Enhancing Emotional Intelligence – Part I

Feelings Are As Important As Facts

First things first—A feeling is a fact at the moment a person is experiencing it. Emotion is as important as logic. In other words, if a person feels sad because their pet of ten years is lost or died, the sadness is as real as the sun, and they are not to be talked out of their feelings but instead receive empathy. If someone is angry about losing a job, their anger is as real to them as the stars in the sky. Again, empathy is the main element in the emotionally-intelligent person’s repertoire of responses.

Unfortunately, many people, especially many men, have been taught that the expression of feelings and emotions makes them weak or inferior in some way. This is changing rapidly for younger generations who are being exposed to and supported in learning about emotional intelligence early on in their education.

Now no matter your age, I.Q., vocation, occupation, or education, you too hold in your hands a practical, easy to understand and implement, guide to increasing and enhancing your emotional intelligence, which will allow you to be more emotionally present and available to those you love, care about, and even work with.

A Thunderstorm in Mentone – a Poem for my Father

The wind is different tonight.

The leaves on the trees move easily.

Summer rain cleans the horses

grazing the wet grass in the pasture

across the road.

I saw lightning for the first time

in months. It looked like a ragged

tuning fork, and I felt the thunder

roll through my body.

Today, in a house a hundred miles

away I saw my father for the first

time in ten years.

He sat beside me with his bare shoulder

against mine as we looked at a map.

Years ago I would have wanted more to

happen and felt a disappointment,

but this meeting moved easily.

A part of me – the part that always wanted more

felt cleaned. The lightning comes

down in straight lines and then

separates into its tines. A tuning

fork is like that too.

We talked about mileage; then

he showed me the peas he’d grown in his

garden.

This is the most affection I am going

to get, I thought.

Today, this amount of affection was finally enough.

I Can’t Get Angry at my Mother

The Flying Boy Letters: Responses and Replies 30 Years Later

Letter # 12

September 11, 1990

Norwalk, Connecticut

Dear John:

I just finished your book, The Flying Boy, and since I am one, I thought you might be able to provide to me advice regarding a specific issue I’ve been confronting—and one you’ve confronted.

First of all, I found your book immensely thought-provoking and enlightening. I share many of the traits you discovered. I’m 41, never married, no male friends, etc., and yet I’m well-liked, professionally successful, and handsome. I’ve been working in therapy for years on these and other issues, with some success, but not enough.

Recently I’ve been focusing on my relationship with my mother, which seems similar to your relationship with yours, but I’m stuck. My therapist is encouraging me to feel and express my anger at my mother. She was very dissatisfied with my father, who was lazy, selfish, distant, etc. My mother enlisted me in her campaign against my father, and I joined wholeheartedly. I saw my mother as victimized, the “good parent,” whose life was made miserable by the bad parent, and so I did whatever I could to compensate for my father’s inadequacies. This amounted to never wanting anything, never making any demands on my mother, being as “good” as I possibly could be—in short, doing whatever I could to please her.

The problem is, I now feel as if I’m not entitled to anything. I’m always trying to please the women in my life, and while I generally succeed at that, I don’t feel comfortable and satisfied, and so I leave them.

But here’s the specific problem I need help with. How do I feel angry at my mother? I can’t seem to do it. I bought her act hook, line, and sinker, and whenever I think of her, I feel sad and sorry for her. To feel angry at her seems heartless and ungrateful. After all, she always told me how she sacrificed for me for me and how hard she worked for me. I understand what I should be angry at her for; I believe I have a right to be angry at her—but I can’t seem to feel it. When I try to, I feel bad and I imagine her mournful face looking so hurt by my anger. She died of cancer when I was 16, and that makes it even harder.

My therapist believes it is crucial that I feel and express my anger at my mother and I agree. But right now, I simply can’t.

Any advice?

Thanks for your book, and I hope things are going well for you.

Sincerely,

I Can’t Get Angry at My Mother

Dear I Can’t Get Angry at My Mother,

Man, do I get you, and as they say now, “I feel you, Bro.” But really, I do. I was able to feel my anger and rage at my father about the time you wrote this letter. I knew he verbally, emotionally, and psychologically abused me. But Mom – she was a saint – or so we all thought back then.

It would be years after The Flying Boy came out before I, like you, felt I had to take my mom off the cross and off the pedestal, and even she knew this at the time, saying one day on my then-farm in Asheville: “When are you going to work on me the way you did your father? I know you must have some anger at me.”

Man! Was she right. Like you, I saw her as a victim who sacrificed so much to stay with Dad, and I sacrificed so much to be her surrogate husband, counselor and confidant as we proceeded to alienate Dad, and to a degree, demonized him for his alcoholism and being a poor husband and parent.

When kids replace childhood with adult behaviors as early as you did, and I did, we grow up too fast and stay children and childlike too long. Like you said, you feel “not entitled to anything and you [and so did I] always try to please women,” hence the name I gave them, “Flying Boys.”

By the way, I got this title from reading and article on Robert Bly, the recognized father of the Men’s Movement back in 1981. In it, he told a story probably from Grimm Brothers about a woman who took her boys out in the woods so she could have them all to herself. Eventually the “boys” knew they had to leave their mother and so she turned them into swans.  As I read, I knew I was a swan boy, and so I came up with the name Flying Boys.

So yes, I did my “mother work,” but the anger was so buried in me, and so deep that my therapist at the time had to use extreme measures—dynamite—to blast me open, using a jackhammer to break me out of denial, and then a chisel and hammer to chip away the residual rage that had been in me for decades of feeling sorry for her and realizing I had a right to finally feel both grief and anger.

You say your therapist is encouraging you to feel and express your pent-up rage at a woman who you loved and lost to cancer when you were sixteen, but when you try, you “imagine her mournful face looking hurt by my anger.” As I’m sure you intellectually know, your mother was a complex person with both good and bad aspects or traits, but you say you simply can’t, and you’re requesting help. This is what I did and this is how I’m grateful to say I’ve helped more than a few men get to this undesirable feeling.

You see, what I came up with is that at 38 to 40 years old I had to work on my Ghost Mother—this is the mother at 19 when she birthed her son (My God, a 19-year-old!). She was still a baby raising a baby, but it is that young, green mother I had to get angry with. It was the twenty- and twenty-five-year old that turned me into a premature adult. It was this woman that I had to get angry at – not the then-60-year-old mother who existed at the time to whom I was expressing my anger. My anger was for the young woman who allowed my father’s abuse to occur towards me and who smothered me herself – not for the aging woman living in Florida.

So what I’m saying is yes, your mother died, but it is the ghost mother that still haunts. It is the Ghost that has to be fully exercised and exorcised out of our bodies and our brains, so we can finally grow up, see her as a flawed human, and finally let her go.

Begin by imagining that you are taking the fact that she did the best she could, putting it in a box, and put that box in the closet. I’ve taught for a long time that all parents pretty much do the best they can with what they have. This sentiment still exists—it’s still true, and you still can have those feelings—but putting it aside right now will help you get to work. Then, if you have pictures of your mother when she was young, take those pictures and post them around your rooms and talk to that woman, because that’s the woman you’re still carrying around with you, and the Ghost Mother around whom you need to express your anger. With these two techniques, hopefully your anger will begin to surface. It may be helpful to remind yourself as often as necessary that your mother, who did the best she could, is not being hurt by your expression of appropriate anger. When the anger does come, express it, and keep expressing it until you feel you are done. When you feel done, then you take that box out of the closet, open it up, and now you’ve got “she did the best she could,” but you’ve also gotten angry at her, and then you put those two together. When you are able to express your anger, and combine the woman who faulted you with the understanding of all the ways that she did right by you, you will have a stronger, more complete, and more authentic relationship with this woman who was all too briefly alive during your lifetime.

Another possibility is finding somebody who does psychodrama therapy, and having this person pretend to be your mother so you can express the things that you wish to tell your mother. Role playing and dramatization can sometimes bring forth formerly unexpressed emotions. Remember, you are not hurting your mother; you are healing yourself.

Now for the men like me whose old mother is still alive at 86, this woman and I finally found a friendship that is functional and even fun. So if we let go of our ghosts, feeling everything that has been repressed in our bodies and souls, there is a great possibility of talking and interacting adult-to-adult.

So now you’re an aging man like me and I bet you finally got to your rightful, righteous rage and anger, and I hope you got all the benefits that come with that.

Take care and thank you for writing,

JOHN

Discipline and Punishment

Anger as Punishment and Revenge

Alcoholics, addicts, and adult children of alcoholics don’t get angry – they get even. One of the reasons adults have such a problem feeling and expressing their anger is because anger has forever been tied to punishment and revenge. People who are punished – instead of disciplined – tend to seek revenge and are angry, and the best way to extract a pound of flesh is to punish the actual or perceived offender. “You drink – I’ll show you – I’ll not sleep with you.” “If you overreact – I’ll get you back – I’ll have an affair.”

A few years ago I was in the Asheville airport waiting to catch a flight back to Austin. I was standing close to a very elderly lady, who was sitting hunched over in a wheel chair in front of her sixty-something-year-old daughter and son. She was silently weeping, and the son looked down at her and said in a voice loud enough for all around him to hear: “Mamma, we told you if you cried we wouldn’t let you come back to visit anymore.” Serious Senior Woman With Adult Daughter At Home

Do you hear the rage and revenge in his statement?

“That’s right mother. We told you that you can’t cry,” said the daughter.

Can’t you just imagine that fifty-something years ago this mother probably said to her children, in some public place: “If you don’t stop this crying, I’m never going to….” She punished them with a threat. They wait fifty years for revenge and no one is even consciously being malicious.

The Difference Between Discipline and Punishment

Unfortunately, children are punished and they become, using Alice Miller’s words, “Prisoners of Childhood,” the original title of her important book later named, The Drama of the Gifted Child.  Punishment makes children, adults, criminals, and animals, at the least, untrusting, and at most, full of rage.  It is capricious – not well thought-out and not stated before the fact. Where punishment is handed out, you might as well hand out the alcohol and drugs to make them forget that they have no choice and that others have extreme amounts of power over them.

One time I asked a room full of counselors, educators, and law enforcers if they could tell me exactly what would happen to someone caught in their state driving while under the influence? A couple of them said, “They would go to jail,” another one said, “They would lose their license to drive; two or three of them said they would have to pay a fine, but several said, “It would depend on who they are, who they know, if they could afford a high-priced attorney and, sadly, what color they are. A poor person of color, who doesn’t know anyone, gets punished differently than someone who is white and has lots of money or connections.” Hear the meanness in this? How enraged is someone going to be?

Now here is what makes people less angry – it’s called:

Positive reinforcement word Discipline engrained in a rock

Discipline is almost angelic compared to demonic punishment. Here’s why: Punishment is after the fact or the offense. Discipline is prior to the act or offense. Punishment takes away healthy choice making. Discipline teaches how to make healthy and mature choices.

Punishment says here are the consequences I, or we, feel like handing out today, and discipline says know beforehand what the consequences of your actions will be no matter how we feel or don’t today.

If my home state of Georgia had huge billboards on every road entering saying exactly what the consequences would be for driving under the influence, say—YOU WILL LOSE YOUR LICENSE, YOU WILL GO TO JAIL, YOU WILL PAY $10,999.00 IN FINES, AND WE WILL CUT OFF YOUR BIG TOE – many folks would “think before they drink” or they’d think, “Damn, if they’re going to be so clear, I’ll just go to Alabama were the law is still ambiguous as hell and take my chances over there.”

It is the same with children and adolescents who are disciplined rather than punished. They just don’t tend to be as angry and have to get even later with their guards – I mean parents and teachers – because they were told what would happen beforehand.

One time my stepdaughter, who was about thirteen at the time, came in one warm summer evening very late, having been with her girlfriends chatting and forgetting about the time. As soon as she came through the door she looked at me in disgust and said, “I know, I’m busted for staying out so late.” The anger at being punished many times by her real father was on her face as she prepared to get more.

“Did I tell you what would happen before you went out if you weren’t in by 9 p.m.?” She looked at me like I was asking her a trick question. She sighed heavily as all teenagers do, “No you didn’t.” “Well, that’s my job – to tell you beforehand the consequences so you can make choices. So, no you’re not busted. However, if you decide to stay out late again tomorrow night, you won’t attend the sleepover this weekend with your girlfriends.” I’ll never forget what she said: “That sounds fair.” And it was.

Punishment takes no time and is fast and very often furious. Discipline takes time and forethought. Punishment creates rage, resentment, and the need for revenge and retribution. Discipline creates a sense of well-being and feeling that one is cared for. All the young and older children I’ve seen and spoken with, and all the adults, have incredibly angry stories about being punished, and almost no one had stories of being disciplined. discipline_children_final

 

Here’s a little sidebar to all of this. The only institution that at least tries to practice discipline is – would you believe – the military. They have huge books of rules and regulations – if you go A.W.O.L. this, this, and this will happen. If you disregard a direct order – this, this, and this will happen. It is spelled out beforehand. You can actually look up what is going to happen should you violate the rules.

The bottom line – if you want to produce less angry children, who become less angry adolescents, who will then become less angry adults that feel safe, loved and valued in this world, learn to discipline instead of punish.

Angry adults need to drink and drug to forget how punishment caused them NOT to feel safe, loved, and valued in this world. Punishment just royally pisses everyone off, and then out roll the resentments, and out rolls the beer and whiskey barrels that are, at first, a barrel of fun and laughter, but eventually become containers of poison that kill families, friendships, opportunities, and relationships of all kinds.”