Emotional Laws Are The Answer For Better Relationships: Diana Wais (Transcript)

Emotional trigger and receptor field

Interpersonal relationships represent probably one of the most complicated ideas that have troubled the human mind. In this talk at TEDxThessaloniki, clinical psychologist Diana Wais talks about laws of emotion and how we respond with criticism when we feel threatened by words.

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TRANSCRIPT:

Diana Wais – Therapist & Executive Coach

Dear friends, have you ever fallen completely and utterly in love before?

The first time this happened to me, I was 18 years old. Our love was so sweet. It was unshakable, certain, forever.

Seven years later, I went through the worst breakup you could ever imagine. I was in pieces, and I was really sure I would never be happy again.

How could two people who loved each other so much end up fighting to the point where there’s no alternative, but to separate. This question shaped my life.

These are a little homemade. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did making them. Okay.

So I ended up becoming a marital researcher at Stony Brook relationship project in Long Island, New York, and I interviewed hundreds of couples. In all the couples I interviewed, I never met a single one whose intention was to become unhappy. They all shared the same dream of Hollywood fairy tale endless love.

How many of them actually succeed? It doesn’t look good. Statistically speaking in the Western world, there’s a two-third probability that you’ll end up in divorce in your lifetime. And how many more are quietly unhappy or even lonely in their marriages?

NOW, WHY IS THAT?

Let me ask you a question. Would you jump out of a third-floor window onto a concrete floor? Probably not. Why not? Because you studied the laws of physics.

But how many of you have studied in school, the laws of emotion that explained to you your own inner world, and the world of interpersonal dynamics that are so complicated?

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You see, how can we expect children to grow up and get along on an ever more crowded planet if we don’t prepare them for that?

My journey took me to become a therapist and an executive coach. It was my job to study other people’s inner lives. And I’ve met with people from all kinds of backgrounds. I got started in California, in prisons, working with gang children. I worked with parents of child abuse. I worked with incest survivors. I worked with survivors of torture at Bellevue Hospital in New York.

I worked with supermodels, with aristocracy, with the uber-rich, with hedge fund managers, with CEOs and boards of companies, and amongst them, a lot of unhappy couples.

I am here today to share with you some of the lessons I learned through them. I would like to start with a story. It starts like this:

Ring ring. Hello, honey. I’m going to be two hours late for dinner.

On the other side is a wife who thinks to herself: Oh my god, this is already the third time this week this is happening. What am I? Err? Do I matter? Does he even care? He’s probably having an affair at the office.

When husband comes home, let’s just say it’s not a very romantic evening.

Now, let’s go to another scenario. Okay. It starts similar. It goes: Ring ring, Honey, I’m about two hours late for dinner.

This wife thinks to herself: Oh my God, this is already the third time this week this is happening. And he already left so tired this morning. I’m so sorry that he has to go through this. It’s just not fair. And he’s doing all this just to provide a better living for me and the children.

And when he comes home, she gives him a big hug and says let’s just make the best out of the evening we have.

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Now it’s no surprise that these two women react so differently to the same triggering event. You see, the same trigger, the phone call, interacts with a very different button into two women.

For one, it triggers fear of an affair. But would it surprise you if I told you that this woman’s past marriage ended in divorce, because her husband did cheat on her.

For the other woman, the same trigger triggers feelings of gratitude and compassion in the face of self-sacrifice. But what if I told you that for that woman, there was a father, who worked day and night to earn the extra money to put her through university, so she would not have to be poor as he was.

You see, it’s no coincidence, because you cannot get triggered into an emotional reaction, unless you have a receptor field inside of you that is interacting with the trigger.

You can think of this like a mountain, and the top of a mountain is the button that can get pressed. And the bottom of the mountain is often underneath the fog, which means it’s often outside of your conscious awareness. And you may not even realize it’s there, until a triggering event activates it.

And even then, most people don’t realize that there’s a connection. You can think of these, as they’re called in western psychology as emotional schemas. So you can think of them like colored glasses. If you’re wearing pink glasses, the world looks pink. If you’re wearing blue glasses, the world looks blue.

The trouble is: there’s a lot of people walking around without realizing that they’re wearing glasses.

Now, just because I study these processes, doesn’t mean they don’t happen to me. I’m now going to share with you a personal story. Okay. It’s very personal. So don’t tell everyone. Okay.

When I was in my early 20s, I had the joy of dating a therapist. One day, we got into an argument, and I got so angry, kind of like this. Okay, in my anger, I thought he was just being horrible. And I was very sure that I was dating the wrong guy. I was sure that he was wrong. And I was right.

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In the middle of this, he looked at me and said, “Diana, you’re very angry at me, aren’t you?”

I had to admit this was true. So I said yes. And then he said, “You’re so angry at me that you can’t even remember that you love me?” A bit puzzled; because I just noticed myself. I said, yes.

And then he looked at me with so much love in his eyes and said, “Diana, I’m angry at you too. But despite my anger, I can still remember how much I love you.”

Wow. Immediately I started to cry. And he put his arms around me, hugged me and said, I don’t want to hurt you. I love you too much for that. At that moment, I felt safe. And I realized that behind my anger was just my fear of getting hurt again.

So let me ask you a question: How many of you in the audience thought earlier I knew it was my wife’s fault. To those of you who may have had that thought, what if you try this method instead? Because it works much better.

Now, the reason it’s not so easy to do that is because for most of us, when someone is angry at us and criticizes us, and maybe even yells at us, it doesn’t exactly trigger feelings love and compassion does it.

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