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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.

Post1EIWelcome to EI-Psych. EI stands for emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a modern day term for being an effective, mature and decent human being. Emotional intelligence simply stated is “the ability to recognize, understand and effectively manage your emotions and behavior.”[1]  In its more common usage it also includes the interpersonal aspect as well, thus the ability to recognize, understand and effectively manage the emotions and behaviors of others. Daniel Goleman has both popularized and further developed this idea in several books and articles on the subject. He has boiled the concept of EI into a simple chart that shows the four basic categories of EI: Self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness and relationship-management:

Awareness

Behavior

Other

Social Awareness

Relationship Management

Self

Self-Awareness

Self-Management

EI-Psych is a blog committed to facilitating a discussion and enhancing growth around this most basic and vital human capacity, EI.  Because of its deep penetration into the human experience, I will talk about EI as it pertains to a few broad categories of human interaction. Sigmund Freud once said that the essence of living is Love & Work. (I would add a third category that takes in some sort of reflective or even spiritual essence that would include concepts like mindfulness.)  Therefore in EI-Psych we will focus on Work relationships (leadership, employee engagement and teams) as well as Love relationships (couples, parents and friendships) with an occasional reference to all things “Spiritual.”  (We will let the reader know in the beginning of each blog the “categories” that we will touch on in the article du jour.)

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a modern-day term for being an effective, mature and decent human being. A good deal of research on EI has been done in the area of management and leadership. Although not all studies are unequivocal, the preponderance of research support the idea that the higher the level of emotional intelligence, the more effective the leader; and, the poorer the emotional intelligence, the poorer the leader’s effectiveness. A business owner once hired me to “make his project managers more emotionally intelligent.” I do not have to convince any reader of this idea who has ever worked for a boss who is overly demanding, impatient and rude. This boss does not bring the best out of people.  However a boss who is firm and clear while being positive, fair and grateful will get us to be our best.

No doubt the same is true in other relationships outside of work, such as with friendship, dating, marriage and parenting. In this way, EI is a measure of social and personal maturity.  When we think of people who are mature, we think of people who, first and foremost, know themselves accurately and honestly. They have self-control; they know other people and know how to manage the relationships they are in without being a manipulative brut or self-sacrificing. In other words, these mature individuals are emotionally intelligent. Last but not least, emotionally intelligent leaders, spouses, parents and friends are “decent” people. They have integrity. I love the word integrity. Integrity has three meanings: (1) adherence to a code, incorruptible; (2) soundness—like a building has integrity; and, (3) Completeness, as in integrated.  Emotionally intelligent people have integrity, don’t they? They are “good” people who are sound (strong) and are well balanced.

IQ, intellectual intelligence, does not seem to change much over time without specific interventions. If you had an IQ of 115 when you were 8 years old, you are likely to have an IQ near 115 when you are 48 years old. Is this also true of EQ (another way to say EI)?  Yes and no—the answer to this is complicated.  We do inherit certain genes that affect and effect our EI. It is postulated for example that 50 percent of our ability to be happy is hard-wired at conception. We also have positive and negative experiences as children that will drastically and permanently influence our EI as adults. The good news—in this “glass half empty” scenario—is that the glass is also half-full! We have 50 percent that we can work with as adults that can make a BIG impact on the quality of our lives and our relationships. (I often say to my clients that even a little change is a lot of change.)

So stay tuned. Together, let’s leverage the 50 percent that we can change. Join us as we consider this most important human capacity. Just imagine what difference it would make in your life if you were more positive with your spouse, led your team at work with more effectiveness, could be less reactive with your challenging child or more patient with (yes) your mother-in-law. Emotional intelligence is intelligence you can live with.


[1] This definition is taken from an introduction to an emotional intelligence 360 assessment developed by Kenneth M. Nowack, Ph.D. and released by Envisia Learning’s © 2003.