. So good luck fighting your painbody!
  • Or we can do it the healthy way . . .

Eckhart Tolle has a very simple yet powerful approach to the painbody. It is consistent with many psychological and spiritual approaches that we all know (and practice?). Here are a few of them:

  • AAA:  Acknowledge . . . Accept . . .  Allow . . . the painbody. Don’t fight it, it will win and take parts of you with it. Instead acknowledge its eruption. Accept that it is there and mindfully allow it to be there without resistance.
  • Watch it with compassionate . . . Presence. Tolle frequently uses the term presence. He endorses being present with the painbody without reacting to it, without identifying with it, without fighting it. In this way we take away its food source, our mental engagement with it. This practice is very similar to what I write about regarding Witches in my book, Follow the Yellow Brick Road. Taking Dorothy’s lead, we should face the Witch and douse it with the water of Awareness and Compassion (what I fancy to be truth and grace, respectively).  When we do this, the witch melts.
  • Befriend it?  It might seem strange—if not masochistic—to see the painbody as a friend or ally. But when we greet it for what it is––un-integrated, impacted emotional pain that we carry around in our psyche—and we know that when it is metabolized (melts) it will release positive energy; we don’t have to be afraid of it. In fact we might welcome it as an opportunity to grow and heal. (See Getting Your Wings in the Land of Oz.)
  • Surrender. There is another discipline that uses the idea of surrender. Do you know who it is? Yes, Alcohol Anonymous prescribes the concept of “surrender” in its First Step on road to recovery. Tolle identifies two types of surrender:
    • Level #1: Surrender to the reality . . . as it is. The other day I spilled a cup of chunky soup inside our refrigerator. Becoming upset, I cursed at the horrendous crime that had just fallen upon me. And then the Awareness in me spoke. “It is soup spilled, nothing more nothing less. Be present with the reality of spilt milk soup  . . .  and oh yeah, and clean it up.”
    • Level #2: Surrender to the pain . . .  feel it. We are generally afraid of our painful feelings. But if we can separate them from the old negative “emotional notions” in our head (Tolle calls this our “Unhappy Me”), we are left with simply emotions,   which will pass with time (and the sooner we surrender, the sooner they leave).  Sadness, loneliness and anger without their “mental containers’ (e.g. “I am defective” or “No one loves me”) are just feelings and feelings come and go.

I challenge us to try this practice. Next time our painbody erupts, wait for the Awareness-within. Acknowledge and accept the painbody’s appearance. Bring compassion and grace as you watch it. Don’t give in to the temptation to identify with it, numb it, act it out or even fight it. Simply be present. Then enjoy the inevitable melting of the painbody Witch and the release of positive energy that will follow. This is emotional intelligence.

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Tig and DawnThe Sons of Anarchy recently finished its 6th season on FX. For those of you who are fans—and there are millions of you out there—there are scenes that are indelibly etched into your mind. One of those scenes is without a doubt the opening episode of the 5th season where the character Tig is forced to witness the brutal murder of his own daughter, Dawn. Those of you who watched this amazing episode saw what I consider an Emmy-worthy performance by Kim Coates in the role as Tig.

In anticipation of this scene, and knowing that I was a psychologist, Kim asked me to discuss it with him. He wanted to know what a person like Tig would go through psychologically in witnessing the brutal murder of a loved one. When I have the opportunity to work with actors of his caliber I never presume to coach them on how to act. But what I can do is help them understand how the mind works—in this case under catastrophic conditions. I’d like to share with you a little bit of what we talked about and then comment about the three ways we all react when threatened.

Tig is the sergeant-at-arms at his motorcycle club. He is the “muscle” and when necessary, literally the executioner. So you would think a tough guy like Tig could take anything. The “beauty” of this scene, written by Kurt Sutter, is that this tough motorcycle club member experienced something so unbearable that even he completely breaks. One important factor to consider in this scene was that Tig was chained (as he watched his daughter doused with gasoline and set ablaze). If he had been able to fight, Tig certainly would have tried to save his daughter. But what does someone who bullies his way through life do when he is powerless to do anything?

There are three ways mammals react. I talk about these three ways in my book, Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Change for the Better When Life Gives You Its Worst. So for our purposes here, I’ll use characters from the Wizard of Oz to make it memorable:

  • Lion is a typical reaction. It is the angry reaction. We lose our temper; we yell at someone and maybe—in worst cases—become physically aggressive. We say things that are hurtful.
  • Tin Man represents the adapting reaction. We give into the other. We cave in to their demands, we collude with their negative behavior and surrender our perspective, adapting to their arguments.
  • A third way of reacting is Scarecrow. It is the avoidant reaction.  In this reaction we avoid conflict, circumvent issues and hold our breath hoping that it will all go away.  And if we can’t physically run, we shut down like a plug that is pulled. This reaction is non-relational, passive and detached.

I explored with Kim what it would be like, as Tig, to be totally powerless to save his “little girl.” Tig’s instinct would have been to fight and so he tried. He pulled on the chains that bound him. He yelled; he screamed.  If unchained, he would have taken bullets en route to rescue his daughter and kill the bastard who was conducting this horror. But he couldn’t. And with no alternatives, he did something very unlike Tig. When there were no longer any viable Lion (fight) options, he went Tin-Man: He begged and pleaded. He desperately appealed to his captors. He offered himself up instead, as a sacrifice. “Take ME,” he implored. (I can’t imagine what it was like for Kim to go so deeply into that place of vulnerability and weakness.)

When that didn’t work, Tig found himself unconsciously in a Scarecrow scenario. I talked to Kim about how children who are severely abused use Scarecrow. When they are too little to fight the big perpetrator, and when begging and pleading will not stop their violation, little children often dissociate. I explained to Kim that it was like a mental “circuit breaker” built in the mind to protect a person from a psychological surge that is just too much to bear. In these cases the circuit breaker pops and we psychologically and emotionally go “offline.” We go numb; we disconnect. Anyone who has experienced that scene (no one watched the scene) will hardly forget the fully broken man who numbly watched his daughter die before his out-of-focus eyes.

I did not have to tell Kim how to play Tig in this scene. He is a natural and gifted actor—he knew. But what was helpful—and hopefully is helpful to the reader—was to know that when presented with an emotional/relational challenge we tend to move to our most familiar reaction style (for Tig it was Angry-Lion), then to our less familiar reaction style (for Tig it was Adapting-Tin Man) and finally, when all else fails, to our last resort reaction style (for Tig it was Avoidant-Scarecrow). It is important to note that not all reaction sequences are the same. For example, sometimes we try to run first (flight) and if that fails we fight and finally adapt (appease) to the threat.* In what sequence do you tend to react? If you think about it, you are likely to react differently depending on the situation.

So when important people offend or challenge us (like a spouse, a boss, child or an avenging crime-boss), the first step in managing our own reactivity is to identify that we are reacting and how we are reacting: Angry Lion (Fight), Adapting Tin Man (Freeze/Appease), or Avoidant Scarecrow (Flight).  Once we do that we are halfway there.   The second half of the process will have to wait for a follow-up article.

Thank you Kim for your outstanding performance.

_____

*Dr. Elias Porter describes this sequence in his Strengths Deployment Inventory.