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Karla McLaren’s Blog

The Art of Empathy Retreat at Kripalu!

August 6, 2016

The Art of Empathy Retreat at Kripalu

How to Balance Self-Care with Healthy Relationships
The Art of EmpathyFebruary 5th to 10th, 2017
Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Learn more or register here

Empathy is possibly your most essential skill, yet many of us struggle with it, simply because we weren’t taught how it works. In this six-day program at the delightful Kripalu retreat center in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, you’ll join empathy pioneers Karla McLaren, M.Ed. and Amanda Ball, MS in an experiential exploration of The Art of Empathy.

No matter where you start — whether you’re highly empathic or whether you’re having difficulty accessing your empathy — you’ll learn how to work with empathy in grounded and accessible ways. (Read more…)

Healthy Empathy in Boulder!

August 6, 2016

Healthy Empathy

How to Give Without Giving it All Away

Karla McLaren, M.Ed and Tino Plank, MSN, RN

Saturday, October 22, 2016
10:00am to 5:00pm
$105 (see the friends and family special below)
Nalanda Campus at Naropa University in Boulder

Continuing Education credits are available (see below)

Healthy EmpathyEmpathy is possibly your most essential skill, yet many of us struggle with it simply because we were never taught how it works. You may also struggle with your empathy when it’s most crucial — when you’re in the presence of difference, trouble, or conflicting needs.

In our increasingly pluralistic world, you need strong empathy skills, yet you also need strong self-care skills to balance your empathy for others with empathy for yourself. You need to develop not just empathy, but Healthy Empathy that supports you as much as you support others.

Join empathy pioneers Karla McLaren, M.Ed. and Tino Plank, MSN, RN for an exploration of the groundbreaking Six Essential Aspects of Empathy model, and learn simple practices to nurture your empathy safely and mindfully — at work, in your relationships, and within yourself.

(Read more…)

Healthy Empathy in Seattle!

August 3, 2016

Healthy Empathy

How to Give Without Giving it All Away

Karla McLaren, M.Ed and Tino Plank, MSN, RN

Friday & Saturday, September 23 & 24, 2016
Friday 7:30-9pm and Saturday 10:30am to 5:30pm
$100
East West Bookshop in Seattle

Continuing Education credits are available (see below)

Register Now

Healthy EmpathyEmpathy is possibly your most essential skill, yet many of us struggle with it simply because we were never taught how it works. You may also struggle with your empathy when it’s most crucial — when you’re in the presence of difference, trouble, or conflicting needs.

In our increasingly pluralistic world, you need strong empathy skills, yet you also need strong self-care skills to balance your empathy for others with empathy for yourself. You need to develop not just empathy, but Healthy Empathy™ that supports you as much as you support others.

Join empathy pioneers Karla McLaren, M.Ed. and Tino Plank, MSN, RN for an exploration of the groundbreaking Six Essential Aspects of Empathy model, and learn simple practices to nurture your empathy safely and mindfully — at work, in your relationships, and within yourself.

(Read more…)

Emotional Genius in California!

June 11, 2016

Emotional Genius

Discovering the Brilliance in Your Emotions

Rohnert Park, Sonoma County, California
Saturday & Sunday, August 20 & 21, 2016
(This workshop is sold out, thank you!)

Emotions are possibly your greatest source of instincts, intelligence, and energy — and you can learn how to access the brilliance inside each one of them.

Current neuroscience is catching up with what artists and poets have known for centuries: Emotions are messengers from the deepest and wisest parts of yourself. All of your emotions are irreplaceable aspects of your intelligence, your social skills, your capacity to learn, and your ability to love – and there is no such thing as a negative emotion.

All emotions contain genius, and all emotions are necessary parts of your cognition, your social skills, and your ability to learn and live well.

Anger, sadness, fear, shame, envy, contentment, even hatred … all seventeen of your emotions are essential for your health and well-being, and when you learn how to work with all of them, your life, your work, and your relationships can improve dramatically.

Join empathic pioneers Karla McLaren, M.Ed and Amanda Ball, MS for a weekend workshop where you’ll learn new ways to view the emotions as a system, and to learn how they work, why they arise, and how to work skillfully with every emotion you have.


Each of your emotions is essential, and all of them bring you the skills, energy, and intelligence you need in each situation. All of your emotions are necessary.

When you know why your emotions arise and how to work with them, you’ll understand yourself and others better – and you’ll be able to access the intelligence and gifts your emotions bring you. (Read more…)

Stress is a weasel word – and maybe that’s good!

May 23, 2016

Stress: What is it really?

In The Language of Emotions, I talk about stress as a “weasel* word,” which is a word that people can use to hide emotional awareness from themselves. In one of the final chapters in my book (Stress and Resistance: Understanding Emotional Physics), we look at stress after we’ve learned about each of the emotions in depth — and we identify stress very clearly as an emotional reaction.

The Weasel Anti-Defamation League has approved this post. See the legal disclaimer below.

However, since we’ve all been trained to talk about stress as if it is a thing that happens to us (and over which we have no control), we tend to lose our skills and our focus when stressful situations arise.”Help! Stress is happening! It’s an overwhelming force over which I have no control! I’m powerless!!”

We’ve learned to weasel away from the truth of what’s happening, and in so doing, we’ve lost our emotional awareness in the area of stress.

But if you look carefully at stress, you’ll realize that it’s clearly an emotional reaction. The sense of tension, the rise in cortisol and adrenaline, the tightening of the body, the rise in heart rate … these are all activations that occur in fear and anxiety (and often in anger) responses.

Luckily, you can develop skills with each of these emotions. You can learn how to work with your stress responses in the exact same ways that you can learn to work with any other emotions: You can figure out why you’ve become activated, you can listen to each of your emotions, and you can perform the actions those emotions require.

You can also use Empathic Mindfulness practices such as Grounding and Rejuvenation to return yourself to equilibrium.

This may seem to be a complex process, but developing emotional skills is thousands of times easier than being overwhelmed by emotions you can’t identify, understand, or manage!

And when you have emotional skills, you won’t need to use weasel words. This is important, because a poor emotional vocabulary can actually reduce your emotional awareness! For instance, if you say that you’re fine, okay, or good, you can mean just about anything; these words can be lazy and inexact, and they may disconnect you from your true emotions.

Another way to reduce your emotional awareness is to use the word emotional as a catch-all, as if emotions are all alike. “Let’s not be emotional!” “We can’t talk if you’re going to be emotional.” “I’m sorry I was emotional yesterday.” What in the world? Which emotion are we talking about here? There are seventeen of them; so which ones are you feeling? Use your words!

(Read more…)

You don’t have to be blue! It’s Autism Acceptance Eon!

April 1, 2016

Celebrate the Full Spectrum!

autism acceptance April 2nd is International Autism Awareness Day, but I have to say, if you’re not aware of autism yet, where have you been? The cool kids have already moved on from mere awareness to inclusion, acceptance, and love.

We’re celebrating Autism Acceptance Day, Autism Acceptance Month, Autism Acceptance Year, Autism Acceptance Decade (and Autism Acceptance Eon, while we’re at it).

Many of my friends in the autism community find mere awareness campaigns to be pretty painful, because the messages about autism tend to be so bleak and panicky, full of doom and gloom. This dehumanizing talk is a pretty good way to get people to go on walks, light things up blue, and give money to giant research organizations, but it can have a very negative effect on the real lives of actual, living autistic people. Luckily, we have better options! (Read more…)

Dynamic Emotional Integration – Cohort 2 begins in April!

March 8, 2016

The second cohort of DEI commences on April 18th!

Logo for Dynamic Emotional IntegrationThe Dynamic Emotional Integration® education and licensing program (also known as DEI) is excited to announce that the first cohort of DEI Trainers and Consultants will be graduating next month, and that the second cohort is ready to begin!

We’re taking a few more applications for cohort 2, which begins on Monday, April 18th. We already have a wonderful group of people who are ready to start learning, and we’d love for you to join us if you’re ready.

What is Dynamic Emotional Integration®?

Dynamic Emotional Integration® is a non-clinical approach to emotional awareness, healthy empathy, and social-emotional education.

  • Emotional awareness involves a deep understanding of the language of emotions and Karla McLaren’s fully rounded model of the emotional realm. This model explores what emotions are, how (and why) they arise, how they work, and how to work skillfully with all of them.
  • Healthy empathy is based on emotional awareness and knowledge of the Six Essential Aspects of Empathy. Healthy empathy also incorporates the self-care, self-awareness, and emotion regulation skills that form the foundation for intentional empathy and meaningful emotion work.
  • Social-emotional education takes the DEI approach to emotions and empathy and applies it to communication and relationships.

DEI is a learning and self-awareness program based on the work in The Language of Emotions and The Art of Empathy, and it’s also a licensing program for people who want to share this work with others. (Read more…)

The Myth of Positive Emotions

December 27, 2015

The Myth of Positive Emotions is of course related to The Myth of Negative Emotions

In my work with emotions, I don’t treat any emotion as better or worse than any other. Instead, I focus on why each emotion arises, what job it does, and how you can work with each and every emotion you have.

Cover of The Language of Emotions book and audio learning programWhen you can see your emotions as important parts of your intelligence and your social skills, you can learn to treat each emotion as a specific and necessary helper. This is so much healthier than treating some emotions as magical rewards, and other emotions as major problems.

Every emotion has a purpose, and every emotion is important. You can’t leave any emotions out if you want your life to work.

But sadly, leaving some emotions out and focusing too much attention on others is what most of us are taught to do. We’re taught to suppress or run from the so-called negative emotions, and to overdo or chase after the so-called positive ones.

This one mistake is a doozy, because it teaches us to be comfortable with just a tiny percentage of our emotions, and to react to the rest of them as if they are unwanted things instead of really important parts of our lives.

When we think of emotions as positive or negative, we can’t work with them properly.

When we think of emotions as positive, we tend to like them and value them. We want to feel them regularly, and we want to learn more about them.

But when we think of emotions as negative, we tend to dislike and devalue them. We don’t want to feel them, we tend to feel ashamed about them, and we try to ignore them as much as we possibly can.

When we think of emotions in these positive and negative ways, we tend to feel comfortable only when positive emotions arise.

This is a big part of why we’re so uncomfortable around most emotions; we’ve been taught to treat most of them as problems instead of as necessary and valuable parts of our lives. Another problem: There are a lot more of the so-called negative emotions than there are of the so-called positive ones, which means that most of us feel comfortable with only a very small percentage of our emotions.

I organize the so-called positive emotions into three main categories: Happiness, Contentment, and Joy. It’s amazing to realize that, of the seventeen emotions that help us think, learn, communicate, and live our lives, only three of them are usually considered positive.

Three out of seventeen emotions is just 17.6 percent. We’re taught to feel comfortable with less than a fifth of our emotions!

It’s no wonder, then, that most of us struggle to work with and understand our emotions.

The downsides of the so-called positive emotions

This positive/negative problem also makes us less intelligent about the three so-called positive emotions, because each of them has a downside. When you can remove the positive and negative ideas and simply look at emotions as information, then you won’t be surprised that each emotion has a downside.

Let’s look at the negative things that can happen when happiness, contentment, and joy are overused and overemphasized. (Read more…)

Bioneers: The Art of Empathy

October 17, 2015

Hello Bioneers!

Thank you for your enthusiastic response to my Art of Empathy workshop. For those of you who didn’t receive the handout (we ran out!), it’s here as a PDF.

The Art of Empathy: Honoring Your Emotional Ecosystem

Photo of a small waterfall and greeneryIf you need more information about the Six Essential Aspects of Empathy, any of the emotions, or Einfühlung, this Featured Topics page will help you find what you’re looking for.

These posts might also be useful for you:

Quiz: Are You an Empath?

The Difference between Empathy and Enmeshment

The Difference between Healthy Empathy and Martyrdom

The Difference between Deep Empathy and Niceness

Thank you for bringing your unique empathic artistry to a waiting world!

~Karla McLaren

The Myth of Negative Emotions

August 16, 2015

The Myth of Negative Emotions is of course related to The Myth of Positive Emotions

Cover of The Language of Emotions book and audio learning programIn my work with emotions, I focus on the intelligence, gifts, and skills that every emotion brings to you. I don’t leave any emotions out, and I don’t treat any emotion as better or worse than any other. This unified and ecological approach to emotions treats all emotions as vital, irreplaceable aspects of your neurology, your cognition, your social skills, and your awareness.

I’ve discovered over the last four decades of study, research, and practice that emotions are central to everything we do, everything we think, everything we learn, and everything we are.

Emotions evolved over millions of years to help us become socially successful primates, and every single one of them is vital to our functioning. We can’t leave any of them out if we want to live whole lives with all of our skills and all of our intelligence intact.

But sadly, leaving some emotions out and focusing too much attention on others is the essence of the emotional education most of us receive. Instead of learning how to work with the genius inside all of our emotions, we’re taught to suppress or run from the allegedly negative ones, and to overemphasize or attempt to imprison the allegedly positive ones.

A new book about suppressing emotions

Many people have been sending me information about psychiatrist Peter Breggin’s new book Guilt, Shame, and Anxiety, which purports to teach people how to silence what he calls the “negative legacy emotions” of guilt, shame, and anxiety.

Emotions evolved over millions of years to help us become socially successful primates, and every single one of them is vital to our functioning. We can’t leave any of them out if we want to live whole lives with all of our skills and all of our intelligence intact.

I think that people are contacting me because they want me to rise up and challenge him (I see guilt, shame, and anxiety as vital and irreplaceable emotions), but let’s look at how he arrived at his conclusions: Breggin sees these emotions as uniquely negative, so of course he’s going to want to eradicate them. He’s not the first person to try to get rid of allegedly negative emotions, and he won’t be the last.

It’s also important to note that from his position as a psychiatrist, Breggin sees people in truly endangering situations with these emotions, so of course he’s going to want to get rid of them. It’s a humanitarian gesture, really.

However, treating emotions as negative or positive always leads to what my computer programmer friends call the GIGO problem (Garbage In, Garbage Out). If you input an incorrect string of code into your program, your program either won’t work, or it will do something very screwy. Garbage in, garbage out.

When I teach about emotions, I focus on four GIGO ideas that will pretty much guarantee emotional confusion and emotional incompetence. The first and most wildly mistaken idea is that there are positive and negative emotions. (Read more…)

Focusing on autism-positive approaches (to stave off despair)

August 6, 2015

Your approach affects your data — strongly

In my research for my master’s thesis (I received my M.Ed. in December), I did two things:

  1. I created the first-ever survey study that asked for autistic people’s responses to education that had been developed for them, and;
  2. I looked for autism-positive research that focused on autistic ways of learning.

I did very well with my first project, and my thesis is now available online:

Interrogating Normal: Autism Social Skills Training at the Margins of a Social Fiction

But I didn’t do as well with my second project, because nearly all autism research is decidedly autism-negative and based on what are called deficit narratives and the pathology paradigm.

In the pathology-and-deficit approach to autism, autistic-typical behaviors are described as problems in and of themselves — such that the point is not to understand autistic people; rather, it is to change them.

This deficit-and-pathology approach is responsible for the surprising fact that my study was the first wide-ranging study ever to ask autistic people for their opinions about the services and education they receive.  The autism treatment industry is a multi-billion dollar business worldwide, and you’d think that someone — anyone — would have asked the people who are being treated about what they want and need. But no.

Not when a deficit narrative is at work, no. (Read more…)

Why love is not an emotion — revisited

June 3, 2015

Every emotion has a unique purpose

Emotions are extremely important aspects of your cognition, your conscious awareness, your social skills, and your ability to communicate — and each one has a unique reason for arising.

Cover of The Language of EmotionsEvery emotion has a specific function, a specific purpose, and a specific action for you to complete so that it can move on and make room for your next emotion, your next thought, and your next idea. I explore emotions empathically as unique and separate entities that require unique responses, and if you’d like to develop your own empathic sense for emotions, you can start by observing something that isn’t an emotion: Love.

When an emotion is healthy, it arises only when it’s needed, it shifts and changes in response to its environment, and it recedes willingly once it has addressed an issue. When love is healthy, it does none of these things.

If emotions repeat themselves endlessly, or appear with the same exact intensity over and over again, then something’s wrong. Yet real love is a steadfast promise that repeats itself endlessly through life and beyond death. Love does not increase or decrease in response to its environment, and it does not change with the changing winds. Love is not an emotion; it doesn’t behave the way emotions do. Real love is in a category of its own.

(Read more…)

For Mother’s Day

May 10, 2015

Photo of a pond with pink water lilies on the surface

How do we celebrate our mothers —
The ones who are here and the ones who aren’t
The ones who gave their lives for us and the ones who walked away
The ones who lovingly directed our lives as if we were art projects
And the ones who never knew how to welcome us into the world

How do we celebrate our mothers —
The ones who were ready for anything we could bring
And the ones whose childhoods impeded their capacity for love
The ones who held themselves liable for every possible outcome
And the ones who threw us into the deep end of the pool
The ones who chose our fathers wisely, carefully
And the ones who were children themselves, desperate for love, or unable to choose anything at all

How do we celebrate our mothers —
Do we live out their dreams for them and for us?
Or do we fight against their hopes and fears and become the opposite child?
Do we follow their paths and parent in their way, in our way, or not at all?
Do we care for our mothers as they age, and mother them as they die?
Or do we lose them before we can care for them, or before we know who they really are?

How do we celebrate our mothers?
The complex ones and the simple ones
The peaceful ones and the raging ones
The ones who created stability
And the ones who shook the ground under our feet

How do we celebrate our mothers?

~Karla McLaren

Hazy photo of colored circles of light

Announcing Dynamic Emotional Integration!

March 21, 2015

A new education, self-awareness, and licensing program!

Logo for Dynamic Emotional IntegrationPeople have been asking for years about a deepening and licensing program in my work, and surprise! The Dynamic Emotional Integration™ education and licensing program commenced in April of 2015.

Dynamic Emotional Integration™ is a nonclinical approach to emotional health and empathic awareness; it’s a learning and self-awareness process based on the work in the books The Language of Emotions and The Art of Empathy. It’s also a licensing program for people who want to work with others.

Dynamic Emotional Integration™ licensing program is an 8-course, year-long program that’s taught primarily online. However, it’s a fully responsive and empathic program focused on interaction and extensive community engagement among students.

For people who want to study for their own health and well-being, and not necessarily go forward into a licensing track, we have a 5-month Self-Care and Awareness track (see below).

There are two in-person retreats (in Marin/Sonoma County, California), and for people who cannot travel, online retreats are an option.

You can take the first 4 courses for your own health and well-being, and if you want to become licensed, the entire learning program will take one year.

The Dynamic Emotional Integration™ process

Self-Care and Awareness Track: You can take the first 4 courses for your own emotional health and well-being without needing to go onward into a licensing track. The Self-Care track is a 5-month program.

Licensing Track: After course 4, you have the option to go forward into the full year program in one of these 2 DEI licensing tracks:

  • Consultant is for people who will utilize the DEI principles and practices in non-clinical consultations.
  • Trainer is for people who will offer individually developed group trainings on emotions and empathy using specific DEI manuals and materials.

What each course entails: Each online course includes regular live weekly webinar group sessions (of one hour per course week) with Karla McLaren, curriculum design associate, Amanda Ball, and co-instructor Tino Plank (schedule permitting), who has developed this work alongside Karla for over 20 years. Amanda, Tino, and Karla also engage with students in extensive forum interactions, Q&As, and opportunities for deeper learning. This is a live, responsive program focused on your well-being and your empathic awareness and skill.

Time requirements: Each DEI course involves 10 hours (per course week) of study, assignments, and exercises that you can complete on your own schedule. You’ll also be able to interact in the forum whenever you have questions. The 10 hours include one (1) required 60 minute live weekly webinar (per course week) that will be offered at 2 or 3 different times and days so that people with heavy work schedules or people in different time zones can easily attend.

Prerequisites: Students need to have read The Language of Emotions or listened to the audio learning program before the first course (LOE1) begins. This is not a read-along course; it is a deepening and interactive inquiry into Karla McLaren’s “grand unified theory of emotions” model and the Empathic Mindfulness practices she has developed over the past four decades.

To learn more

For DEI course schedule and pricing information, please see the Course Schedule page at Empathy Academy.

To apply for the second cohort, beginning in April 2016: Please see the About page at Empathy Academy for more information on how to apply.

Thank you for bringing more emotional awareness and more empathy to our waiting world!

Karla, Amanda, and Tino

 

Emotion work revisited!

February 21, 2015

Emotional Dynamics at Work with RI’ve had the opportunity to bring my work into the corporate world recently, and I’m having such a wonderful time! In Emotional Dynamics at Work®, we’re working on emotions, empathy, and the crucial concept of emotion work, and I want to share it with you.

Understanding emotion work

In her groundbreaking book, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, sociologist Arlie Hochschild (pronounced hoke-shilled) described what she termed emotional labor, or the way that our emotions and emotional states are a part of what we offer (and what is expected from us) in the workplace.

In her book, Hochschild gives examples of flight attendants, who must not only understand the intricacies of their physical work on airplanes, but must also display an open and welcoming demeanor to passengers. Even when passengers are bad-tempered or overly needy, part of the work of a flight attendant is to continually offer a calm, helpful, and accepting face to the public. This is a flight attendant’s emotional labor, or emotion work.

As we’ve all witnessed, flight attendants are expected to continually offer an accommodating and empathic demeanor to passengers, no matter what perils or discomforts occur. These demeanor rules are not often written down explicitly in job descriptions, yet they’re an intrinsic part of what we’ve all come to expect (and even demand) from flight attendants.

The concept of emotion work helps us look at the often unwritten emotional and empathic behaviors that are expected in the workplace – and at how workers must manage their own emotions and the emotions of others in order to get their jobs done. (Read more…)

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