Emotional Literacy; 

Intelligence with a Heart

by  Claude Steiner PhD

Copyright © 2002







In this book, I have shown you a series of powerful techniques to increase your heart-centered emotional intelligence. These techniques will help you improve your relationships in all areas of your life. They will also increase your level of personal power.


Some people have been so impressed by the results of emotional literacy training that they want to involve their friends, family, and lovers with these ideas. Some of them even believe that these ideas should become part of a moral code. Over the years, I have met a number of people who have seen emotional literacy training as a tool for social change and want to apply it beyond their own personal lives. These people belong in a worldwide team of activists that I call “Emotional Warriors.”



Throughout history, people in power have used any and all methods available to dominate people and stay in control. These methods can be physical or psychological, but intimidating threats of violence are always in the background to back them up. In this system of domination, people are placed on a pyramid of power, one-up to some and one-down to others, with every level controlling the level below.


This system of domination is part of the basic structure of our society known as patriarchy. In classic patriarchy, a father heads a clan or tribe, and his authority is passed down through the male line. In today’s patriarchies, the father figure passes power down according to his whim—usually to one or more of his male followers, but some­times, also, to carefully selected women.


Riane Eisler, in The Chalice and the Blade35 describes patriarchy as:

 “a male-dominated and generally hierarchic social structure [that] has historically been reflected and maintained by a male-dominated religious pantheon and by religious doctrines in which the subordination of women is said to be divinely ordained.”


The system is kept in place by domination, whether in gov­ernment, the workplace, or in families. All this domination is exercised through person-to-person transactions or power plays. The sergeant who reports a soldier for having a missing button, the boss who expects a greeting from his secretary but who doesn’t himself bother to respond to the greeting, the husband who demands but does not provide sexual satisfaction, the father who smiles dismissively whenever his young daugh­ter wants to be heard—these are all dominating power trans­actions.



We hardly notice how domination works, because we are immersed in it from birth. The value of transactional analysis as a tool to understand relationships can be clearly seen here. With transactional analysis, you can observe power relations, analyze them and once you understand them, figure out how to avoid them in yourself and others.


After spending our childhood at the mercy of other people’s whims, we accept as natural that we should be either Victimizers or Victims, one-up to some and one-down to others, leader or follower, dominator or dominated. The slapped child becomes the parent who slaps, the child who is dominated and controlled becomes the parent who dominates and controls. We accept abuse and control power as the way of the world.


If we want to fight unreasonable control and power abuse effectively, we need to fully understand how power plays work.


There are two main forms of control power: physical and psychological. Each can be expressed either subtly or crudely. There are four types of power plays:


I.   Crude physical

II.  Subtle physical

III. Crude psychological, and

IV. Subtle psychological











I - Crude, Physical                                                       II-   Crude, Psychological

     murder                                                                              insults

     rape                                                                                    menacing tones

      imprisonment                                                                  interrupting

     torture                                                                                sulking

      beating                                                                               ignoring                                                                

      shoving                                                                              blatant lying

      banging doors                                                                   interrupting       




II - Subtle, Physical                                                          IV - Subtle, Psychological

     touching                                                                               false logic

     looming                                                                                 sarcastic humor

     space invasion                                                                      discounting

     leading by the arm                                                             “attitude”

     making someone stand or sit                                              lies of omission                         

     patting on the head                                                               advertising



                                             Figure  3            


A power play is a transaction in which one person tries to force another person to do something against his or her will.


I. Crude physical power plays are obvious to the naked eye and include hitting, shoving, throwing things, banging doors, or worse, kidnapping, torture, rape, and murder.


II. Subtle physical power plays are not as easily visible, although if you are a victim of them you may become aware that you are being power-played after a while. Still, you may have no idea how power plays work or how to stop them. Subtle physical power plays include such things as towering over people or standing close to them so that you invade their personal space, leading them by the elbow or hand or walking ahead of them, making people stand or sit, or blocking their path.


These power plays are often used by men on women, some of whom accept them as a matter of normal male behavior.


Psychological power plays work because people are trained to obey from early childhood. Without using physical force, I can intimidate you with threats or with the tone of my voice. I can push you to action by making you feel guilty. I can seduce you with a smile or a promise, or persuade you that what I want is the right thing to do. I can trick you, con you, or sell you a preposterous lie. If I can overcome your resistance without using physical force, I have used a psychological power play.


Psychological power plays are all around us in daily life. Some are crude, some are subtle.


III. Crude psychological power plays include menacing tones and looks, insults, bald-faced lies, and blatant sulking. Also: interrupting, ignoring, making faces, rolling your eyes, tapping your fingers, and humming while others talk.


IV. Subtle psychological power plays include clever lies, lies of omission, subtle sulking, sarcastic humor, gossip, false logic, ignoring what people say, and at a mass level, advertising and propaganda. In every case, a power play is a transaction designed to cause or prevent an action  by another person against that person’s better judgement or free will.


Examples of physical power abuse are more shocking than those of psychological abuse, and they are less widespread. Even in the most violent environments, such as prisons or battlefields, people do not suffer primarily from direct physical oppression. Instead, their minds are controlled by the threat of violence. In our society, this is especially true in homes where women and children are physically abused and battered.



There are two widely different ways of becoming powerful in this world: power plays and power literacy. The first requires being a person with no feeling for others and therefore no limits to his grasping needs. Chronic power players feel little empathy for another person; such people need to be cold to their victims’ pain and will do whatever is necessary to keep control.


I have been speaking and teaching about an important source of personal power in this book, the power of emotional literacy. To become an Emotional Warrior, however, you need “power literacy” in addition to emotional literacy. In other words, you need to understand how power operates, how it is accumulated, how to take power, how to share it, and, at times, how to give it up.


The problem is that in a domination-based system such as ours, power is often inaccurately defined as “the capacity to control other people.” Unfortunately, most thinking about power runs along these lines. Power theorists ignore other important forms of power, such as the power of communication, knowledge, or love.


To be passionate, centered, or spiritually aware is to be powerful. Take, for example, Nelson Mandela, who completely changed the political direction of South Africa from his prison cell and eventually became President of that nation. And what historical figure was more powerful than Jesus of Nazareth? He was a poor carpenter who changed the world with his message of love deserved by all.


Knowledge is another example of power that rivals control. That is why authoritarian governments have always done what they could to prevent people from being educated or from gathering freely to learn from each other.


One reason the totalitarian, Soviet bloc governments of Eastern Europe collapsed in the 1980s was that improved communications across their borders destroyed their ability to control the flow of information and neutralized their propaganda. This is an example of how control is ultimately an impotent approach to power; it’s a validation of the saying  “The pen is mightier than the sword.”


Many people renounce power because they see it used only for dominance or control. They think that to be powerful, you can’t love people and be truly concerned about their fate. Because of this, rejecting power is seen as a good and necessary thing. But equating powerlessness with virtue is a form of power illiteracy. In fact, personal powerno different from power in the physical senseis simply the capacity to bring about change, to make things happen. People should strive to be as powerful as they can be, without taking power away from others.




Personal power goes far beyond being able to manipulate or control people. You have power when you can bring about what you seek and prevent what you don’t want. On the other hand, you are powerless when you can’t bring about what you want or can’t stop things you wish to avoid. The enormously powerful and wealthy president of a global corporation who manipulates politicians and workers may be powerless to get the love of his wife and children. All his control power is useless to get him a happy personal life; he can’t even get a sweet caress or loving glance from the ones he loves.


Most of us don’t have the kinds of problems associated with wealth and control. Ordinary people are powerless when they can’t control what they eat, drink, or put in their bodies; when they can’t sleep or stay awake; when they can’t think clearly or control their emotions. We are especially powerless, and feel this keenly, when we can’t curb other people’s controlling and oppressive behavior. If you are able to cope with these problems, your life will likely develop satisfactorily. If you can’t muster the energy and skills to overcome them, your life will be joyless and filled with turmoil and depression, psychosis, and addiction.


Our inner enemy, the Critical Parent

One important reason we become powerless is that many of us  have an internal foe that constantly weakens us from within.


When people are systematically abused, most of them will, in time, abuse other people and themselves. In this way, they become their own and each other’s abusers. Dramatic examples abound in which oppressed people turned on each other and treated each other as viciously as their oppressors did. An example of this happened in Nazi concentration camps where Jewish inmate “capos,” appointed by the wardens to guard their fellow Jews, adopted their captors’ cruel ways.


This process also works when people are subjected to less dramatic, subtle psychological abuse. Such abuse is hidden and unacknowledged and tends to be forgotten. But it is taken in and eventually becomes internalized. I use the label Critical Parent for that internalized self-abuse which keeps people in line and punishes them for every thought or act that breaks its oppressive rules. When children, introverts, women, people of color, workers, lesbians, gay men, disabled and physically handicapped people, and old, poor, or “ugly” folk are mistreated, they can feel so powerless that they come to accept the mistreatment and believe that it is deserved.


Eventually, the powerless abuse themselves, physically and psychologically, as they follow the dictates of the Critical Parent in scores of self-destructive, self-loathing ways. In this way, they have absorbed society’s patriarchal scheme, which says it is all right for some people to dominate and for others to be beaten down. In this scheme, those who are beaten down are somehow “wrong.” It labels the poor as “lazy,” or women as “irrational,” or minorities as intellectually or morally “inferior.”


In this book, I have explained how the Critical Parent operates. Self-Persecution is the work of the Critical Parent, called variously the “harsh superego,” the “Pig Parent,” “the Destructive Critic,” “catastrophic ideation,” “stinking thinking,” “low self-esteem,” the “Enemy,” and so on, depending on the theory or system of thought that recognizes its destructive influence. Whatever it is called, it is a voice or an image in the mind saying that the person is bad, stupid, ugly, crazy, sick, or doomedin short, not okay. What’s more, these  attributions can be  passed down from parents to children, and become part of a family’s script through the generations.  


In emotional literacy training we have vowed to remove the Critical Parent from our lives: a hard but worthwhile task. But fighting our own Critical Parent is not enough. In fact, it is a hopeless task unless we also become aware of and resist the controlling patriarchal influences that surround us.


No one needs to fight this battle alone. People everywhere are struggling to run their own lives and are eager to join others in the fight for self-determination. To succeed, we need to develop a new form of personal non-abusive power known as charisma.




Let me describe seven sources of non-abusive power. Students of Eastern reli­gions will recognize their source in the ancient the­ory of the chakras of Kundalini yoga: Earth, Sex, Power, Heart, Throat, Third Eye, and Cosmos.[i]


I have renamed these seven power sources Balance, Passion, Control, Love, Communication, Information, and Transcendence.


Not any one of these powers should be valued over another. In­stead, they should be used together, for each has its own unique capacity to bring about change. When you use them in combi­nation, you will find that this rainbow of options is much more powerful than the blunt, often brutal forms of control power that dominate so many of us.


BALANCE, or grounding, is the capacity to be rooted and comfortable while sitting, standing, climbing, walking, or running. When you have a well-developed capacity for balance, you “know where you stand” and you are able to “stand your ground.” Because you know where you stand, you will not be easily pushed out of your physical or personal po­sition. Your body will be firmly planted, and your mind will be steady.


Balance is a particularly valuable power source for women. Patriarchy discourages women from attaining a strong sense of physical balance. Women’s fashions, designed to please men—tight clothes, miniskirts, high heels—interfere with physical sta­bility. So do the requirements of modesty—limited and careful motion—for women of “breeding.”


Men, on the other hand, are free to be as physically com­fortable as they desire, wear roomy clothing and shoes, and have minimal requirements for grooming and modesty.


In the Western World, as women move slowly toward equal status with men, they are casting aside many of the dictates of dress and grooming that have been required for them. As a result, they are feeling more powerful—more rooted, grounded, and balanced. That, in spite of the fact that some of the gains accomplished along these lines are being nullified by increased pressure to look younger and thinner, diet, wear skimpier clothes, and engage in plastic surgery—which, though aimed at both sexes, affects women more powerfully.


As with all the other power sources, you should try to reach a “happy medium” in regard to Balance. If you are deficient in Balance, you will be too obedient, easily frightened, and timid. But if you overdevelop Balance, you will be stubborn, stony, dense, unmovable, and dull, and you will not be able to tolerate or handle being thrown off equilibrium.



PASSION:  The power of pas­sion can invigorate like nothing else can. Passion can create or destroy. Passion brings opposites together, forces confrontation and change.


In the absence of sexual passion, there would be no Romeo and Juliet, few marriages, no unrequited love. But passion is not only sexual. It also fuels missionary zeal, quixotic quests, revolution.


If your passion is underdeveloped, you will be tepid, bor­ing, and gutless. If your passion is excessive, it can get out of control and become destructive.


CONTROL has been badly used but is an essential form of power. Control allows you to manipulate your environment and the objects, machines, animals, and people in it.


Control, which can be both physical and psychological, also gives you power over yourself. Control is especially important when, in the form of self-discipline, it lets you regulate your other powers such as passion, information, communication, and very importantly, your emotions. This control is vital when events around you run amok and threaten your survival. Emotional literacy is partially a matter of controlling emotions: expressing them or holding them back for a powerful personal approach.


If you lack in control power, you can be victimized by your inner turmoil and become addicted, depressed, sleepless, and slothful. Or you may be victimized by the outer world, becom­ing unemployed, homeless, battered, persecuted, mentally ill, or sickened by pollution. You will be seen as lacking discipline, unable to control what you feel, say, and do, and what you put in your mouth, up your nose, or into your veins. On the op­posite end of the spectrum, when obsessed by control, you be­come preoccupied with absolute control of every situation and soul.


LOVE:  Everyone wants to love and to be loved, knowing how good it feels when it happens. But few people look be­yond love’s obvious pleasures to see its power. Fewer yet fully develop that power.


Love is more than just Valentine’s Day cards, the thrill that you get when you see or touch your beloved, or the warm hug of a mother’s child. Love has the power to bind people together, enabling them to work tirelessly side by side on the hardest tasks, instilling hope that can propel them out of the most hell­ish situations: floods, famines, wars, plane wrecks.


If your power of love is underdeveloped, you will be cold, lacking in warmth or empathy for other people, unable to nur­ture or to be nurtured, unable even to love yourself. If this power is overdeveloped, you will be a habitual Res­cuer, driven to excessive sacrifices for others while neglecting yourself.


A loving attitude guides the Emotional Warrior. This attitude applies to three elementary realms: love of self, love of others, and love of truth. These three qualities provide the vision necessary for a heart-centered approach to living:


1. Love of Self; bedrock individuality. When we love ourselves we will stand our ground in defense of our personal uniqueness. Individuality keeps us firmly focused on what we want and makes us capable of deciding what will contribute to or detract from our personal path. Only a passionate love of self will give one the strength to persevere in our decisions when everyone loses faith in who we are or what we are doing.


2. Love of Others; steadfast loyalty. By being loyal we are aware of our involvement in the lives of other human beings and as passionate about others as we are about ourselves. Love of self without love of others is selfishness. Love of others without love of self turns us into Rescuers ready to give everything away. Love of self and others can only be sustained by keeping in touch with our own true feelings on the one hand and the feelings of others on the other hand.


3. Love of Truth; conscious truthfulness. Love of self and others is intimately dependent on the love of truth. Truthfulness is especially important in the Information Age, where we can be “well-informed” and at the same time under the influence of false and deceitful information. Love of truth is the attribute that keeps a person actively involved in pursuing valid information: information that reflects the realities of the world. “Radical truth-telling,” explored in the “Notes for Philosophers” at the end of this book, is the application of the love of truth to relationships.


COMMUNICATION: The power of com­munication depends on the capacity to reproduce one’s thoughts and feelings in others. But communication will not work without the willing ear of its recipient. Two operations are involved: sending and receiv­ing, speaking and listening. Two-way communication is needed to transmit knowledge, to solve problems with others, to build sat­isfying relationships—in short, to achieve emotional literacy.


If you are lacking in communication power, you will be unable to learn or teach much. If you stress com­munication too much, you could become a compulsive, careless talker, paying too little attention to what you are saying or its effect on others.


All the sources of power work with each other. A very power­ful combination of powers, used by great teachers is made of communication, infor­mation, and love. Their communication is inspired by the love of truth and the love of people. They do not browbeat or use control to persuade. Instead they explain, and if they are not understood, try to understand why; their students are free to compare what they are learning with what they already know, thus forming their own well-grounded opinions.


INFORMATION: The power of in­formation is that it reduces your uncertainty so you can make effective decisions. When you have information, you can anticipate events and you can make things happen or prevent them from happening.


If you are lacking in the power of information, you suffer from ignorance. If this power is overdeveloped, you tend to rely excessively on science and technology, becoming hyper-intellectual and lacking heart.


Information comes in four forms: science, intuition, history, and vision. Science gathers facts methodically, by taking a careful look at things and noting how they work. Science is like a camera taking focused and sharp pictures of reality. It is a powerful source of certainty.


Intuition is fuzzy, not exact like science, but it is a powerful guide toward what is probably true.  Intuition grasps the flow of things. It produces “educated guesses” about the way things are. Because it directs the investigator’s attention to certain areas of inquiry, intuition is often vital in the early stages of important scientific discoveries.


Historical knowledge comes from knowledge of past events, either through personal experience or through the study of history. Historical perspective can be a powerful tool to help you forecast events.


Vision is the ability to see what lies ahead directly, through dreams and visions. We all have visions of the future but it takes great self-confidence to be a visionary. Vision, when recognized, is a highly valued form of information.


Ordinarily, our society considers science the only valid source of knowledge; history is for old people, intuition for women, and vision for lunatics. Still, each of these forms of information has validity and when effectively used, can add to your charisma.


Information has been badly misused over the ages. It has been used in the service of control, to wage war, to seize land, and to impose political and religious views. Today, in the Information Age, the misuse of information comes in the form of disinformation, false advertising, negative political ads, and other forms of modern propaganda. They are used to manipulate millions of people through television and other mass media and to persuade people to live certain lifestyles and buy the products that go with them.


Information in the service of love would be starkly different. It would be freely available and used to build people’s power: their health through medical and psychological knowledge, their wisdom through education, their relationships through emotional literacy.


TRANSCENDENCE:  When viewed as a source of power, transcendence is the power of equanimity, of letting events take their course without getting upset or letting your ego get involved. It lets you find calm and see things as they are, even in the midst of earthshaking events. You find transcendence by realizing how insignificant you are in the universehow brief life is before you return to cosmic dust, how ephemeral your successes and failures, how relatively unimportant your pains and joys. With this understanding, there is no fear of the future or even of death, because one’s existence cannot be disrupted by ordinary events. The power of transcendence gives one hope and faith that there is a meaning to life even if one’s limited intelligence can’t grasp it. With it, we can “rise above” a particular situation and trust and feel our power in spite of material conditions.


If your capacity for transcendence is underdeveloped, you will see yourself at the very center of things and cling desperately to your beliefs and desires, aversions and cravings, successes and failures, no matter the cost. You will fail to see the effect that you have on other human beings and the environment, because all that matters to you, is you. On the other hand, if transcendence becomes an overused method of coping, you will become detached from earthly matters, so that you will “float away” oblivious of events around you, unwilling and unable to touch the ground.


My knowledge about these sources of power varies; I understand some (control, communication) better than others (transcendence, vision). I invite you, dear reader, to add what you know about these subjects by communicating with me by mail or through the web page given at the end of this book.



At its worst, Western culture today is an engine of absolute control. The six other sources of power have been diminished and put at the service of control’s purpose:


Transcendence has been distorted into patriarchal religions worshiping wrathful gods and headed by corrupt religious leaders whose self-aggrandizing aim is the accumulation of money and/or power. 


Information is becoming an increasingly expensive commodity developed by science to serve war and police technology and to manufacture and sell goods. Valid information is becoming indistinguishable from propaganda, disinformation,  and infotainment.


Communication has become a one-way process to manipulate people through the media.


Love has been reduced to a parody of itself, laden with jealousy and obsession, heralded in popular songs and films but unavailable and ignored in real life.


Passion has been reduced to lust and violence portrayed in the media. The passionate love of truth, fairness, and equality has become an unpopular concern of an increasingly distressed minority.


Balance, as people become increasingly inactive and overweight, has become the realm of athletic super-heroes.


At its best, Western culture could be an environment that empowers people. As pioneered by Riane Eisler in The Chalice and the Blade[ii], we can shift away from patriarchy and control in the direction of democracy, partnership, and love. Together, as Emotional Warriors, we can use our love-centered powers to make these changes happen.


You can enlist in this effort by developing your individual powers and charisma in its many forms. You need:


  Balance to stand your ground.

  Passion to energize you.

  Control to keep a steady course.

  Communication to effectively interact with others.

  Information to make accurate predictions.

  Transcendence to keep perspective.

  Love to harmonize and give all these capacities a powerful forward thrust.


Emotional literacy training speaks directly to the heart, calling for people everywhere to practice three interconnected virtues: love of self, love of others, and love of truth. This is the path of the Emotional Warrior.



The Emotional Warrior


You don’t have to go along with a world in which human power is expressed through power plays or violence. You can link up with others to struggle for a world in which power is expressed through love: of self, others, and truth. You can do this by becoming emotionally literate and teaching emotional literacy techniques to others. To be passionate, balanced, and spiritually aware is to be powerful. There are seven nonviolent sources of power you can draw on: Balance, Passion, Control, Love, Communication, Information, and Transcendence.


Leading with your heart and informed by emotional literacy, you can develop your own personal charisma while looking out for others. If you do you, will become an Emotional Warrior.






Love is a word often used in this book, a word generally overused and easily abused and yet… love, I think most would agree, makes the world go ’round. What love is, exactly, is not clear, but certainly it goes beyond the well-known passion between lovers or the adoration of our offspring. It is the deep instinct that makes us enjoy being with each other, taking care of one another, and doing things together. When we allow it to express itself, it helps us survive and prosper.


Of the many things I have said in this book, I want to reemphasize one: Love is at the very center of emotional literacy. Any emotional intelligence that we may accumulate apart from the loving emotion is like a paint-by-the-numbers canvas that may look good upon casual gaze but is not the real thing. If you begin by giving and taking strokes, you will open up your heart and access the only lasting basis for an emotionally literate life.


Very likely, you will wonder how the practice of a few transactional exercises could possibly produce such a powerful source of energy and power. Isn’t that claim of simple-minded alchemy to turn psychological lead into gold? But I am not promising to create a loving heart. What I am assuring is that these transactions, practiced honestly with another will­ing and sympathetic person, will unleash your heart’s power. Giving and receiving strokes will force open the gates that imprison your heart. The rest is up to that irresistible power of nature: Love. It may not seem so to some, but Love is ready to surge forth and do battle with our dark side, if we will let it and if we can find ways to make it safeand if we nurture it as it grows.


Eventually, whether or not you develop your emotional lit­eracy will depend on a number of factors: your desire, whether you can find people to practice with, the opportunities afforded you in this cruel world, and how successful you are in avoiding its dark side. In these last words I want to make sure, dear reader, you understand that this book’s message has every­thing to do with Love—of self, of others, and of truth.


—Claude Steiner

Berkeley, California, August 2002







With these notes I am following the example set by Eric Berne. In his writings, he provided his readers with the historical and philosophical background for his views. These notes are the result of interviews with Jude Hall about the philosophical controversies surrounding the issues raised in this book.


Love as a Fundamental Good


The idea of love as a basic good, to be universally pursued with all other human beings, is a markedly Christian notion. It was first espoused in the West by Jesus Christ and in China by Mo Di, a contemporary of Confucius’ disciple Mencius. The most influential critic of Christianity’s concept of love is Friedrich Nietzsche. [iii]He held that the universal love espoused by Christians is disingenuous, hypocritical, neurotic, and leads to depressive nihilism (what he called passive nihilism) and to the degeneracy of society and the arts. He maintained that the universal love and altruism to which Christians aspire necessitates an egalitarian leveling which prevents society from producing excellence by assigning privilege evenly among a people, when it should go to the especially gifted. These special individuals should be allowed to secure the power they need to achieve their vision.


Nietzsche’s idols were Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, and early Roman emperors, strong men after the fashion of his human ideal, the superman. While this may sound bizarre to the average reader, Nietzsche (who died in 1900) is considered one of the most influential figures in 20th-century thought, and his critique of the hidden psychological roots of altruism is accepted by thinkers as diverse as Max Horkheimer, Theodore Adorno, and Michael Foucalt. Some aspects of Nietzschian thought have even influenced as egalitarian a thinker as Herbert Marcuse. Thus, as deviant as Nietzsche’s ideas may seem to the uninitiated, they cannot be dismissed. Students of contemporary politics may recognize the traces of the Nietzschian point of view in the theories of conservative politicians today. The belief that social services and government subsidies to help the disadvantaged are undesirable is the permissible manifestation of a far more extreme elitist conviction which permeates the corridors of conservatism throughout the world.


Paradoxically, though the views of this book originate in the teachings about brotherly love of Jesus of Nazareth, they are likely to be classified as secular humanism, anathema to fundamentalist Christians and despised by conservatives.


Lying and Honesty

The idea that lying is a universal evil was recorded in one of the ten commandments brought down from Mt. Sinai by Moses: “Thou shall not bear false witness.” Though it is a fundamental Judeo-Christian dictum, there is very little attention paid to just what, precisely, obeying the rule would imply. When speaking of truth in this book, I am applying the well-known criteria followed in the courts, namely that in order not to lie one needs to tell “the whole truth [no lies of omission] and nothing but the truth [no lies of commission].” According to this definition, a lie is a conscious act, so that a person cannot lie without being aware of it. The truth here is simply the truth as the speaker knows itsubjective truthand different from and only vaguely related to the abstract and unattainable concept of “the truth” (See notes on The Truth, below). St. Augustine[iv] was the foremost proponent of absolute truthfulness. He believed that “God forbids all lies.” The notion that one should never lie was taken to its political extreme by Immanuel Kant,[v] who argued that it would be a moral crime to lie to a murderer about the whereabouts of a potential victim. Benjamin Constant [vi] countered that “No one has the right to a truth that injures others.”


In this book, while arguing that being truthful is a requirement of emotional literacy, I recognize that the imperative of truth-telling is secondary to the imperative of safety. Thus, any person aspiring to be radically truthful has to keep in mind that truth-telling can, on occasion, be harmful and needs to be evaluated according to circumstances. This may seem to open the door for all manner of lies to preserve people’s safety. But there are, in everyday life, very few situations that warrant lying on the basis of safety and certainly no justification whatsoever for the constant dishonesty accepted as normal. Most of the lies people tell have nothing to do with protecting others or oneself from harm, and everything to do with manipulating people to one’s advantage, often under the guise of attempting to shield each other from “needless” pain.


According to Dr. Bella de Paulo [vii], “Everyday lies are part of the fabric of social life,” and in a study of people lying she found that people lie in one-fifth of their social interactions and that 70 percent of those who lie would tell the lies again. Sixty percent of the lies were outright deceptions, a tenth of the lies were exaggerations, and the rest were subtle lies, often lies of omission.


In her book, Lying,[viii] Sissela Bok, the acknowledged expert on the issue, classifies all manner of lies and secrets and acknowledges the harm that chronic lying causes us. Yet she does not go as far as to recommend that people should not lie at all, mostly, it seems, because of her apprehension that radical honesty can lend itself to sadistic misuse.


In his book Radical Honesty,[ix] Brad Blanton, after asserting that “We all lie like hell. It wears us out. It is the major source of all human stress. Lying kills people,” also falls short of recommending that we not lie at all. He fails to endorse a radical policy of truth-telling (in spite of the title of his book) because part of our chronic lying, as he sees it, are lies we tell ourselves, something not so easily defined and even less easily stopped. I avoid the self-lying conundrum by defining a lie as a conscious act. Given this definition, lying to ourselves is impossible.


The Truth

By writing about the truth and love of truth, I am opening myself for a huge philosophical debate which has frozen greater and infinitely more meticulous minds than mine in their tracks. The idea that truth is something to be discovered with the mind rather than accepted from religion was first recorded in the 4th century BC. It was a result of a new interest in the workings of the physical universe.


Socrates and Plato extended their exploration of truth into the realms of ethics, aesthetics, politics, and psychology. (Aristotle shifted the emphasis back to empirical inquiry, in defiance of his teacher, Plato, who favored speculation and logic with little empirical grounding.) It was the Greek sophists, Plato’s contemporaries and intellectual antagonists, who first began to argue that emotion and prejudice are as important as reason in the pursuit of truth. Plato argued for absolute truth, discoverable through a dialogic process which he called dialectic; the sophists believed that opinion, or “doxa,” is truth and that truth is wholly relative. Hence Protagoras’ famous dictum “Man is the measure of all things.”[x] The dominance of religious truth returned with the Middle Ages, but in the Enlightenment the debate resumed. The Rationalists echoed Plato in arguing that reason is the best guide to truth; the Empiricists, like Aristotle, preferred to rely on the physical facts; the Romantics inadvertently came to parallel the sophists by asserting the importance of emotion and the irrational. (It should be noted that while the sophists were often disingenuous hustlers, the Romantics were earnest seekers rebelling against the excesses of rationalism and industrialization.)


Though Nietzsche was the inheritor of the Romantic tradition from his early idol, Schopenhauer, he was one of the least dewy-eyed thinkers who ever lived. He argued that language (and even thought) are inherently deceptive and that no society can survive without mutually agreed upon falsehoods: “to be truthful means to employ the usual metaphors. Thus, to express it morally, this is the duty to lie according to a fixed convention, to lie with the herd and in a manner binding upon everyone.”[xi] Today, those familiar with the work of Nietzsche’s inheritors, the structuralist and post-structuralist philosophers, such as Derrida and Foucalt, may sneer at the notion that the concept of truth has any meaning or that it can be discovered.


To my mind, there is nothing that can be called “the truth.” The truth changes with time. There are several sometimes seemingly contradictory truths and there is no way to contain the hugely complex facts of nature in any one set of words. But I believe that some statements are truer than others. This book does not propose to have a monopoly on universal moral truths. Instead, it offers a paradigm which, within our culture, has the potential to make our lives happier and richer. What I can say with certainty is that to reap the benefits of practicing emotional literacy, one must take “love of truth” seriously and seriously strive to be truthful. Love of truth implies, as George Sand is believed to have said: “We must accept truth even if it changes our point of view.” We need to be particularly vigilant within the context of loving, cooperative relationships, where lies often seem necessary to prevent harm but so often create much more harm than they avert.


Violence and the Dark Side


People have, deep in their hearts, a real need and desire to bond, to be open, loving, and respectful of other’s feelings. One of the first tenets of Transactional Analysis is that everyone is born Okay.[xii] This idea probably filtered down to Eric Berne from the 19th century philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, who maintained that people are born good and it is social ills that make them bad. Philosopher Herbert Marcuse, and initially, Sigmund Freud, have called this original goodness the “inborn social instinct” Eros, and the energy that drives it, “libido.” Freud originally believed that our ability to live harmoniously and lovingly with each other comes from this “Eros principle,” while violence and exploitation come from the “ego principle,” the side of human nature that is concerned with self-preservation and therefore strives to become as powerful (and therefore safe) as possible and is willing to harm others to achieve its ends.


There are others, like Francis Fukuyama,[xiii] who have suggested that this Rousseauian conviction that people are intrinsically good while all negativity comes from bad social conditions is a naive, liberal notion. Freud himself in the later part of his life, after witnessing the horrors of WWII, decided that there was, in addition to libido, the life principle, another innate human tendency, an inborn antisocial instinct which he called “Thanatos,” the Death instinct.


In addition to the positive, cooperative side of people, there is a dark side of human nature that we have to reckon with. Beyond the simple lessons of this book, we will be confronted with hard situations, and as Emotional Warriors, we should not be taken by surprise if our efforts are met with hard—if not nasty—resistance.


The pursuit of emotional literacy presupposes that people are born with an innate tendency toward goodness, coopera­tion, and love: that is, a tendency to exercise ethical power. Without that tendency, we would be fighting a constant, ex­hausting, uphill battle. But we all have forces within that are profoundly unethical, which are not just implanted by a bad culture but are probably innate. These forces involve aggres­sion, greed, and unethical manifestations of sexuality. They stem from primitive, irrepressible, and even vital and valuable sur­vival instincts.


The moral philosophers of the Enlightenment generally de­fined evil as error. In the terms of this book, error is equivalent to emotional illiteracy, or a lack of a sense of enlightened self-interest that would make it evident to us that our evil deeds will eventually hurt us by leaving us isolated from the tribe. But the root of evil may not be only error, but the result of deep, instinctive, unchecked survival impulses.


To be an effective Emotional Warrior you must be able to admit your own aggression, selfishness, and greed, your own inborn urge to survive at all costs. You must also be aware of and accept these impulses in others. An Emotional Warrior knows that we all have selfish and aggressive instincts and that managing those instincts in an ethical way is one of the primary aims of emotional wisdom.


Fyodor Dostoyevsky acknowledged this irreducible selfish­ness in human nature when he wrote:


“To love another as oneself according to Christ’s com­mandment is impossible. Only Christ was able to do this, but Christ is a perpetual and eternal ideal towards which man strives.”[xiv]


There is a dark side, not only to human nature, but also to the human condition. All human beings live every day with the possibility of loss, tragedy, and even disaster.


In the modern world, with tech­nology, we have protected ourselves from many types of tragedy. However, we may have paved the way for a greater collective tragedy—a worldwide catastrophe—for that same technology, if left unchecked, may destroy the biosphere.


The awareness of tragedy is relevant to the pursuit of emotional literacy, especially for the Emotional Warrior. Some sur­vivors of tragedy feel that they no longer have the resources to worry about the rights and needs of others. They may fall into a nihilistic attitude of “After all I’ve been through, I deserve to be happy, by any means necessary” or “I’ve suffered, why shouldn’t others suffer, too?” An Emotional Warrior must under­stand this temptation to succumb to the dark side of our nature in response to tragedy, and must be able to resist this tempta­tion. She must understand that she may not be rewarded materially for her efforts and may even suffer tragedy in spite of her valor. Sometimes, virtue is not only its own re­ward, but along with knowledge and meaning, its only reward. A warrior must be prepared for that possibility.


An Emotional Warrior is aware of the dark side, both the dark side of human nature (innate greed and aggression) and the dark side of the human condition (tragedy) and strives to practice honorable ethical power even when one or both of these twin facets of the dark side threaten to wreak havoc.


Violence and Abuse

The connection between childhood abuse and violent adult behavior, mediated by emotional numbing, is a strongly established one. The relationship is not perfect. For instance, there are certain neurological determinants of violent behavior strongly asso­ciated with trauma to the brain. That is to say, youngsters who experience head injuries, whether accidental or from abuse, exhibit a certain lack of inhibitory capacity which can result in and is correlated with uncontrolled violent behavior. On the other hand, childhood abuse is also highly correlated with vi­olent adult behavior. In fact, abuse is more strongly correlated with adult violence than brain injury. This underscores the urgent need to stop domestic violence.


The most dangerous mixture of violence determinants is the combination of both abuse and neurological damage.


Using time spent in jail as a rough measure of violent be­havior, the results of a study of  95 male juveniles are startling: [xv]


No neurological determinants, no abuse        No jail time

Neurological determinants, no abuse             360 days jail time

No neurological determinants and abuse       562 days jail time

Neurological determinants and abuse            1,214 days jail time


Children with brain injuries almost always incur them from neglect or abuse. Child abuse, especially child abuse that in­volves blows to the head, is a serious determinant of violent adult behavior. And the trauma of neglect and abuse causes the kind of emotional numbing that makes one capable of abusing or neglecting a child. Intervention and emotional literacy train­ing are desperately needed. By teaching empathy, emotional literacy training stops the vicious cycle of abuse and neglect.


The Critical Parent

Critical thinkers will question the concept of the Critical Parent. Some argue that it is too much like a homunculus, a little person inside of our heads. However, the Critical Parent is just a way to vi­sualize and make accessible a method for decathecting—taking away psychic energy from—a set of recurrent, debilitating, pre­judiced, and deprecatory thoughts. These self-abusive, self-limiting thoughts are not based on the facts of current reality. They are prejudices which distract, de-motivate, and demoralize us. The fact that some people hear these as derog­atory, insulting, or doom-ridden “voices in the head” (what we know as the Critical Parent) makes the process of decathecting and disconnecting from them easier. It is easier because you can speak to, disagree with, and evict a voice in your head, whereas it is more difficult to respond to and resist a doom-ridden image or amorphous feelings of inadequacy.


This discussion leads to questions of the validity of the concept of ego states. Are there really three and only three completely distinct states of the ego which manifest themselves in sequence and which operate in three distinctly different ways? Again, the value of these concepts is that they help us to better understand human social behavior. They are metaphors useful for representing human beings in their social transactions. When transactional analysts draw two people with their three ego states on the chalkboard, we know that these are not complete representations of these people any more than a street map is a complete  representation of a city. They are approximations of human behavior and structure, based on observation and the application of evolutionary and neuroscience information. Basically, ego states are highly useful; as useful as a street map for getting around in the human situation.





Appendix A

Emotional Awareness Questionnaire


Although there is no scientifically valid emotional intelligence or literacy test, the questionnaire below can give you a good idea of your level of emotional awareness, which is an essential part of emotional literacy.


Please answer these questions as honestly as possible. The point is not to look good, but to find out for yourself where you stand in terms of emotional awareness. If you can’t decide whether your answer is Yes or No, answer Not Sure.


1A. I have noticed that sometimes when I find myself with a person who is very emotional, I am surprisingly calm and without feeling.

Yes - No - Not Sure


1B. At times when I am about to interact with people I don’t know well, I feel sensations like heart palpitations, stomach cramps, a lump or dryness in the throat, or a shortness of breath, but I don’t know why this is happening.

Yes - No - Not Sure


1C. Sometimes I am flooded by emotions that disorganize and confuse me.

Yes - No - Not Sure


1D. From time to time, I am aware of having feelings of anger, from slight irritation to rage.

Yes - No - Not Sure


1E. If another person is emotional, I am usually able to tell what emotion they feel, such as fear, happiness, sadness, hope, or anger.

Yes - No - Not Sure


1F. I enjoy situations in which people are having strong positive emotions of love, hope, and joy, like at weddings or in church services.

Yes - No - Not Sure


2A.   Sometimes after a difficult time with another person, I feel as if parts of my body are numb.

Yes - No - Not Sure


2B. I take one or more over-the-counter drugs to deal with headaches, stomach and digestive symptoms, or body pains that my doctor can’t explain.

Yes - No - Not Sure


2C. I know I have very strong feelings, but I am frequently unable to talk about them with other people.

Yes - No - Not Sure


2D. I am aware of having feelings of fear, from apprehension to terror.

Yes - No - Not Sure


2E. Sometimes I can feel other people’s feelings in my body.

Yes - No - Not Sure


2F. I am appreciated by other people because I know how to

cool down emotional situations.

Yes - No - Not Sure


3A. I can easily kill a small animal like a snake or chicken without feeling anything in particular.

Yes - No - Not Sure


3B. I am often jumpy and irritable, and I can’t help it.

Yes - No - Not Sure


3C. I find myself lying about my feelings because I am embarrassed to speak about them.

Yes - No - Not Sure


3D. I am aware of having strong feelings of love and joy.

Yes - No - Not Sure


3E. I often do things for other people because I sympathize with them and can’t say no to people.

Yes - No - Not Sure


3F. I am good at helping people sort out their emotions because I usually understand why they are feeling them.

Yes - No - Not Sure


4A.  I can be around people who are suffering physical pain without getting upset about it.

Yes - No - Not Sure


4B. I get sweaty palms around people I don’t know.

Yes - No - Not Sure 


4C. I know I have strong feelings, but most of the time I don’t know what those feelings are.

Yes - No - Not Sure


4D. I am pretty good at knowing what I feel and why.

Yes - No - Not Sure 


4E. Sometimes other people’s feelings are very clear to me, and that can be a problem.

Yes - No - Not Sure


4F. I can usually handle people who have strong feelings and unload them on me.

Yes - No - Not Sure


5A.  I am almost always a rational person and have no problems with my emotions.

Yes - No - Not Sure


5B. I have been in love and suddenly, inexplicably lost that feeling completely.

Yes - No - Not Sure


5C. I am overwhelmed by bad mood sometimes.

Yes - No - Not Sure


5D. When I have to make an important decision, I usually know how I feel about it, whether it be scared, excited, angry, or some other combination of emotions.

Yes - No - Not Sure 


5E. In a competitive situation in which I am winning or clearly superior, I feel bad for the other person.

Yes - No - Not Sure 


5F. When I am in a room full of people, I can tell how the group is feeling—excited, angry, bored, or scared.

Yes - No - Not Sure 


6A. I very, very rarely cry.

Yes - No - Not Sure 


6B. Sometimes when I watch a TV commercial, tears come to my eyes, and I don’t really understand why.

Yes - No - Not Sure 


6C. Sometimes when I am feeling bad, I can’t tell if I am scared or angry.

Yes - No - Not Sure


6D. I am a person who at times feels shame and guilt.

Yes - No - Not Sure 


6E. I have had the opportunity to shoot an animal like a bird, rabbit, or deer, and was not able to do it because I felt bad for the animal.

Yes - No - Not Sure


6F. I often change the way I act toward another person because I figure it will make things easier between us.

Yes - No - Not Sure 



Now that you have answered all the questions, you can score the questionnaire.


Count up the number of “Yes” responses on all questions marked A. Write that number (from 1 to 6) in the space marked “A” below. Repeat that process with B, C, D, E, and F questions.



B. __

C. __

D. __

E. __

F. __


There now should be a number (from 1 to 6) next to each letter above. Later you will be able to use these numbers to create a bar chart and determine your emotional awareness profile.




Let’s get back to the bar chart that you generated with the questionnaire about yourself. First of all, I want to reemphasize that this profile is not a measurement of your emotional literacy but an examination of awareness, which is only an aspect (though a very important one) of emotional literacy.


Create a blank bar chart similar to the ones below on a separate piece of paper and fill in the boxes based on your scores. For example, if you answered “Yes” to six D questions, fill in the D column all the way up through the number 6 row. If you answered “Yes” to two B questions, fill in the B column through the number 2 row. Shade your remaining scores. When you have finished, you will have a bar chart similar to the example below based on the emotional awareness scale.


The A questions examine emotional numbness (EN); B questions test for physical symptoms (PS); C questions refer to chaotic primal experience (CE); D questions test for differentiation (DF); E questions for empathy (EM); and F for interactivity (IA). The profile you generated will help you see what kind of work you need to do to improve your emotional literacy. The three most common profiles are:


Low awareness profile:



4     XX

3     XX      XX

2     XX      XX       XX       XX

1     XX      XX       XX       XX       XX


       EN        PS       CE        DF       EM        IA

       (A)       (B)       (C)        (D)       (E)        (F)


 If your profile looks like this, you are a person who hasn’t paid much attention to your feelings and tends to be puzzled by the feelings of others. Most of the time, you are not aware of feeling any emotions at all; they’re not part of your normal life as far as you can tell. On the occasions that you have a strong emotional response, you feel anger or fear and you do everything you can to overcome that unwelcome state. You will profit from working on your emotional literacy.


High awareness profile:



4                                                                  XX     

3                                          XX       XX      XX

2                                          XX       XX      XX

1                 XX       XX       XX       XX      XX


       EN        PS       CE        DF       EM        IA

       (A)       (B)       (C)        (D)       (E)        (F)


If your profile looks like this, your emotions are part of your everyday life awareness. You know how you feel, why, and how strongly most of the time. You feel comfortable talking about emotional subjects and understand other people’s emotions, but you may find that your awareness is a problem. If you talk about your emotions, you may create problems for yourself, and if you don’t, you may feel like a stranger in a strange land where no one sees what you see. You are in a very good position to develop a high level of emotional literacy.


The average awareness profile:



4                              XX                             

3                              XX       XX     

2                              XX       XX      XX

1     XX       XX       XX       XX      XX      XX


       EN        PS       CE        DF       EM        IA

       (A)       (B)       (C)        (D)       (E)        (F)




If your profile looks like this, you are aware of your feelings but don’t always know what to do about them. You understand some of your emotions but are puzzled by others. You are able to empathize at times but at times you are left cold by other people’s feelings. Most of the time, when in an emotional state, your feelings are a bothersome, chaotic jumble which you try to get away from by ignoring them. When you try to talk about them to other people, the results are mixed. Sometimes feelings are resolved, sometimes they are made worse. You are the person most likely to profit from this book.

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