Category Archives: Emotional Intelligence

Involving our capacity to perceive, understand, express, and manage our own and others’ emotions in an appropriate, professional, and effective manner, being smart about our feelings and the feelings of others – being able to distinguish between thinking and feeling.

Mastering the Internal Critic – Our Gremlin

The voice of the internal critic lives inside our very own head. There are many names for this ancient, invisible, and enormously influential wee beastie – the voice-over, the narrator, the internal critic, the gremlin, your conscience, your trip advisor, the mind, the ego, and so on. For the sake of brevity and convenience lets just call it a gremlin.

A gremlin’s job is to maintain the status quo. It’s always the voice of limitation. What it wants is to keep you safe, to keep you in a box, to never take a risk, never be exposed or vulnerable, to never get hurt. Nearly all our gremlins are created sometime in childhood as a survival response when a perceived threat to survival happened. When we were kids someone said something negative and hurtful, and they said it often enough over time that as a matter of self-defense we internalized their voice and started saying it to ourselves. We do this simply because it hurts less if we say it to ourselves than it does if someone else says it to us. Eventually we forget that commentary came from someone else, and we just believe that this noise, this internalized voice is telling the truth about who, what or how we are.

The problem is that human beings like and need to be fulfilled, or else life is not much fun. In order to be fulfilled we need to take risks, change behavior, grow and learn, try new things, explore new territory, stretch and develop new masteries, and etc. When we try to do all those new things, that’s when the gremlin shows up.

The gremlin says:

You can’t do that! You’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, strong enough, pretty enough, young enough, sexy enough, thin enough, rich enough, healthy enough – whatever. You’re too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, too stupid, too smart, too white, too black, too sexy, not sexy enough, too male, too female – whatever the pairs of opposites are that come quickly to mind – you’re just not good enough, you are not worthy of it, you don’t deserve it, you better not even try.

The thing is that your gremlin is really not your enemy and you’ll never get rid of it. It is actually your friend because its entire interest is pegged to your survival. For example, if you are going to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, you better listen to that voice when it says, “No, don’t do that, you’ll die!” So there are indeed times when you do want to listen to your gremlin.

The trouble is it’s really out of control. It generalizes over everything and it’s often confused about what actually concerns your survival and what does not. It’s highly sensitive and not very smart. Wait. Let me say that again:

A gremlin is highly sensitive and not very smart. (This is an amygdala function – always alert – very poor distinctions.)

Part of the challenge is also that it was created in childhood, so while its interest was our survival, it was usually focused on our emotional survival, not our actual physical survival. We had an experience where we felt we would die of embarrassment or shame, so the gremlin kicked in and now it rallies just as strongly about talking in front of people as it would have if we got chased by a bear. It cares about you not ever being embarrassed as much as it cares about you not ever stepping in front of a bus.

We want to take our power back, and specifically we want to reclaim our power to choose freely yes or no in all the places where we have the power of choice. The trick is for us to become in charge of our gremlin, so we can make our own choices about whether or not something is a real or perceived threat to our survival, instead of letting our gremlin choose for us. We want to use the gremlin as an advisor, but one we can override and say no to when appropriate.

What happens to most people is that they think they are the gremlin. We make no distinction between the human being, who we really are, and the survival voice of the gremlin going off inside our head. As a result, we buy into everything it says, because we think it’s us.

The way we work on this, and it’s very powerful work, is to learn to distinguish yourself from the gremlin. We have to see the difference between the gremlin and who we really are as a being. That is when we get our power back, the power to choose freely, right now in the present moment. What gives a gremlin power is its ability to hide, to remain invisible. So when we shine a spotlight on it, we take back our power to choose what we want for ourselves.

Once we see it, once we really know the gremlin is not who we are, then it’s just a matter of listening to the gremlin, evaluating what it says, and then choosing freely yes or no. Then the gremlin becomes an assistant, an advisor, or perhaps on occasion even a co-pilot.”Yes yes, you’re probably right. If I jump off this cliff I’ll just go splat and die, so I won’t do it. Instead I’ll go out for pizza with my friends, figure out how to open up emotionally a little more, and maybe they can help me understand what’s not working. Thank you for sharing.”


“You know, I probably won’t die if I go talk in front of all these people and it’s something I really need to do to grow my business, so thank you for sharing but I’m busy now. Please go sit on the bench until I’m done.”

There are three steps to handling a gremlin:

1) First step is to hear that inner voice, that commentary, and acknowledge that it’s not you – that it’s a gremlin. The criteria for recognizing whether or not something is a gremlin is to ask one question, “Is that voice speaking to my greatness or to my possibilities? Or is it speaking to my belief in my limitations?” (Notice how hard it is to imagine and admit that we might have possibility or some greatness stashed away here…)

All this requires is a process of inquiry and the honesty to tell yourself the truth. Just look and see. That insight and recognition has to come from inside you – nobody else can do this for you – just look inside and see what’s true.

2) Second step is for you to shine the spotlight on it. Ask yourself what exactly does the gremlin say? Many of my clients actually write down everything their gremlin says, word for word. Sometimes it’s one sentence, sometimes three pages, but externalizing the gremlin’s narrative will help you see the difference between who you really are and what the gremlin is telling you about yourself and the world around you.

Also if appropriate, give the gremlin a name, describe what it looks like, etc. I’ve had clients who have drawn, painted and/or created a sculpture of their gremlin out of play dough. When I was doing this work on myself I got one of those rubbery finger puppet monsters and named him Fred. One day I realized there was also a female version of that voice, so I got another finger puppet monster and named her Jane. (no offense intended to anyone named Fred or Jane.) Lemme tell ya – we have had some very enlightening conversations over the years…

3) Third step in how to handle the gremlin – in that moment when it starts yackin at you, the criticisms, the warnings, the admonitions – what can you say to it that gets it on the sidelines, puts it aside, moves it out of your way so you can move forward and accomplish the goal or objective, whatever it is you intend or want to achieve?

The point is that your gremlin is not actually your enemy. There is no need to kill it off completely and it’s not possible to do that anyway. That’s just resistance, and resistance inevitably creates persistence. Learn to work with the gremlin, but remember and realize that you actually have the power to choose.

The gremlin is not you, and in and of itself it has no power beyond what we surrender to it. Remember – it’s highly sensitive and not very smart. The gremlin cannot recognize the difference between a real threat versus a perceived threat – between a 3 year old in a tantrum, a pissed-off spouse, or a hungry bear. To the gremlin, anything that looks like trouble of any kind is going to be translated into a 3 alarm fire. It holds no distinctions – we do.

Stop – Listen – Distinguish – Reclaim Your Power – Choose – Act.

I hope you find this useful. If gremlin work is of interest to you, give me a shout.

Warm Regards,

© 2018
Carmine Leo

Who Are You?

Yes. I mean that.


Who are you?

Most people have no idea what to say when asked that question. In fact, most people have no idea even of what to think when asked that question. It’s a show-stopper.

And Byron Katie ( ) adds an additional layer of confusion and exponentially-explosive possibility when she asks that question in a marvelously expanded way, “Who are you without your story?”

You want to cause trouble, ask THAT question. It’s a sure-fire way to stir things up. Works every time.

One of the deepest and most troubling curses of the modern age – and I suspect with a few rare exceptions this has been true of humans for millennia, at least since that moment when we left our lives as foragers and took up agriculture – is this mis-identification of self (identity) as form or content. In other words, we believe we are our story: our thoughts, our feelings, our roles, our beliefs, our doctrine and dogma, our jobs, our cars, our relationships, our wounds, our bodies, our history and so on.

We have come to believe we are the construct – that survival-driven, painfully and carefully-built assemblage of identification-with. We have lost touch with the magnificent experience of being (in the moment and in the felt-sense experience of our bodies) and have come to believe we are the story about the doing and having of our day-to-day lives. The relentless machinery of our survival mind now identifies content as self and self as content, and our survival is dependent upon the persistence of our point of view. We are completely convinced that this is THE WAY IT IS! And sadly, that conviction leaves us utterly powerless.

Additionally, the machine mind (ego) believes that its content – our story – all those thoughts, interpretations, assumptions, beliefs, identities, and perspectives – are true and real, and that we MUST act on whatever feelings come up connected to those thoughts. Because the survival mind machinery cannot differentiate between our thoughts and feelings in the story – between what is real and what is in our heads – that toxic confusion of thoughts and feelings becomes hypnotic and compelling drivers of words and actions based in fear, disconnection and otherness. And all that is amplified because our limbic system cannot differentiate between a real threat and a perceived threat. Our biology cannot distinguish between a co-worker throwing a tantrum and a hungry bear.

This is a problem.

Every example of what we consider to be real evil in the human world (other than the presence and behavior of true psychopaths, malignant narcissists, and others with Cluster-B disorders and their related identity disturbances ) is a result of this confusion of identity (self as content) and the resulting disconnection from being and presence (authentic self). As a result of the imprinting, constraints and distractions of the overculture, the machine mind, its thoughts, perceptions, assumptions, interpretations and conclusions are profoundly disordered. We have no access to the present moment, and the felt-sense of the feeling body is numbed. We are disconnected from the real world as it is and dwell almost entirely in the fictional world in our heads – our story.

This state of spiritual unconsciousness has truly disastrous consequences for all of planet earth, every being and every species, globally. As a species we humans are the planetary apex predator. We consume everything and we really need to own that about ourselves. We must either grow through this numb unconsciousness and disconnection from our being in the natural world or we will die off, taking nearly all of the planetary biome with us.

Well, all of that still leaves us with the primary question – who are you? Perhaps we now have a bit more clarity about what we are not, but how do we answer the question of who we are?

This reminds me of the zen lesson embodied inside one of the most famous koans of all time:

The zen master sat in stillness with the student for the entire morning. Then, without preamble he said, “The two hands, when brought together quickly will produce the sound of two hands clapping.” and he demonstrated this by clapping his two hands together loudly. Then he held out only one hand and posed the question, “What is the sound of the one hand clapping?”

Now, this is where it gets really tricky, because you see – there is only one true, correct answer to that zen riddle and it’s not possible to figure it out. You can’t think your way to it. You can’t use logic, reason, science, math, art, music, past experience or serendipity – nothing in our culture prepares us for that question. It is intended to actively confound the mind. You can only get there through genuine insight. The masters know this, and every time you respond with an answer from the mind, they know it. They can tell exactly where you are in your mind by hearing what you have to say in response to any of those hundreds of koans. It’s like the punchline of a great joke told by a cosmic comedian. Understanding is not the same as getting it. You know you got it when you are sitting there trying not to wet yourself because you are laughing so hard. When you get it, you get it and you know you got it. The direct experience of being is the same way. Understanding may come later and actually isn’t all that useful, but the moment of awakening is unique to itself. You just can’t fake authenticity.

The sound of the one hand is like that. So is the answer to the question, “Who are you?”

Now, I can tell you who I am, and while this comes directly from my experience, my telling you isn’t going to do you any good unless you can be in the direct experience of being for yourself – without the filters of the mind. Part of the challenge in this is that my speaking of being reduces into language something that words cannot contain. As Mikhail Naimy so famously said in “The Book of Mirdad” – “Words are, at best, honest lies.” Or spoken another way, “The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.” The most I can hope for in my coaching work with clients is to point at the moon. The rest is up to the client. We get out what we put in.

So – things that make you go hmmm – here’s one:

Who I am is the witness – an aware, compassionate, presence of attention – an empty space in which experience occurs.

The trouble is, that’s just bullshit. Self is an illusion. If I can say it, that’s not it. Who I am is not any thing. As someone famous may have said – not this, not that. To be more precise, who I am is no thing. Nothing.

See? I just delivered my punchline and it’s useless to you. And I warned you it wouldn’t do you any good. All you have is a bunch of words describing something that happened to someone else. Perhaps if you are lucky, it’s a finger pointing at the moon. But that’s my experience and you’ve gotta get yours for yourself. Figuring it out and understanding it will not work here.

It’s kinda funny though. Hysterical in fact. That’s exactly the point. There’s nowhere to go, nothing to to do, and nothing to get.

You got it.

And as they say, when you really get it, the truth will set you free. It will also royally piss you off. And then you’ll giggle like a five-year-old who just heard the preacher fart.

Go ahead. Wet yourself laughing. It’ll be awesome.

© 2016
Carmine Leo

What’s Up With Boundaries?


If we grew up in a family or a society (such as this current overculture – industrial civilization and most of its ancestors) that does not have and/or does not accept, acknowledge and respect healthy boundaries then we have no models for what they are, how they work, or how we manage boundaries for ourselves or with others. Although we can feel the consequences, typically boundaries are invisible to us and those around us. As a side note, if we grew up in an abusive family then we are certain to have all kinds of trouble with boundaries. It can take years of inner work to repair that childhood damage.

This issue – boundary failure – is the dividing line between taker-societies driven by domination and power-over versus giver-societies living from consent and respect. First thing to know: if we have trouble with boundaries it’s not our fault. AND: as adults we are responsible for figuring out what boundaries are, how they work and what we need to do to function well. No one else can do this work for us.

Healthy boundaries work in several directions: First, they keep you from taking onto yourself that which does not belong to you – other people’s crap, their judgments and criticisms, their values and beliefs, their agenda for you, the troubles and problems that are rightfully theirs and so on.

Second, healthy boundaries keep you from surrendering to others that which does rightfully belong to you – your power, your autonomy, your own choices, your agenda for yourself, your integrity, your ability to walk your own path and learn your own lessons and etc.

There is a third piece around boundaries – and that is that healthy boundaries allow IN those things others wish to give us that we DO deserve – love, affection, the gifts of generosity and kindness and etc. Healthy boundaries support and encourage these kinds of reciprocal bonding exchanges that allow us to receive and accept what others want to give to us because they love us and wish us well.

Remember also that anger has a significant evolutionary role that has contributed to our survival as individuals and as a species. Anger lets us know when our boundaries are being violated in some way and it helps to keep us safe. There absolutely are times when the full expression of anger really is totally necessary, appropriate and effective. The trick is knowing which is which and then coming from choice and intention in expressing the right emotion to the right person to the right degree at the right time. Women especially get disconnected from their rightful and righteous appropriate anger by the varied oppressions of the overculture.

These emotional intelligence skills are deeply rooted in our biology, as we only have ancestors who could quickly read motive and intention and differentiate between friend and enemy. Those who could not do this well simply did not survive.

There is another source of anger that can be quite difficult, and that is managing our expectations of how we think our life should be turning out. When we believe that someone or something is in the way of what we need or what we want we then argue with reality – we say, “It shouldn’t be like this!” or the reverse, “It should be different!” In either case, I am reminded of the old saying, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” And of course as the brilliant Byron Katie says, “When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time.” We only suffer when we believe our thoughts and argue with what is.

If we have not fully integrated our anger then it manifests as aggression. Once we do that inner work on emotional integration, then the emotional energy of anger becomes assertion, and assertion one of the primary gateways through which we create, have and hold healthy boundaries.

Usually, people who have not done that inner work themselves cannot distinguish between assertion and aggression in others, so they tend to see what they themselves hold. So if you are being assertive, they can misinterpret your strength as aggression and will often try to gaslight you into doubting yourself, either your perceptions or your actions.

Boundaries can be very difficult until our emotional body awakens and our attention and consciousness is fully present in the now. Only then do we begin to see the connections – the inner links between cause and effect – and our behavior, our choices, our decision-making and problem-solving become both accurate and wise.

© 2016
Carmine Leo