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E.I. Part 13 | What Happened to You?


Guiding questions: How can you provide constructive criticism in a way hopeful way?


Key Takeaway(s): Our past affects our behavior, our responses, and our emotions. It is important to look at behavior through the lens of ‘What has happened to them?’ or, ‘What have they gone through?’ if we truly want to meet the people we teach, coach, and lead where they are.


In the book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey explore why and how trauma might be influencing our behavior.


Have you ever wondered why you or others react (or overreact) in a certain way to some situations? Instead of asking, “What’s wrong with me?” this book encourages us to ask, “What happened to me?”

  • Trauma imprints our brains in ways many never recover from. Getting attacked by a dog at an early age might create an unhealthy fear of dogs that you never recover from.

  • Having a coach pull you out of the game every time you make a mistake might create an unhealthy fear of taking risks.

  • Being bullied by teammates might create an unhealthy fear of being a part of a team.

When we have unhealthy fears, we might have unhealthy reactions.


In Chapter 13 of his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman addresses some of these fears, how they affect our emotions, and how we can learn, or relearn, so that we can better manage those emotions.


Emotional Intelligence is our ability to recognize, understand, and manage our emotions and the emotions of those around us. When we experience something traumatic, it affects us in a powerful way.


Victims of traumatic experiences may never be the same. That experience could be a one-time thing, like being verbally attacked by a coach or parent in an intense moment like a championship game, or it could result from an ongoing experience, like an athlete being bullied for an entire season.


All uncontrollable stress can lead to that same, negative impact.


The key word here is uncontrollable. If people feel they have hope and that there is something they can do in a bad situation or have some kind of control, they can better manage their emotions. The feeling of hopelessness is what makes events so overwhelming.


When you are working with people and you have to give them constructive criticism, do so in a way that they know that you have confidence in their ability to learn and grow. If they lose that hope, it can lead to even worse performance and circumstances.


Goleman writes that only when we feel helpless and hopeless do we experience stress-induced brain changes.


But the hopeful part is that even the most deeply implanted habits learned in childhood can be reshaped. We can learn how to better manage our responses when triggered and recover from trauma:


1 - Regain a Sense of Safety

No learning can occur when we are triggered. Make sure everyone feels mentally, physically, emotionally, and psychologically safe; safe to be themselves, and safe to make mistakes.


2 - Regain Control

Setting boundaries allows you to control what you can control. Only spend time with and on people and thoughts that will benefit you and be good for you, and stay away from people and thoughts that aren’t.


3 - Retelling and Reconstructing the Story

Doing this helps you build a new, more realistic understanding or story of what happened. Goleman writes, “Putting sensory details and feelings into words, presumably memories are brought more under control of the neocortex, where the reactions they kindle can be rendered more understandable and so more manageable.”


4 - Mourn the Loss

Goleman writes. “Patients need to mourn the loss the trauma brought—whether an injury, the death of a loved one or a rupture in a relationship, regret over some step not taken to save someone or just the shattering of confidence that people can be trusted. The mourning that ensues while retelling such painful events serves a crucial purpose: it marks the ability to let go of the trauma itself to some degree. It means that instead of being perpetually captured by this moment in the past, patients can start to look ahead, even to hope, and to rebuild a new life free of the trauma's grip.”


Once your emotional system experiences something, it never fully lets it go. Emotional Intelligence teaches you how to better manage and control your responses.


Much of this information was taken from the introduction of Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence. You can find more about the book here: Emotional Intelligence


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