This past weekend, an old friend asked me to speak to the local chapter of 100 Black Men – a group designed to help young black men succeed in the professional and entrepreneurial world. My topic was EQ and, as expected, there was some wonderful dialogue. One question that a young man asked stood out for me. It’s a concept I discussed in my first book, Clearing Your Path, back in 1995.
I was discussing emotional trauma and how these experiences create new–and in many cases–permanent neural pathways. There are many definitions of emotional trauma. My favorite is: an experience that your brain stores (by establishing those pathways) because the possibility of it happening again constitutes a major threat level.
As I’ve discussed before, we are designed to store past negative experiences so that we can avoid them as part of our physiological survival strategy. For example, putting your hand on a hot pan just once creates a powerful memory to not do it again because you are designed to remember the pain of the burn on your hand. This is virtually identical to negative emotional experiences.
There are many ways to manage the negative experiences of our past so that we can live healthy and productive lives, but I am not familiar with any approach that actually eliminates those experiences. One of the best ways to manage them is by having very high levels of EQ. At my session this past weekend, we discussed what it meant to be a minority and how, by default, there are just more possibilities of being treated unjustly and with prejudice, thus creating more negative experiences to manage in life.
I discussed using EQ to recognize these experiences, giving the emotions involved an identity, and using self-awareness and self-regulation skills to prevent those experiences from compromising our ability to perform at a high level. In my book I called this the first conversion–the notion of acknowledging, accepting, (not hiding), and not letting these experiences negatively impact future experiences. The question asked was, “Is it possible to use the emotional trauma itself for a higher and useful purpose?”
Yes! And this is what I called the second conversion. There are so many wonderful examples of these, my favorite being the women who started MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). As a parent, I can imagine no trauma worse than burying your child. These women lost their children to drunk drivers and went through both conversions to create MADD and have dedicated their lives to using their trauma to prevent it from happening to others. It seems so counterintuitive that trauma itself can be used to create so much good. For so many, this second conversion will never happen, yet it can be one of the most powerful experiences of our lives.
This week, take inventory of some of your past experiences that you feel impact you today. No need to make either conversion–that will take much longer. For now just take inventory and then pick someone you can talk to about it. Take the first step.