Emotional Icebergs and Leaky Roofs

by Charles J. Chamberlain, co-founder Chamberlain Leadership Group LLC

We have worked with many clients over the past 10-11 years who have used our tools to overcome emotional issues, or to simply develop better emotional control and awareness in leadership roles. But as people gain more emotional literacy and increased ability to manage their emotions, the same two frustrating phenomena show up time and time again. Perhaps there are better words to describe these phenomena, but two metaphors do a great job in helping us visualize them.

Emotional icebergs

Due to its buoyancy in denser sea water, an iceberg floats with approximately 10% of its mass showing above the water and 90% submerged. When we embark on a plan to understand behaviors and underlying emotions, we see a similar pattern in ourselves and others. Only 10% of our emotional “mass” is visible as conscious behaviors, vocalizations, and consciously controlled non-verbal expressions.

The remaining 90% of our emotional world is “submerged” beneath our consciousness. But just because an emotion is below the surface doesn’t mean it has no impact on us. To the contrary, because it is submerged, it has even more power over us, especially if we continue to be consciously unaware of it. This 90% carries significant weight as we form and maintain our identities, create relationship habits, develop meaningful motivations, and navigate the challenges of our lives.

The extent of our enjoyment of life and relationships is largely determined by how well we understand and manage the entirety of our emotional iceberg. Whether or not we are at ease in our lives or at “disease” can be a function of how well we are managing the submerged portion of our emotional existence. Submerged emotions can interact with our physical bodies in unexpected and unwanted ways. They can come “out of nowhere” and affect our verbal and non-verbal communication. They can cause illness. They can also cause us to do things that don’t make sense to our rational minds. Have you ever said, “I don’t know why I said that?” Or, “I don’t know why I did that?” Our submerged emotions can be particularly sensitive to triggering stimuli, thrusting us into “mysterious” episodes of despair or confusion, leaving us wondering, “Why am I suddenly so upset, worried, or depressed?”

You could think of the self-directed tools we offer as scuba diving gear, allowing us to dive beneath the surface and explore the submerged 90%. And, like a scuba diver’s equipment, the emotional tools allow us to go as deep as we are comfortable going. No one is there to pressure us to go beyond our comfort level. If we want to stay just a few feet beneath the surface, we can do that. If we want to dive deeper, we can do that too. The tools allow us to gain an appreciation for the extent of our emotions, while at the same time working on specific areas of concern.

Emotional Leaky Roofs

Once we have discovered some tools to work on specific emotional areas, we often face another phenomenon we’ll call the “leaky roof” phenomenon. Anyone who has experienced a leak in the roof can relate to this dilemma: After a hard rain, you notice water coming through a small hole in the corner of your dining room. At first, you place a bucket under the hole to collect the water, then when the storm has subsided, you look for the source of the problem. It is unlikely, however, that the hole in the roof is directly above the hole in the ceiling. Water has a tendency to enter from one hole, travel many feet away along trusses and structures in the attic, and create another hole as it follows gravity. An inexperienced homeowner might patch the drywall in their ceiling, thinking they’ve fixed the problem. A later storm comes along and it becomes clear that the source of the problem is not where it appeared to be.

Likewise, in our work with people who come to us having identified a specific issue, more often than not, “the issue” is not the real issue. For instance, we’ve worked with people who have taken our anger management classes in lieu of jail time. It is tempting to say, “I have a problem with anger,” especially when a judge has confirmed that indeed you do have a problem with anger. But in our anger management approach, we recognize the fact that you probably do NOT have a problem with anger, but you most likely have a problem with fear, guilt, confusion, or an array of other possible emotions.

This “leaky roof” dilemma appears everywhere. A man who can’t control his spending is really struggling with depression. A woman who puts on too much weight is really protecting herself from pain. A combative, rebellious teenager is really overcome with grief. The examples are endless.

Using the tools we provide, a person can quickly test the emotional strength of a particular issue and decide if it is simply in the path of gravity, like water flowing to its lowest point, or if the issue itself is the source of the problem.

A clear understanding of both the extent and complexity of who we are emotionally can help us be happier, more productive people.

For more information about the tools offered by Chamberlain Leadership Group LLC, contact us by clicking here.   

Life Without Crippling Regret

Is it possible to get past regrettable acts or conversations? Regret can lead to remorse, an often-useful feeling, especially when we’re trying to become a better person. But there comes a point when our regret and remorse can be taken too far. When our regret about an incident becomes an unproductive obsession, it’s time to fix the problem. But what “fix” could there be?

Take for instance this entirely fictional, hypothetical situation:

Sarah sat quietly on the couch with her head in a book. Across the room, Bob glanced up at her from his laptop. With her head down, the scene reminded him of the conversation nearly five years earlier when he had admitted pursuing another woman. Sarah had seen some questionable evidence and rather than lie, yet again, he finally came clean. Bob grimaced when he recalled the look on her face as she had stared at the floor for what seemed an eternity.  Memories of Sarah’s eventual emotional collapse still pierced his heart. Bob knew it wasn’t just the cheating and “confession” that had caused her so much hurt, it was the way he had rationalized, telling her it was her fault. 

Bob squirmed in his chair as his mind traveled back again and again to the pain he had caused. “How could I have hurt her so badly by cheating on her, and then push more pain on her with my lame excuses? This is the woman I’ve always loved. Sarah is the one I promised to love with my whole heart, and I’ve blown it!”

Over the years since that horrible experience, he had replayed the scene repeatedly in his mind, knowing that he had changed but not knowing how to get past the grief he had caused in the relationship. Sure, they had found a way to continue in the marriage. Sarah seemed every bit in love with him as she had always been, and Bob had proven to Sarah that he could be trusted. Sarah had forgiven him and moved on, but something was holding them back as a couple, and Bob suspected it was his own deep regret.

If only Bob could go back in time. First, he wouldn’t have cheated on Sarah. “Oh, if I could just go back and take a different path,” he would say to himself incessantly. But even if removing that transgression wasn’t possible, he would love to have another chance at the conversation in which his hurt pride and lack of respect pushed him to say things that hurt Sarah even more deeply.

Maybe your regrets are not as serious as Bob’s, or maybe they are worse. Maybe the affected relationship is with a sibling, parent, child, friend, or co-worker. We all have regrettable conversations and actions when we interact with others. When emotions are running high, human beings are notoriously lousy at carrying on productive conversations. The sad reality is that the more important the conversation, the less likely we’ll handle it appropriately.

Zuangzi, an ancient Chinese philosopher once said, “When shooting for himself, an archer has all his skills; when shooting for a brass buckle, he gets nervous. When shooting for a gold prize, he sees two targets.”

There are physiological reasons why we do not think clearly when we’re under stress. Adrenalin gets involved and our bodies literally pull resources away from the higher and more refined parts of our brains.   

In their book, “Crucial Conversations” the authors discuss ways to make future conversations emotionally “safe.” The book states, “If you spot safety risks as they happen, you can step out of the conversation, build safety, and then find a way to talk about just about anything.” (Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler; 2012; Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, second edition; chapter 5; New York, NY; McGraw-Hill) The concepts in this book are extremely useful in any relationship, which is why we refer to key elements of the book in our leadership development work in China. This is all well and good, but what if the proverbial horse has already left the proverbial barn? What, if anything, can we do after the fact?

If communication isn’t challenging enough, when it comes to poorly executed conversation, sometimes the regret itself can become paralyzing and destructive. When we have deep regret about something, our minds continually access and re-live stored information in our brains. In fact, we develop entrenched pathways to that information, essentially keeping it fresh and ready to go at a moment’s notice. The key to dissolving debilitating regret is to “reframe” the original conversation or action, essentially forming new pathways in our brains. How is it done?

In our brain-science based Creative Journal Expressive Arts (CJEA) work with clients who are experiencing horrible regret, we’ve found a very effective method to reframe prior acts and stop the tortuous, obsessive re-living of prior acts. It involves a simple yet powerful exercise:

Step #1: Preparation:

  1. 2 Large pieces of blank paper (or blank pages in a standard-sized journal)
  2. Colored fine-tip markers, pencils, or crayons
  3. A pen or pencil
  4. A private, secluded location (make sure you won’t be interrupted for an hour)
  5. If possible, play some soothing instrumental music

Step #2: First Drawing

  1. With your dominant (writing) hand, draw a picture of the regrettable incident or conversation including the setting, people who were present, including yourself. Use colors that feel the most comfortable. Stick figures are fine!
  2. If the situation involved conversation, draw captions like what you would see in a Sunday morning cartoon. Draw “dialogue bubbles” for each person who said something. Now fill in the dialogue bubbles with the actual words spoken, using your dominant hand. Then create “thought bubbles” and fill in the feelings you had with your non-dominant hand, even if those feelings contradicted your words. If the dialogue was lengthy, just capture the essence of the painful conversation. It is not necessary to recreate the entire conversation.

Step #3: Process Emotions

  1. Around the picture you just drew, with your dominant hand, write ALL the thoughts and words you say to yourself now about that situation. (Use whatever writing tool feels comfortable)
  2. With your NON-dominant hand, write the feelings you continue to have about yourself and about the incident. Do this around the picture you’ve drawn. Be open to any new feelings that have propped up. (Use whatever writing tool feels comfortable)
  3. Sit for a few moments with the drawing and words that you’ve created. Recognize that you’ve gotten all these feelings out of your head and onto paper. If you need to do more drawing and more writing, do so now.

Step #4: Second Drawing

Using your dominant hand, draw the situation again with the same setting and same people. This time, however, draw and write what YOU WOULD HAVE LIKED to have said or done. What might you change if you could do it over again? What might you have done differently or said differently? With your non-dominant hand, write the feelings you would have had in the “thought bubbles.”   

Step #5: Process Emotions

Around the second drawing, with your non-dominant hand, write the feelings you now have about the situation as you’ve just re-framed it.

Step #6 (Optional): Share

It is possible that by simply putting your regret out of your head and onto paper, then re-framing the incident in your mind you can move forward in life without debilitating regret. However, if after some cooling off period following this exercise you decide you want to share your drawings with an injured party, you might find additional benefit in doing so. Only consider doing this if you are certain it will not bring further hurt to that person. Be mindful that others have not been bothered by your regret; it has been entirely yours. They may be indifferent or worse, antagonistic towards your efforts to reduce your regret. You must decide if sharing this information with an injured party is beneficial or potentially troublesome.

Our God-given, powerful brains can assist us in healing from past mistakes. We have the ability to re-shape the way we think in order move forward with more energy and confidence as we learn how to have more fulfilling relationships.

If you have any questions after working on this exercise, feel free to contact us at:

laraine@chamberlainleadership.com

chuck@chamberlainleadership.com

Chinese Students are Surprised by Leadership Concepts

Statue of former Premier Zhou Enlai and CFAU President Chen Yi in front of CFAU auditorium

Remembering that first class day in September when a new crop of leadership students at China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) looked up at me expectantly, I could almost see the questions forming behind those beautiful brown eyes.

“Who is this American, and what will we be doing in this ‘leadership’ class?” “Does he really think we need to learn about leadership—something so far into our future?”

On that first day, I looked into their skeptical eyes and got no response when I said, “Raise your hand if you think of yourself as a leader.” Polling the class, I verified what I had already discovered about most students in China: they think of leadership only in terms of positional power.

I then did something unexpected: I showed four short video clips of orchestra conductors leading their orchestras. Each had a unique style. One kept a steady metronome-like beat, showing no emotion on his face. Another closed his eyes while swaying and waving his arms in oversized motions. A third conductor did an exuberant little dance while gesturing with his arms. The fourth was the most unusual. He did nothing with his body and, strangely, kept his arms folded while simply raising his eyebrows occasionally and pursing his lips. This brought some nervous laughter from the class.  

As the music went silent, I looked around the room at puzzled expressions. Breaking the silence, I said, “The true essence of leadership is simply manifesting your most important values. Can you tell what the first conductor valued?”

Getting no response, I continued, “The first conductor valued a regular, steady rhythm.” I then imitated this maestro’s robot-like precision.

“What about the second conductor?” Again, no response. I closed my eyes and made big motions with my arms. “Can you tell this conductor really valued the emotions of his music?”

“What about the third conductor?” I asked. Finally, a timid student piped up, “He likes to dance.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “He seems to value physical movement and expression.” Several students nodded in agreement.

“How about the fourth conductor?” This brought snickers as the students remembered the conductor who seemed to do nothing. “Can you tell what he values?” All heads went down to their desks.

“It might be hard to recognize, but can you see that this conductor valued the musicians’ individual and collective expression and interpretation of the music—even without his involvement? He wants them to come forth with their own expressions. But it doesn’t make him any less a leader, does it?”

As the school year progressed, students became less skeptical, more engaged and more determined to be “values-expressing” leaders. They joined me in exploring leadership through discussion and memorable activities. We went through John C. Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership, examining case studies, working in teams to make critical decisions in simulated conditions, and even analyzing Deputy Barney Fife’s humorous behavior as a “Level 1” leader in the old American sit-com, The Andy Griffith Show. We worked through concepts in Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High (Kerry Patterson et al.) by creating simulated conflicts and allowing students to practice newly learned techniques to resolve those conflicts. We used unusual, right-hand/left-hand writing and drawing methods developed by Dr. Lucia Cappachione (The Power of Your Other Hand, etc.) to become more self-aware in order to more effectively lead others.

Students kept a leadership journal, starting with a list of their most important values. As the year continued, some were able to share from their journal and examine how well they had expressed those important values with others in their class, in their teams, in their community and at home.  

Finally, at the end of the year, we examined Fortune Magazine’s list of the 50 top world leaders. Choosing the top twelve who happened to be leaders in government, business, activism and philanthropy, we discussed what they all had in common. Because the list included male and female, old and young (even a 16-year- old), rich and poor, employers and employees, etc., the common element was obvious. Each leader had been successful in identifying a value within themselves and moving heaven and earth to express and manifest that value. Students’ understanding of leadership and their roles in it had taken a huge jump forward from the first day of class.  

China Foreign Affairs University is the “cradle of diplomacy” for China. All Chinese diplomats must receive training at CFAU, and a large percentage of China’s diplomats have also received undergraduate or graduate degrees at CFAU. It feels good to know this powerful nation’s future is in the hands of those who have a better understanding and passion for leadership.

What might the world reap from the seeds sown in my “leadership crop” this year?

A view of the “new campus” in Sha He area of Beijing
New campus “teaching building” for Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors
Gate to “Old Campus” in heart of Beijing (Xi Cheng District) Seniors are taught in the main building (shown)
Statue of Founding President Chen Yi in front of Main Building of Old Campus
Lobby of our residence (International Exchange Center)

Trigger Me, I Dare You — (Pt. 3)

Triggers Are Opportunities

There is an assumption in society that it’s best to avoid triggers. After all, they can lead to destruction at worst, or extreme discomfort at best. But there are good reasons why triggers, despite their discomfort, can be opportunities in disguise. When a prior traumatic experience is triggered, there is a window of opportunity to deal with it effectively. Often, until triggered, those traumatic and incompletely processed experiences remain so far “backstage” it isn’t possible to effectively process them. With the right tools, a trigger opportunity can bring about a lasting change in a person’s life. Sometimes, the right “tool” is a mental health professional, especially if the triggered experience is deemed to be overwhelming or induces an inclination to do harm to self or others. Often, triggers can be processed on your own, and there are tools available to help.

I will share a private, powerful aspect of my life: I was sexually abused and bullied as a child and sexually assaulted as an adult. Perhaps the worst and most pervasive feeling during these incidents was the feeling of being unable to control the situation. Consequently, as an adult, I have often been triggered by anything that even approximates control. For example, I have seldom been able to comfortably allow someone else to drive a car in which I was a passenger. In fact, I’ve even found flying in a commercial aircraft uncomfortable, not because I feared crashing, but because I was not the pilot! I’ve also found myself triggered when my wife would do anything that even smelled like control. She’s often described these experiences as, “walking on eggshells.” Obviously, this is not a condition that is good for relationships.

Living and working in China, where there is so much control held by government officials in every aspect of life, I have experienced triggers due to this issue of control. With so many trigger opportunities, I’ve been able to use CJEA (Creative Journal Expressive Arts) techniques to gain a better understanding and control of my own emotions during these triggering incidents.

CJEA is a brain-science-based method of creative expression developed by Dr. Lucia Capacchione in the 1970’s when she experienced some difficult health issues. It is currently the method of choice for a growing community of certified practitioners working with organizations within the military, schools, corrections departments, courts, public safety departments, corporations, and with individuals, couples and families. CJEA utilizes the power and unique characteristics of both sides of the brain. This is done by expressing one’s self through movement, drawing, sketching or sculpting combined with writing using both the dominant and non-dominant hand.

One day recently, after experiencing a “control issue” trigger that unleashed emotional and physical symptoms (irritability and sudden intestinal cramping), I seized the opportunity to explore more about my control issues using some simple CJEA techniques. Fortunately, I had my Beijing apartment to myself that day. I placed a blank piece of paper on the table and used my dominant hand (right hand, in my case) to write questions to myself, based on the CJEA training I had received. Then, with various colored pencils, I used my left hand to scribble the answers using either text or drawing.

By doing this, I was able to tap into parts of my brain that seemed resistant to connect to my brain’s speech centers, and therefore were not often utilized when trying to talk over my concerns with my wife or anyone else. These parts of me had held onto emotional content that had not been expressed since I was a child. Metaphorically speaking, this abused child within me had been wandering around just off-stage, making trouble. Now I was giving “him” unprecedented access to say what was on his mind. And he did! He expressed terrible feelings and wanted assurances from me (the adult me) that I would be more conscious of him and his concerns. I offered some heartfelt promises, and immediately felt more peaceful.

If this communication with myself sounds bizarre to you, I assure you that you too have various parts of you. Each part has its own energy level and each part experiences life a little differently. During my extensive training with Dr. Capacchione, one of the most intriguing revelations to me was that we all have specific parts within us, doing specific functions. It isn’t mysterious; it’s simply the way we were all built.   

It wasn’t necessary, at least during this episode, to re-hash and remember all the abuse. If I had noticed the discussion going in that direction, I might have waited for my wife to be present, or at least in another room. No, I simply needed to communicate and negotiate with a childlike part of me about the feelings of being controlled.

From this experience and many like it, I have learned that I am an excellent therapeutic guide for my own mental health. I do not have a pathology and therefore do not need the help of a certified mental health professional. If that should ever become necessary, I wouldn’t hesitate to make use of that additional resource.

There is no reason to live a life full of misery and frustration. When the “Broadway play” that is life seems to be more chaotic than it should be, there is hope.

Chuck and Laraine Chamberlain have been trained and certified in CJEA techniques. For more information about CJEA, click here. For information about Dr. Lucia Capacchione’s books, click here

Laraine Presents Emotional Tools for Forgiveness at Asia Women’s Conference

Laraine received a great deal of positive feedback from women who attended the Asia Women’s Conference in March in Hong Kong. She spoke about Forgiveness: the Pain, the Paralysis, and the Process.

Laraine Chamberlain Presents: Forgiveness–The Pain, The Paralysis, and the Process

One part of the presentation dealt with the idea that each of us has multiple, distinct, yet interrelated areas in which we can develop self-reliance including: Physical, financial, educational, social, spiritual and emotional. Because we do not have the necessary tools, we tend to deal with emotional issues as only a byproduct of strength in another area. For instance, we tend to believe that to strengthen ourselves emotionally, we must pursue spiritual strengths. We read scripture, attend church, and pray in order to help ourselves emotionally.

While it is true there are strong “spillover” benefits of a spiritual life, it is not true that we can rely solely on those benefits for emotional strength. For some reason it is obvious that attending church does not strengthen physical muscles, nor does it take the place of good nutrition. Likewise, it is obvious that going to the gym every day does not supplant religious observance. But when it comes to building emotional strength, we hear advice such as, “Just get out and do more social things.” Or we hear, “Pray more, and read more scriptures.”

Conference attendees take notes during Laraine’s presentation

There is good reason for this kind of advice–the world is largely unaware of specific exercises to boost emotional health. Laraine and Chuck have been certified in an approach called “CJEA” or Creative Journal Expressive Arts. Among other things, CJEA is a brain-science based method of enhancing emotional awareness and strength.

When confronted with the very spiritual need to forgive someone, it is helpful to understand that forgiveness is both a spiritual AND an emotional need. Consequently, there are specific emotional exercises that can be used to help someone going through a forgiveness process. In her presentation, Laraine recalled a fairly recent experience in which missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked her to join with them in a discussion with someone who was considering baptism. As the discussion progressed, the woman seemed to hit an emotional roadblock and could not consider baptism until she had forgiven her husband. Laraine guided the woman through some emotional exercises that left her sobbing, but noticeably relieved and ready to continue her spiritual life.

Laraine taught a simple exercise on paper to show the women how easy, yet how powerful emotional exercises can be

When we have the right tools, we are free to go where we’ve never been before. But, as Laraine pointed out, the tools are so simple–almost too simple–and because of the “simpleness of the way,” many people don’t bother to do them, even when they know about them. By using simple spiritual and emotional tools, we can more easily forgive and continue a healthier path in life.