The Trauma-Informed Lawyer

Emotional Intelligence & the Art of Living: a Conversation with Dr. Amar Dhall

Episode Summary

Dr. Amar Dhall shares his wisdom, insights and data on emotional intelligence and the art of living.

Episode Notes

Dr. Amar Dhall shares his wisdom, insights and data on emotional intelligence and the art of living. The conversation is critical for those in occupations which value IQ over EQ. 

Episode Transcription

Emotional Intelligence & the Art of Living: a Conversation with Dr. Amar Dhall

Welcome Dr. Amar Dhall to an episode of the Trauma-Informed Lawyer Podcast. I mean, I'm so happy to have you here. Welcome, welcome.

Dr. Amar Dhall (00:16):

Thank you very much for having me. It's lovely to meet you finally. It's been a long time coming.

Myrna McCallum (00:23):

Well, thank you. It's lovely to meet you too. I've heard so many good things about you from Kim Wright. And I think I was introduced to you indirectly in some presentation you and Kim were doing some time way back. And folks who are listening to us right now, they'll be familiar with Kim because she's been on the podcast. And so it's really nice to finally have this conversation. I've been wanting to have a conversation like the one we're about to have for some time now. So thank you for making time for this.

Dr. Amar Dhall (00:59):

Thank you very much. I've been a fan of your work for a while, watched from afar and really appreciate the necessity of what you're doing. But I'm sure we'll unfold more of that as we get into this.

Myrna McCallum (01:12):

And no kidding, from afar. You're zooming in to this conversation from Australia. Tell us where in Australia are you located?

Dr. Amar Dhall (01:24):

I can't remember. Could you remember the name of the city because we were talking about it before and I really want to hear how's it going to come out now.

Myrna McCallum (01:30):

Something like can of bears or something. Not a can of bears.

Dr. Amar Dhall (01:38):

That's not bad. Yeah, a can of bears. I'm in Canberra, which is the capital of Australia, about three hours from Sydney. And the word translates to mean meeting place.

Myrna McCallum (01:48):

Meeting place. Well, that's a good one. Although I also like my interpretation. I think a lot of indigenous people here in Canada would be like, "Yeah, a can of bears. That sounds pretty good too."

Dr. Amar Dhall (02:02):

It does. A can of koala bears would be pretty cute.

Myrna McCallum (02:06):

Totally. Well, I want to introduce you a little bit. I'm pulling some stuff from your bio. But I want people to know that you're just an extraordinary human being. You are an author, a facilitator, a coach. You work with all kinds of folks in all kinds of ways. You do work around emotional intelligence. You help people build themselves up, really explore some of whatever's going on for them. You do all kinds of things. I understand you're an award winning adult educator, a clinical psychotherapist, and of course an internationally certified coach, which is pretty amazing. And you are going to be speaking at my trauma-informed justice course, which is coming in July.

Dr. Amar Dhall (03:02):

Well, I'm really excited to work out what it is that we're going to share there around emotional intelligence. I think bringing emotional intelligence to the law is a really exciting prospect. And it's really interesting to think of all these high achievers for whom emotional intelligence isn't necessarily understood. And I just want to circle back a little. Thank you for that lovely introduction, by the way. It was very sweet.

Myrna McCallum (03:29):

Well, you're an extraordinary human being, so let's just establish that. And honestly, you and I talked recently in preparation for this conversation. And I was like, "Man, Amar has a way of speaking that's not just so compelling, but your intellect is just constantly on point." So I'm really excited about the conversation that we're going to have about emotional intelligence and so many other things.


But can we begin with maybe talking a little bit about the work that you're doing, or the work that you have been doing with all kinds of people, either directly related to law and justice or just law and justice adjacent, whether you're seeing any sorts of trends and themes that are emerging in those people usually. Well, maybe because of consequence or side effect of occupational challenges or stresses or whatever it might be.

Dr. Amar Dhall (04:42):

I think that's a really poignant question. First off, I would say that the work that I see, or in the work that I do with people in the justice sector, whether they're lawyers or law enforcement, or somewhere on that spectrum, firstly I would say that the job doesn't necessarily create the stressors, or they put in stressors to someone who was already carrying something when they came in.


So I guess what I'm saying is we can't really separate the human from the role. We can talk about ourselves as a group of lawyers or whatever profession, teachers. But actually underneath, we're all people. Certain people, certain personality types gravitate towards certain pathways. And if we were going to then really hone in on law and look at some of the data there, we would see that intellectually high performing, so above average IQ, but below average EQ. So their emotional intelligence is lower.


And I think part of that is related to what is it that drives people to be high performers. So to unpack that a little, generally back when I was teaching law at university, I found with first years, for example, if we're going to talk about that group first, because that's perhaps one of the first gateways into the profession, people who came to law school grew up pretty much at the top of their school, class, cohort group. They were the smart ones. Then they go to this environment where suddenly their average. And that in itself is a type of pressure cooker because everyone in law school is smart.


And then as they go through their journey, those that kind of rise to the top of the pile, it requires natural aptitude, it requires hard work. What each individual has to sacrifice to cultivate their potential is another thing that needs to be looked at. Some people kind of skew balance and pursue brilliance to the expense of all else.


Then a tertiary factor there is one of the first things that students are taught in law one is emotion is the death of reason, and what's necessarily moral isn't necessarily just. And so there's this entrenched, encultured severing of emotion as though it's seen as it's going to weaken reasonable outcomes.


And so I think that those are just three gateways that are there. But from there, then the actual fact that lawyers deal with people going through some of the worst experiences of their life, and do it day after day, compounds the stress, which then leads to some of the challenges or the accumulation of stressors that then lead people to either leave the profession burnt out, or seek help, or cross my path, however they do.

Myrna McCallum (07:40):

Oh my gosh! That's really interesting. That's an interesting take. And from my own experience, absolutely 100% I came into law. I specifically chose law because I was extremely traumatized as a kid. I grew up in violence, and I had all kinds of stuff happen. Some people have heard this story. And when I looked around for the most dehumanizing, non-emotional career, it was law that kept coming up, coming up. And I was like, "Okay. I think those are my people and that's the path I need to take."


And you're right, throughout my entire time in law school, emotion was never factored in. Vulnerability was never a word that I heard, or empathy, or compassion. Everything that we learned really just taught us to zone in on legal issues, but never actually see the human being with the legal issue.


Then when I get into the practice of law, all I can see more so than the legal issue is the human being. And I went into criminal law. And that wasn't by design. That was just like I fell into that. But when I got there, there was just so much pain and suffering and bruises and wounds that I couldn't look away from. So I couldn't help but actually see the human being before I saw the legal issue.


And I have to say I was not prepared to even ... I didn't know what to do with that. And I think a lot of lawyers have been in the same place because law school didn't say, "Oh! By the way, when you start working with people, here's the stuff that they're going to bring to your door."

Dr. Amar Dhall (09:34):

Well, I think it goes almost proactively at the other way, which is to say learn to focus on what's legally material and push everything else aside. And I think even the nature by which law is taught is to get those students to be able to push that aside, to ask the questions to give them. And I guess if I was going to ... I just want to take a step back.


I guess in law school people or students are taught to already frame as quickly as possible what they're angling for, what information do they need from someone. And once that paradigm or that lens is engaged, then I'm sort of breaking canty and ethics and treating someone as an end in themselves, which is I need this particular set of information.


And even if I'm noble inspired to provide the best service that I can to someone, the point is, in that moment, I'm not actually present to that person. I'm kind of living in the future or living in a world of abstraction, as you said, as opposed to once I come into this area of work then oh my goodness, I'm dealing with people in all kinds of states and need to find a way to actually survive in that environment.

Myrna McCallum (10:55):

Well, survive in that environment, yes. And also I've come to understand that I think the other objective or imperative is avoid doing further harm to these people who bring so much wounds with their legal issues. And so I see so many lawyers and police officers and judges sort of stumble over themselves because there's so much we don't know because trauma wasn't part of our curriculum or trauma-informed practice or emotional intelligence.


And what do you think of what you said earlier, which I can't really get out of my head, which is I think you said something like emotion as the death of reason. If you buy that, if you believe in that, if you live by that, what might the consequence be for you who is a lawyer, or a judge, or a police officer working with a lot of vulnerable, traumatized human beings?

Dr. Amar Dhall (11:58):

Well, I think there's a number of consequences. I mean firstly, it doesn't really, or that sort of axiom doesn't really withstand scrutiny or deep consideration because our emotional experience is profoundly integrated into the way that we experience life. So for someone to think, to me it would be hubris firstly to think that we could even separate the two into this sort of false dichotomy.


Secondly, I think then what will happen is people will then be steered by their emotion without being aware of it. And I think to see this actually played out quite elegantly, this is kind of the mythology or the mythic quality of Star Trek and the Vulcans who are supposedly emotionless. But anyone who's a Trekkie will know they're actually a very, very emotional species that kind of suppress it, and then try and express their relationship to life through logic. So I think in fictional culture there's an awareness that this is not really possible to do, or in mythic culture there's stories that unpack how losery that is.


Taking a completely different tack, compassion is one of the greatest human virtues. And so being able to actually empathetically connect with another human being doesn't really cost me anything if I do it from a place of good boundary. And can I unpack what that means later if you'd like. But that in itself, just having that human moment with a service provider who actually gives someone an authentic moment of human connection is actually going to produce a better outcome than simply treating them, as I said, like a thing or an end in themselves.


So if I was just going to bring it to a point, I think it's impossible to separate them, firstly. The image of blindfolded lady justice, I think the idea that if you just take a look at that a little objectively and go, "Well, how is it that taking away a key sense is going to produce a better outcome?" And the idea of wearing a blindfold. And I know what it's trying to express. But underneath it is severing ourselves from our humanity in a way that doesn't really make sense from the perspective of it takes all of me to solve complex problems as well as I can, and it takes all of us to solve those problems collectively.

Myrna McCallum (14:38):

Definitely. Boy, I have some thoughts about lady justice and the whole blindfold, but we won't get into that now. Boundaries, you mentioned boundaries. Let's talk about that because I keep hearing folks say, "Oh, boundaries are so hard. They're so hard. I don't know how to put them in place."


And also in this profession, I think not only were we not taught boundaries, but I think that any expression of a boundary was just invalidated, dismissed, disregarded, because we're talking about a profession where you're expected to give your all, never stop. If you've got to work around the clock and not go home, then that's what you got to do. That kind of mentality. So boundaries, let's talk about what they are and why we might want to really think about whether we have any.

Dr. Amar Dhall (15:43):

Well again, it's a lot in what you've said. I guess a little piece, because we're also talking about emotional intelligence. So let's really nest the conversation about boundaries in emotional intelligence, firstly. And the reason why I would say we do that is a meta point is you spoke about a style of work that's referred to as pace setting, which is there is an expectation of long hours.


Now from the paradigm of emotionally intelligent leadership, and this is the research of Daniel Goldman who popularized the phrase, although it was him and a number of people who really coined it and did the work, that the leadership paradigm of pace setting is dissonant rather than resonant with people. It leads to burnout and actually will undermine longevity of the people and the teams where that leadership paradigm exists.


So what's really interesting is for a group of humans that would pride themselves on high performance, we're hobbling ourselves from the outset with the paradigm of work or the application to work. Now, I'm not going to take this exit because I'll circle back to boundaries. But for me this is an area that I really look at. You're talking about some of the things that I've learned working with people in justice.


A lot of lawyers have what I would call an achievement addiction. And they've had it for their whole lives, way back when. So there's endogenous opioids and dopamine that comes with a win or with success or with scoring well at high school, earning good money. All of these things give someone the feedback that they're doing the right thing, when actually there's this whole other human cost, which is where the boundaries piece comes into it.


Boundaries create freedom, which is a really bizarre concept for some people. What I mean by that is if I begin to make choices and say no in a way where I'm giving myself what I need, then I have more to give. As opposed to if my car, in Australia we use the word petrol, let's say, or diesel, if my fuel tank is always registering empty and I put in five bucks of fuel, that's kind of where I'm at. It's high stress, and I'm surfing that edge as opposed to maybe saying no. Stopping my journey and filling up, and then going forward and I'll be able to go a lot further, I'll be able to drive a lot further.


So I guess culturally, the work expectation is no boundaries or people are willing to cross their own boundaries with clients. What I was really referring to when I first mentioned boundaries is if I am connected to my compassion and I don't learn how to walk with empathy rather than sympathy, then I'm going to get compassion fatigue and burnout. So that's a secondary effect that kind of happens with loose boundaries. But that isn't necessarily saying no to anyone. That's actually about how I relate with myself, and actually setting that internal schema up.

Myrna McCallum (19:06):

I think that's true. I mean I'm no therapist, I'm no counselor, I'm only a lawyer. And somebody asked me the other day a question, and I think is better asked of a counselor, a therapist, which is she said, "I have such a hard time putting boundaries in place. I don't know how to do it. I mean, how come I can't feel the importance of that or what's disconnecting me?"


And I'm like, "I don't know. You need to go talk to someone who could help you with it. But what I can tell you is what I've come to learn for myself after making, having no boundaries for a long time is I will ask myself when somebody asks me to do something, I will ask if I say yes, is this a betrayal? Will I have to betray myself to say yes to this person? Meaning would I rather say no? Do I feel in my gut I shouldn't do it, but I'm going to go do it anyway? That's for me of how I know, my little indicator telling me."


And so I said, "Eventually after a time, after enough self betrayals, where do you think that leads? Breakdown, feeling worthless, full of resent, resentment and all of these. But it really just breaks you down as a human being." And that's what I was taking away from what you were saying.

Dr. Amar Dhall (20:45):

Yeah. And it would, again, be naive to think that I'm going to be able to quarantine that resentment to my professional life or internalize it. It's actually going to leak out and embitter my life really is what it comes down to until I collapse.


To circle back to what you're saying, I guess this is a dangerous idea that I don't really know how lands with lawyers because to me it's an honest truth that comes from someone who straddles the profession in the way that I do, which is if you look at ... We'll go with the data. Lawyers as a group are more intelligent intellectually. Now, if we're going to take that as a fact, and the data would support that, we then could go a step further and go, "Well what has driven that intelligence?" Okay, there's natural aptitude.


Now at a fairly young age, or actually before I even get to that, at a biological level, when we are stressed, the amount of energy in our bodies and nervous systems increases. One of the consequences of that, if you think what it's like when you're angry, to use a really stark example, thoughts come faster. There's more energy in the system.


So one of the ways that people use that is they begin to think more. They spend more time in their heads and become more comfortable there. And for a reasonable proportion of the population, they get comfortable in their heads, they think more. They then begin to actually turn a dysregulation of the body into an active mind. And that active mind begins then to reward them by working out good grades or by solving problems or they're going to get positive feedback loop. The result of that is, over a lifetime or over decades, I can become habituated to living with a greater sense of my life and awareness is in my cognitive life.


So to bring it back when you were saying this sense am I betraying myself? Why do I have ... What do I need? What do I want? A lot of really smart people have no idea what their needs are. And this would then statistically apply to lawyers. As a group, they're going to be less aware of their body.


Now the important distinction here, less aware of the body doesn't mean unfit or overweight. That's cardiovascular fitness. What I'm talking about is the eighth sensory systems of humans. If we think back the movie Sixth Sense back in the day, and that's how the sixth sense is, some supernatural knowing. That would come further down the road. We've got our five ordinary senses. Then we've got three hidden senses. Sense of balance, sense of body position, and then the eight sensory system is an inner sense of awareness, which is where the emotional life is lived.


Now that sense of introspection is where many intelligent people have a disconnect, and they move through. So to bring it back to what you were saying, the seeds for why someone could find themselves unaware of their needs, unable to do good boundaries, is often correlated, in my experience, with high intelligence. Lawyers as a group have high intelligence. So there's a whole area of self exploration that would really behoove lawyers to think or to explore. And when they do, they actually get smarter. But that's kind of down the road with emotional intelligence.

Myrna McCallum (24:40):

Oh my god! my mind is blown. I'm just little light bulbs everywhere because like holy shit, you are right. I mean of course, you're right. The piece about the inner introspection, five years ago, had that lady ask me that question, I would've had no answer. Why? Because I never looked within. I had no sense of self betrayal. And if somebody talked to me about that, I'd be like, "What the hell is that, self betrayal?"


And so you're right. I'm feeling all of the truth that you just laid down. And I have to ask this question though, where does trauma come into the mix? Yes, okay. Lawyers can be these extraordinarily intelligent human beings. I'm not one of them. I think I just kind of slid right in there. When they left the door open a crack, I was like, "Me too."


So I just got in there by the skin of my teeth. And I'm definitely no highly intelligent individual or highly emotionally intelligent individual. But what I can say for sure is I've had a significant amount of trauma in my life that's really informed and maybe I think motivated me to want to live in my head a lot. Never make decisions that were always thinking, always analyzing, maybe some people call it hyper-vigilance, whatever it might be. But always in the head because being in the head was safer than being in the body.


So let's talk a little bit about, okay, yes, intelligence for lawyers and others maybe who are listening to this podcast because I know I'm picking up doctors and I'm picking up teachers. And those also have lots of highly intelligent folks in those professions. So where does trauma, personal trauma that you may have lived through in your life, does that create also a disconnect between head and body where you wouldn't even-

Dr. Amar Dhall (26:55):

Very much so, yeah.

Myrna McCallum (26:56):

Where you wouldn't even know about your own boundaries, or you wouldn't even ... I don't know.

Dr. Amar Dhall (27:04):

So it's a great question. So I think first off, to give a really simple definition of trauma that I use, trauma is an automatic survival behavior. And it gets picked up in a moment, generally not consciously. So it's not that someone says, "Oh! I'm going through this period of ..." I'll give a really course grained example. Someone who's being physically abused doesn't think, "Oh! I'm going to disassociate now and that's how I'm going to live, and then be either asexual or hypersexualized afterwards." It's not something that anyone thinks about.


It's that at the level of the soft animal we are, there is an experience that happens. And again, coming back to boundaries, which you kind of mentioned earlier, all trauma begins with a boundary breach. So there's something that happens without consent, and the person survives. Either we collapse and sort of die or we don't. And the way that people are shaped by their experience then becomes habituated.


And one of the most beautiful parts of working with people who, or working with trauma is that they have this idea that their trauma responses are their personality. And it's an incredibly profound moment when someone actually frees themselves of their trauma. Remember I said trauma is an automatic survival response that in one moment was adaptive, it allowed me to survive, and later on as I'm kind of steered by it, I realize that actually this part of my behavior causes me more harm than good.


And so then I've got to look at it, and then I maybe start to ask the kind of questions that you did, or I did in my life and your life, and then go, "Oh my goodness! This person that I thought, I was not." And then there may be a space of terror because maybe I also liked the person who I was or this coping strategy that I had.


Like I said, overwork is a great way to avoid emotional life and turmoil at home and can produce lots of money and high achievement and professional accolades. But then suddenly I find out that I'm really alone, or really lonely, or my life doesn't have the meaning that I thought it did. Or I realize I've got a bunch of fair weather colleagues rather than actual real meaningful human connections. And then I have to take a look at myself. And then I maybe sit in the chair go, "Oh my God! If I'm not that, then who or what am I?"


And if someone can navigate that, and this is a real thing, that step of, "I'm really terrified if I ask this question, or I really pull on this thread that I'm going to lose my superpower." For people to really be assured that doing trauma work will make them more productive, better connected, there's a correlation between emotional intelligence and earning. So 80% of careers are derailed for deficiencies in emotional intelligence. And I would put being unaware of my trauma in the bucket of emotionally unintelligent because it's got emotionally unintelligent consequences.


And the final point I'll make on this before I kind of hand it back to you is I'm not blaming people with trauma or say it's emotionally unintelligent. I'm not suggesting trauma or abuse is anyone's fault, but it is their responsibility. And that's just the way life is. So I'll start with that and see where we go conversationally.

Myrna McCallum (30:54):

Wow! I mean, I'm hearing I didn't make the mess but I got to clean it up, essentially.

Dr. Amar Dhall (31:03):

And that sucks. That really sucks. And for some people, that's really brutal. But we're all in this life together, and we all can either lean into that and see what happens when you experiment with deep self responsibility and do an experiment. And maybe it might open up a doorway to something beautiful beyond what I could comprehend when I was imprisoned.

Myrna McCallum (31:35):

I felt that. That was deep. Thank you for that. So I'm just thinking about what you just said about how we respond to the traumas that happen in our lives. We could go through our lives in this trauma response sort of way, and then we kind of start to think it's our personality, and then later we discover it's not. And this is something now at 48 years old I'm starting to grapple with because I'm like, "Am I really like a loner who really likes to be reclusive? Or is that my trauma response?" I'm not sure. I'm starting to question decisions I've made about keeping a lot of people at arms length.


And so what advice do you have for people? Because I'm sure I'm not the only one who's starting to reflect on patterns of behavior or just a way of being and wondering whether it's who they really are, or if that was just their response to the world. What advice do you have for those folks?

Dr. Amar Dhall (32:41):

Well, it's a great question. The first thing is to realize that to not ask that question is the abnormal thing or the maladaptive way to live. Humans haven't lived as long as we do now for very long, a couple of generations. Why I'm saying this is as a species to think what is it to actually inhabit a human body for 80 or 90 years, well, it's not really a question we've had to address with any elegance, nor have we had long exposure to it, collectively.


So for me as a therapist and a post union therapist, one of the ways of looking at a human life that was put out there by Carl Jung was he thought of life as having childhood and adolescence, then what he called first adulthood. And first adulthood was formed in reaction to the world that you were born into.


Then there's the middle passage. And if it's ignored it becomes a midlife crisis. And that, everyone kind of jokes about, at least in the cultures that I've moved through. The middle-aged man in a sports car, balding, trying to recapture youth is a trope, or finding partners that are ludicrously young. And not to say that it's impossible for there to be a connection of that type. But when it's trying to fill a hole or to talked about [inaudible 00:34:14] before we were recording, to feed a hungry ghost, as it were.


So there's this tectonic sense of dissatisfaction or disquiet that's there. So I think the first thing to ... And you are right on time, anywhere from sort mid thirties to mid fifties is where people go through it. And this is really the end of first adulthood through a Jungian kind of lens.


So to bring it back to what I was saying, for someone going through that, to be really seated in themselves that this disquiet is not a sign of a problem, it's actually a sign of a connected life actually. And the call, as I said, you've got two choices. You can either go out, which you can double down on your own choices and work harder, and do more, and buy more, and distract yourself more.


Or you can go and ask yourself, "What is this really about?" For the people who do that, they then get the opportunity to integrate what they learn about themselves. And that then would be second adulthood through Jungian lens. And the beauty of that is it takes the best of what was, and integrates it with a deeper understanding and a mature sense of self and the horizon they will open up. But it means let go of who I thought I was.


And that can be really scary as well. I've got a mortgage, I've got a marriage, I've got kids, whatever it is. I'm really terrified to ask myself any real questions because maybe the whole thing unravels. And so then it's torture to sit in the double bind of screwed if I do something, I'm screwed if I don't, and so I'll just kind of move through life.


So I would ask questions. I think let's normalize this. For the individuals who are in that situation, I would say talk to a specialist. I mean, if they're, you just said teachers and so on. If I want to get great education, I go to a teacher. If I want to get my car fixed, I want to go to a mechanic. And if I want to understand the art of living, why not speak to someone passionately made that their vocational profession, and see what insights that yields, and then integrate the answers if I've got the courage.

Myrna McCallum (36:34):

I love that, the art of living. Amar, I think we might have found the title for this podcast episode. I love that. Thank you. There's so many things going on, and I could just keep you here all day. Starting to ask you all these questions I've always wanted to ask therapists. But I won't do that.


I want to kind of circle back a little bit and go to some comment that you made earlier. You introduced these concepts of burnout and compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. I know from talking to so many people, even empathy and sympathy, a lot of people cannot define these terms, or they don't have a shared definition for these terms. Let's start with the difference between compassion fatigue and burnout. What is the difference? And then where does vicarious trauma come in?

Dr. Amar Dhall (37:38):

So compassion fatigue is taking on the human pain, and potentially even the collective grief or burden of part of human nature, which results in seeing ... For example, some of the people I went to school with that were really pro-social justice had very high-minded idea of what that was like, ended up going and practicing in that area, and then finding that their practice life may involve defending the same person for domestic violence. And that really abraded what started out as a high minded principle. The reality that come ... The forefront grace.


So compassion fatigue is that sense of connecting to the human pain that lives underneath, and not really being able to create a boundary around myself and other. Burnout is going too long, too hard, essentially. So I mean ,that could be a seduction.


For me personally, Amar, I love doing things really well. And so I can be seduced by that and going to this wormhole of high performance until I've got nothing left. So I can burn myself out when I do that. So that can be quite different. They are quite different. So what was the other one that you were asking about?

Myrna McCallum (39:15):

Vicarious trauma.

Dr. Amar Dhall (39:17):

Vicarious trauma, okay. So vicarious trauma is essentially if I meet someone who's gone through something traumatic, then I become traumatized through that, in really simple terms. So it's me taking on someone else's trauma. The point that I want to add to this is I think one of the problems with ...


There's a fair awareness of vicarious trauma in the legal field, or it's starting to come up. But what's being ignored is what I would call implicit trauma, which is different to what psychologists would call, which is, as I've said sort of thematically through what I've shared with you, people bring trauma with them. Trauma isn't a dirty word. Trauma doesn't mean broken. It's actually an essential part of being a human being is to actually have a part of our persona and psyche that's shaped through trauma. So it's not a problem.


But implicit trauma I think is the traumas that people bring with them into law that then can get amplified. So you begin then to get a club sandwich of trauma coming up. And the question for the individual practitioner is, "When have I reached my threshold?" And that's then when things unravel.

Myrna McCallum (40:44):

Totally. I was talking to Gabor not that long ago. And he was like, "It's not really vicarious trauma." We were talking about a specific scenario. He's like, "It's really personal traumas triggered." And I think that's exactly what you're describing right now. It's the traumas that we're bringing into the profession that are just getting like poking the bear, so to speak, until we just can't take it anymore.

Dr. Amar Dhall (41:11):

Yeah. There was one. Here in Australia, we have royal commissions. There was one royal commission who in a previous job had to confront the aftermath of a horrific bushfire scene and disassociated in that moment arriving on site. And that sent them on a healing journey to understand themselves and the nature of trauma. They're now an advocate for Trauma-Informed approaches and getting always alive to vicarious trauma, because one of the other ways that people deal with trauma is what I would call a stress and release cycle. So in law that could look like, I wonder why lawyers, practicing lawyers, often are members of the bar. And it's because they like to drink, I think, just as much as practice law.


It's a way of actually managing or discharging, just like I said. Going back to mix my metaphors, there was that fuel tank in analogy where I said it's always on red, almost empty, tipping up. Well, that's Friday afternoon drinks. It's kind of having a few drinks, getting a little loose and then going back on Monday, and the cycle repeats. There's a culture there of that.


Until there's enough people that actually stand up and go, "This doesn't really work for me, and it's not really working for us," things won't change. So people taking responsibilities for their traumas. As I said, not their fault. It's not my fault, but it's my responsibility. When we start to have that conversation, then I think the change ripples through. It will ripple through the profession because it's just a different way of looking at life.

Myrna McCallum (42:57):

I'm with you 100%. And I point that out. And I don't think it's a popular thing actually to point out is the love of alcohol that folks experience in my profession. They don't want you to talk about that. I talk about it anyway because it needs to be said. It just needs to be said.


But some of the things that I often hear, whether it's from judges or administrative tribunal members or lawyers is, or anyone who's sort of in an administrative role where they are trying to, or they have an expectation to be objective, to be impartial, to hear all the facts and the evidence and be a decision maker is that they have to not appear emotional, be stoic, and some have said suppress their humanity to do that job.


But I know as a lawyer walking into a room, when you see a face like that, it's usually quite scary because it's like, "Oh my God! I'm approaching some kind of human being who's now soulless. I don't know how they're going to feel anything I have to say to them." And so what would you say to people who really clinging to that idea that part of that job requires this kind of parking humanity at the door?

Dr. Amar Dhall (44:36):

Well again, firstly, it's hubris. I'd say kind of turn your brain on and realize really you think you can transcend your human subjectivity. Objectivity is a myth. And there's a great paper written by feminist scholar Emily Martin in 1993 called The Sperm and the Egg. And in it she just completely detonated the idea of scientific objectivity. And the research supports this. So let's just make this categorical statement that whatever it is they believe they're doing is actually disproved by human study, absolutely.


So now let's actually then jump in and go there and kind of treat it on the merits that you've framed it. But I do think that there's something there that would be good for the profession to understand. And actually, just before I move on, what she'd really shown was that in the interpretation of data, no one can transcend their subjectivity. And she was referring to how the medical textbooks speak of the sperm penetrating the egg, and this is how life starts.


And she was saying this is very traditional idea of masculinity penetrating moving forward. But she was saying the protein key is actually on the wall of the egg, and the locket is actually on the sperm. So you could just as easily say that it's the other way around. But that's not the way it's taught even now in medical schools. Or you could say it's too halves of a locket coming together. So this idea of this scientific objective truth doesn't exist was kind of what she was saying there.


So for people who feel they have to ... You use the word stoic to describe what they were doing. And I'd say the way you're using stoic or referenced to stoicism is the way that it's understood. But it's actually not the essence of stoicism. And I think if they actually applied stoicism, it'd be much better. And the essence of that is the resistance is the way.


So what the hell do I mean by that in this moment? It's that if my emotion is coming up, I've got two choices. I can either disassociate it, which is to try and put a pressure cooker on it, or I can go through it and underneath it. And I think what I would say to people is to begin to understand that the way to go, the only way that this is actually going to be resolved is to go through. Someone who thinks that they need to suppress their emotions is never going to feel good about that, or they become disassociated to the point where one day they're going to have a breakdown. And that's the truth of it.


So if you're asking me for ... I mean, that's how I feel. If you're asking me then specifically what ... I mean, do you want me to tell them a survival strategy, or a coping strategy, or what to do? But I think the rules of the game are kind of skewed from the beginning, if that's the paradigm.

Myrna McCallum (47:41):

Yeah. I'm just thinking about what I've seen in courtrooms and what I hear from individuals. And it seems to me that in this profession that seems is so devoid of humanity, which is one of the reasons why we are so heavily criticized by the public when they come into our spaces seeking justice and they leave feeling demoralized is I think that just so many of us believe this idea that either it's intellectual, or it's emotional, it cannot be both things.


And even when we write our decisions, it has to be really, really intellectual and the analysis has to be pristine. But even in that writing, when you read some of these decisions, I'm scratching my head saying, "Who are you writing for?" And it's clear that you're either writing for your colleagues or you're writing for a higher court. But you're not writing for the human being who actually needs to hear what you saw and how you view the evidence. Do you know what I mean?

Dr. Amar Dhall (48:46):

I do. Look, I think that there'll be ... A transition will occur as we get greater diversity in positions on the benches throughout the world. I think that's going to make a significant difference. I also think that ... There's a word in Jungian psychology called in enantiodromia. And it means where someone can go so far into one popularity, it turns into its opposite.e and it's inevitable. So what I mean by that is someone who starts to explore tolerant and becomes so tolerant that they then become intolerant of intolerant people. So their embodied experience of tolerance turns into its opposite.


So in the case of the position of the perspective that you've put forward there, it will become ... For someone to become increasingly educated and explore the nature of cognition, it will become ... To think that head based cognition is actually the best way to solve problems is actually irrational. The data doesn't support it. So actually either that we can hang out there until these hyper-intelligent people realize that actually this is no way to do thinking, and we get the best of the best in there, which is inevitable, I would like to think, evolution being what it is.


The other thing I just want to say is I also think lawyers get a bum rap when you're saying the public come in and they want justice, and they don't get it. I get that. But let's also be fair and say that when the public come in and want justice, what they mean by justice is they want the dispute resolved in their favor. And if they don't, then that's injustice. And there's a whole lot that sits behind that.


In Australia, the government provision of legal services is underfunded because there's the presumption that lawyers do pro bono work. Now, I don't know of any other profession where that's the case. I don't think that they will go, "Well, let's just underfund hospitals deliberately because we know the doctors are going to do some work for free, and they'll cover that."


So I want to be really clear here in saying lawyers are good people. Lower emotional intelligence statistically, I'm not making that up. When I said earlier there's a propensity to drink, that wasn't from a place of saying it's terrible. It's a survival behavior. We're talking about trauma responses. That is a trauma response.


Now, in the same way that never in the history of calming down has anyone who's ever been told to calm down ever actually calmed down. Walking up to someone in a trauma response and going, "Oh! You've got a trauma response." It's very reasonable to get a punch in the face if that's what I'm doing to someone.


Actually, what they need is to be accepted for who they are. There'll be a proportion of people that we've already spoken to that feel this disquiet, are on this treadmill and go, "You know what? I want to off it." But they have a love of law sufficient where they'll still stay in it and practice. And I think it's about people like you that are providing this beautiful service to lawyers where you go, "Hey, there is this other way that you can do things."Like the course you're running on emotional intelligence. You're creating a platform for people who may be curious to even explore what we are talking about to actually see, "Hey, maybe there's something in this for me."


And I think if we can get people to do that, these people will be the future leaders because again, it was Ronda Muir's book, published by the ABA on Lawyers and Emotional Intelligence, showed that emotionally intelligent lawyers make more money. They stay in the practice. They just do better. These people are going to rise to the top. So I think so. I have some hope. I have some hope.

Myrna McCallum (52:38):

I have hope too. Otherwise, I don't think I'd be talking to as many lawyers and judges as I speak to. And plus, when I get emails from some folks who've been practicing for as long as I've been alive saying something I said has really caused them to reflect on their entire career and gotten them thinking about how they could have done better had they brought some emotion to the service that they were providing, really, really makes me hopeful.


And so if there's a question I want to leave you with, or leave our listeners, have them think about your answer, it's this because this is the other question that comes up a lot. Why is connection so important? And I think connection is another word we don't talk about enough in lots of professions.

Dr. Amar Dhall (53:39):

That's a great question. I'll answer that. One of the points that you made, a lawyer saying, if I brought more emotion, I just want to distinguish emotional intelligence and emotion for two seconds if I could, because I think that's a really important distinction to draw.


Emotional intelligence is a word that covers four domains of being. So there's self awareness, self management, there's social awareness and relationship management. So there's these four domains. So they're all interdigitate. And so really a lawyer saying it's about doing emotions well, which is that and self-management part. So it's not just feeling an emotion. That's really where it begins. Then there's learning how to experience it well.


Emotions, humans aren't really taught how to feel. When a child stands up, I go, "Yay, child can stand up." Rather than, "Well, let's have Tai-chi alignment principles in the way this baby is taught to stand so that then their postural support them through life." And it's the same with emotions. So I just wanted to land that distinction there. Emotional intelligence is easier to increase than IQ. Again, the data supports that.


Circling back to your question about connection, well, we're built for it. Human babies are born incapable of surviving for themselves. We need to form family or tribal units. We live in groups and specialize. And that's been adaptive for our species. If not environmentally, certainly from the perspective of in the short term, we're becoming more greater in number.


When someone has an empathic resonance, and that's really a term from interpersonal neurobiology, that in itself will create an environment conducive to flourishing. And I think that this intrinsic aspect of our ability to create more enjoyment, better ways of living, better outcomes in a way that actually connects us with our physiology is inevitable. Like I say, I mean it's ... Because let's look at the alternative. If you're going to talk, well, how about we talk about ... Let's look at disconnected. A disconnected version of law, where would that take us? It's a horrible thought experiment.


So I think really it's about embracing the fact that we are people, the fact that we actually do need one another, and it works for all of us when we find ways of actually harnessing the power of group intelligence and group mind. And as I say, it goes into a whole other story as to why we disconnect, which I'm not going to go into. But I think it's a part of who we are. It's truly the short answer to that.

Myrna McCallum (56:45):

It's who we are. Connection is who we are. I like that. That's a really good note I think to leave us on. This has been an awesome conversation. I would love to get ... We might have to do a part two to get into those four components of emotional intelligence.


But for folks who listen to this conversation, if you're like, "Oh, I need to hear more about this," which I'm sure you are feeling, Amar is presenting on emotional intelligence and he's participating in a bit of a discussion around his presentation at my upcoming course in Trauma-Informed Justice, which is being delivered over Zoom Events, July 20th, 21st, 22nd. And it is not just for lawyers. It's for everyone, anyone who has an interest in understanding trauma in themselves, in others, in embodying the superpower that is emotional intelligence. And so be there, be square. Thank you Amar for being here and chatting with me today.

Dr. Amar Dhall (57:51):

Thank you very much for having me. Just as a little point to support you, it is a superpower. There's a 2018 study from Cambridge University that showed share traders. So share traders make fast decisions spontaneously with consequence. And this is an English study. The greater their emotional intelligence or introspective awareness, the greater their profitability and the longer they actually stayed in the profession. So you weren't kidding when you said it's a superpower. So I really can't wait to share. Whatever it is that people want to know, we'll have really lot of fun bringing this session and talking about emotional intelligence in your course. Can't wait.

Myrna McCallum (58:31):

Right on. Awesome. Thank you so much for today, for this conversation. It's been really good to have you.

Dr. Amar Dhall (58:38):

Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.