What’s Love Got to Do With it?;

Opening the Heart to Emotional Intelligence

by Claude Steiner Ph.D.

The fact that the emotions matter and that emotional competence is as important as intelligence to help people do well is an idea whose time has come. It has initiated a culture-wide "paradigm shift" readying people to confront the long neglected emotional realm.

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It is important to realize, however, that emotional acumen can be organized around a variety of purposes, some not necessarily humane. 

One extraordinarily successful version of emotional intelligence is the skill that is displayed by animators of feature films like The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Toy Story. In these films we see conveyed the most subtle, moving nuances in a wide gamut of emotions with a few lines on a two dimensional surface. The effectiveness of these emotional triggers is far more reliable and cheaper than any flesh and blood actor can provide.

If what we want is to be able to influence people to buy or vote, we can again use information already available to sophisticated ad agencies which are quite successful in using people’s emotions to accomplish their client’s goals. 

Finally, if what we want is to intimidate and terrorize people into compliance there is intelligence that has been used from time immemorial and constantly updated by torturers around the world (the Inquisition, the Nazis, the CIA, the School the Americas, etc) who achieve their purpose by emotional means. 

Heart-centered EQ.

On the personal level we can use our emotional skills to develop self control or to soothe and isolate ourselves emotionally or we can control others by creating guilt, fear or depression. These skills can be seen as a form of emotional "intelligence" as well. I see signs that many who agree that emotional intelligence is an important capacity have lost sight of what we really want; those emotional skills that improve people’s lives; not just one person’s or group but all people’s. The only emotional abilities that improve people’s lives in that long term, humane manner are the love centered skills.

For twenty years I have been studying the emotional aspect of peoples lives and developing a set of skills which I call emotional literacy. The avowed purpose of this research was to help people work with each other cooperatively, free of manipulation and coercion, using emotions empathetically to bind people together and enhance the collective quality of life. This purpose, not surprisingly, caused me to organize emotional literacy training around the loving emotion.

The idea that love holds a central place in people’s emotional lives is not a foregone conclusion. The classic book The Emotional Brain; The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life by Joseph LeDoux fails to mention love even once in its index while fear is mentioned more than seventy five times. Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence has twenty index entries related to anger, and only three index entries on love in Chapter One, and none in the rest of the book. Even as everyone, deep in their heart, realizes the importance of love, it is an emotion seldom discussed in detail by experts in the field.

As a transactional analyst I am interested in, and have been studying, interpersonal relationships as they express themselves in the details of people's everyday attempts to relate to each other. The particular transactions that interest me are the component parts of love; positive affectionate expressions of recognition. Because of this, I endeavor to teach people the simple basic transactions that constitute the loving experience. This practice which is a part of the emotional literacy training program which I outline in my book Achieving Emotional Literacy is based on three concepts: Strokes, The Stroke Economy and Opening the Heart.

A "stroke," also known as a "warm fuzzy" is a unit of positive affectionate human recognition. There are also negative strokes also known as "cold pricklies." We exchange strokes, good ones and bad ones, and these exchanges are the raw data of transactional analysis.

The stroke economy creates a scarcity of love by imposing a set of rules that govern the exchange of strokes. In essence the stroke economy frowns upon the giving, asking for and accepting strokes. Disobedience to these rules brings on the censure of the Critical Parent by way of feelings of guilt and shame, and in social disapproval. (Read more about the Critical Parent here) As people follow the stroke economy’s rules on a culture-wide basis the result is a lowering of affectionate exchanges and wide-spread stroke starvation. Stroke starved people will resort to self-damaging methods of obtaining strokes much as starving people will eat rotten food or people dying of thirst will drink salt water.

"Opening the Heart" is a practice to reverse the effects of the stroke economy. In it I teach people to give the strokes they want to give, ask for and accept strokes they want, reject strokes they don’t want and give themselves strokes.

When we do this we:

feed our stroke hunger,

learn or relearn the important skills of stroke procurement,

give up toxic strokes replacing them with spontaneous, intimate and health giving exchanges,

reduce stroke scarcity and hunger in our social environment,

Beginning with an opening of the heart, subsequent emotional literacy training becomes a love centered practice in which empathic awareness becomes second nature and in which all of the other emotions--anger, fear, shame, sadness as well as hope, joy are "managed" by a loving attitude.

What's love got to do with it? Love has everything to do with ensuring that emotional intelligence becomes emotional literacy, a skill that facilitates bonding cooperation and which is the only antidote to alienation, depression and illness.

Leduc, Joseph The Emotional Brain; The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life. 1998 New York Touchstone, Simon and Schuster

Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence; Why it can Matter More Than IQ. 1995 New York Bantam

Berne, Eric. Games People Play. 1965 New York, Grove Press

Steiner Claude Achieving Emotional Literacy. A Personal Program to Improve your Emotional Intelligence. 1997 New York Avon

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