Full text and summary of clinical psychologist Diana Wais’ talk titled “Emotional Laws Are The Answer For Better Relationships” at TEDxThessaloniki conference. In this talk, Diana Wais shares her personal experience of falling in love and experiencing a painful breakup. She discusses her research in marital relationships and her work as a therapist and executive coach. She highlights the importance of understanding emotional laws in interpersonal dynamics and the need to prepare children for a more challenging future on a crowded planet.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
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?
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.
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.
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.
But… and this is what I had to learn myself. With a lot of awareness, and even more practice, you too can learn not to react back out of a triggered state, but instead remain centered in responding kindness, and it will give you much better results over time.
SO WHAT’S THE LESSON HERE?
Let’s summarize. First, awareness helps. Because of his awareness, the psychologist was able to not take my anger so personally but understand that there was probably something more going on.
And this helped him master lesson number two, which is avoid getting triggered yourself. Now in all fairness, he was getting angry back, which is only natural. But because of his awareness, he was able to switch out of that state quite quickly. And master lesson three, which is respond to the other person’s need, first, with love and empathy. And it did work until we broke up, of course.
Okay. So, now does happen in the world of business, you know, something’s coming now. Right? So, yes, in business, they wear glasses, too. I’m going to share another story.
I had the pleasure of working with a very successful executive of a rather large company. Let’s call him Robert. Robert’s company was facing some uncertain times that had nothing to do with him. And they were going for a little bit of a downturn. And this uncertainty triggered in the board of directors a fear that they could fail.
So because of their fear, they started to become overly critical of Robert. Notice fear, critical. They’re related. We just saw that before.
And this criticism triggered in Robert, the executive an unhelpful state. So that he started to do the three cardinal mistakes. He became defensive. He stopped listening. And let’s just say he did not exude a lot of gravitas. This was unlike him.
But when you yourself get into an unhelpful state, you’re much more likely to trigger an unhelpful state in the other and then they trigger that back in you. And so it’s kind of like a vicious spiral that ends in going exactly.
So, the challenge was how do we turn around the vicious spiral into a virtual cycle. So, by making you pink of course. So, I worked with Robert to clear his emotional receptor field. And through that he was able to not get triggered so easily. And he was able to win the trust of the board, implement a strategy successfully, and stirred a company back on track.
You see, in our world today, there is a view that reason alone will solve all of our problems. In this view, ignoring emotions somehow makes you more rational.
In my experience, if you are unaware of the emotional processes that happened to you and to everyone around you, you’re usually just less prepared to deal with what I call the human factor. Now, you have an emotional brain, and it can and will override your rational brain, whether you are aware of this or not.
You see, the brain doesn’t care. It’s not good or bad. It’s just how the brain works.
So what does this mean very specifically for you, very concretely, what can I do with this? Okay, next time you get triggered, try doing what the green monster does. Okay. Ask yourself the following four questions:
First, what’s getting triggered in me?
Second, what am I afraid of?
Third, what’s underneath of that?
And fourth: What do I need to heal in me to not respond like this again in the future?
Through this line of self-inquiry, you will find your own emotional receptor fields, which we all have.
And here’s the good news. You can heal your receptor fields, and when you do, you won’t get triggered that easily with much less of an effort.
You see, most people are not aware that underneath their triggers and automatic reactions are unconscious emotions of pain, fear and shame. The baggage we didn’t even know was here.
Now imagine every child would grow up learning about emotional laws in school. Imagine every child would master how to create harmonious relationships. Just think of the impact this would have on families, businesses, countries and world affairs.
So, back to my own personal journey. When I started to work one on one with people, I realized that some people had underneath their angry outbursts, feelings of fear. And underneath there are allures of greatness, or feelings of shame.
So I started working with them on healing the receptor fields. Let me give you an example.
If someone says to you, you’re so stupid and there’s a little tiny part of you that thinks I am stupid. You’re going to react a little bit like this. What? How dare you. Okay?
But if you’ve healed that little tiny part of you, and now in every fiber of your being, you just know you’re not stupid, you’re going to be more likely to go something like this: What’s going on with him? Why is he feeling so aggressive today? I wonder what he’s going through.
You see, when you healed your own receptor fields, there’s a natural genuine curiosity for what’s going on with the other person. And because of that, you’re able to just respond to what they need and defuse the situation.
There’s a natural compassion that I have found to be in every single person I’ve ever worked in. It’s just normally buried behind the yucky stuff that most people don’t even know they have.
So as I was working with people, I realized that everyone was like a mirror coming into my life, and showing me that the dynamics I observed in them, were also happening in me.
And then I got it. The same emotional dynamics happen inside every single person. Wow!
And you know what’s funny about that? Most of them walk around thinking this stuff is only happening to them. I cannot tell you how many people cried in my office saying: Oh, I can tell you this about myself. And then when they say that, you know what I say now? I say, welcome to the human family. We’re all the same.
SUMMARY OF THIS TALK:
Diana Wais delivered a captivating talk titled “Emotional Laws Are The Answer For Better Relationships,” in which she shared profound insights into the world of emotions and their impact on our relationships. Here are the key takeaway points from her talk:
- The Mystery of Love and Relationships: Diana begins her talk by reflecting on the unpredictable nature of love and relationships. She shares her personal experience of a blissful romance followed by a devastating breakup, which led her to question why two people deeply in love could end up separated.
- The Universal Desire for Happiness in Relationships: Through her research as a marital therapist, Diana highlights that all couples share the dream of enduring love, despite the grim statistics of divorce and unhappiness in the Western world.
- The Lack of Emotional Education: Diana raises a crucial point about the lack of emotional education. She compares our understanding of emotional reactions to our understanding of physical laws. We study the laws of physics to avoid physical harm, but we often neglect the emotional laws governing our inner worlds and relationships.
- Emotional Receptor Fields: Diana introduces the concept of emotional receptor fields, describing them as being like mountains with a button on top. These fields are rooted in our past experiences and shape our emotional responses to external triggers.
- Two Different Reactions to the Same Trigger: Diana provides two scenarios of wives reacting differently to their husbands being late for dinner. One responds with suspicion and fear, while the other responds with empathy and gratitude. These reactions are influenced by their unique emotional receptor fields, shaped by past experiences.
- Awareness and Emotional Mastery: Diana emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and emotional mastery. The therapist she dated demonstrated how awareness can prevent us from reacting negatively to triggers, allowing us to respond with love and compassion instead.
- Three Key Lessons for Better Relationships: Diana presents three key lessons for improving relationships:
a. Awareness Helps: Recognize the emotional processes at play in yourself and others.
b. Avoid Getting Triggered: By staying centered and not reacting out of a triggered state, you can prevent a negative spiral.
c. Respond with Love and Empathy: Prioritize the other person’s needs and respond with love and empathy, even in the face of criticism or anger.
- Application in Business: Diana shares an example from the business world, illustrating how understanding emotional dynamics can help resolve conflicts and lead to positive outcomes, even in corporate settings.
- Emotions as a Fundamental Human Factor: Diana challenges the notion that reason alone can solve all problems. She emphasizes that emotions are a fundamental part of human behavior and can override rational thinking.
- Practical Self-Inquiry: Diana suggests a practical approach to handling emotional triggers. She encourages asking four questions when triggered:
a. What’s getting triggered in me?
b. What am I afraid of?
c. What’s underneath that fear?
d. What do I need to heal in myself to respond differently in the future?
- Healing Emotional Receptor Fields: Diana highlights the importance of healing emotional receptor fields, which are often filled with unresolved emotions like fear, shame, and pain. When these fields are healed, individuals can respond with curiosity and compassion, diffusing conflicts and fostering better relationships.
- The Universality of Emotional Dynamics: Diana concludes by recognizing that emotional dynamics are universal and affect every person. She encourages us to embrace our shared humanity and the understanding that everyone experiences similar emotional processes.
In her thought-provoking talk, Diana Wais emphasizes the importance of emotional awareness and mastery for building better relationships, both personally and professionally. She encourages individuals to recognize their emotional patterns, heal their emotional receptor fields, and respond to others with empathy and love, ultimately leading to more harmonious and fulfilling relationships.
Resources for Further Reading:
- John Lennox: The Truth About AI, Consciousness, and God (Transcript)
- How to Hack Your Brain When You’re in Pain: Amy Baxter (Transcript)
- How To Talk To The Worst Parts Of Yourself: Karen Faith (Transcript)
- Uncommon Sense: Moving from a Problem-Focused to Solution-Focused Mindset: Mel Gill (Transcript)
- Cold War II: Niall Ferguson on The Emerging Conflict With China (Transcript)