10 Reasons why you need The Emotional Extremist’s Guide to Handling Cartoon Elephants book this holiday season

1. The Cartoon Elephant book, after being temporarily unavailable through Amazon, is now back on the market. The retail price is $26.95, but sometimes Amazon will let it go for a bit less.

2. Cartoon Elephants approach painful emotions with humor. If there is an elephant in the room in your family, this book is the starting point for approaching avoided conversations. You will recognize yourself and others in this book. There is no finger pointing or blaming.
3. Cartoon Elephants is something you can put on your coffee table. Because it is a graphic book with pictures and fun fonts, it is an easy read. The elephants will fit nicely next to big picture books about Africa and Asia.
4. The Cartoon Elephant book is being used to teach people in Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills groups about emotions. Loaded with psycho-educational material and teaching points, it cleverly accomplishes the task of making people think they are reading something fun yet giving them something valuable.
5. This book is not hard to read. There is no “plugging away” at chapters. If you want to bring something to someone’s attention in a way that is universally applicable, this book will do the trick. You don’t need to have painful emotions to appreciate elephants- you just need to have emotions.
6. If you are going to buy someone a self-help book for Christmas, this is safe bet.
Whether they believe it or not, everyone has cartoon elephants. The research proving this to be true is cited in the back of the book.
7. This book can be used and re-used, read and re-read. You can share it with family members, friends, or long lost relatives. It won’t go out of style. Emotions, as a rule, will be with you as long as you live.
8. You will get some food for thought about how and where you see yourself in relationship to your elephants. This is great for discussion groups, weekend retreats, and writing workshops.
9. This book is great for people of all ages. If you’re trying to get your kid to read something important, heavy, and deep, you can give them this book. It won’t take long to read and it is much more fun with illustrations.
10. The book will be the perfect introduction for my live series on emotions starting January 20, 2014. Of course you don’t need the book to sign up, but if you have the book you will have a better appreciation for cartoon elephants in general.



What should you do with the elephant in the room?

The elephant in the room usually refers to the thing that’s not being said. Typically the thing that is not being said should be obvious, but it is not.

Things that don’t get said have a tendency to create a bit of stress! Consider what happens if what needs to get said doesn’t get said.

  • It becomes avoided
  • No one brings it up
  • You think someone else should bring it up
  • By not talking about it, it gets ignored
  • Ignoring it makes it worse
  • Ignoring it makes it so that others continue to do and say things that create problems or are hurtful

Generally the cost of bringing the elephant into the room is one in which people have to contend with something big.

If the big thing is in the room, this might generate anxiety or even anger. The participants in the room would have to tolerate a conversation in which stuff was out in the open, even if it meant dealing with things that are hard to talk about. However, if the elephant could be invited in to the room and managed, it might just be the case that elephants would eventually become easier to handle.

One quick tip for bringing the elephant into the room is to describe in an accurate, matter-of-fact way what you have observed. This helps lower defensiveness and doesn’t come across as an attack. Keep your tone of voice neutral and curious, and be ready to hear the other person out- even if what they are saying is hard to hear. Consider that the other party may find it just as difficult to talk about, and it may take more than one try to bring the elephant into a place where it can be seen for what it is.

Consider: What is it costing you to keep the elephant out of the room? 

On being “right”: Demystifying the “stiff and rigid” cartoon person from The Emotional Extremist’s Guide to Handling Cartoon elephants.

StiffRigid2 copySometimes being “right” has to do with maintaining a sense of justification, power, or virtue. Sometimes being “right” has to do with feeling valued or heard, or even finding others to support your point of view. Sometimes it has to do with taking sides, feeling validated, or knowing that you have something important to add that is being left out of the equation. Sometimes being “right” has to do with not sacrificing a point of view, a perspective, or an observation.

Sometimes, when people feel emotionally threatened, they focus on the “right”-ness of where they are coming from. When threatened, attention is often narrowed and constricted to the threat- thus making it difficult to shift perspective, see things from different points of view, or understand the person who is identified as a threat. Sometimes being “right” has a certain quality, characteristic, or experience that feels guarded, shut down, or even restricted. It’s a way of being that builds walls, doesn’t let other people in, and sends a strong message. It builds a dichotomy in which one person has the upper hand, and the other person doesn’t.

Sometimes people need to be “right” to gain a sense of influence, power, or importance in a relationship or situation. Being “right” may have to do with making a statement, communicating something strongly or clearly, or not yielding to an expectation. It may have to do with mattering.

Sometimes being “right” means sacrificing a relationship, failing to get along with someone, or being seen as someone who is approachable. This can create difficulties in important and unavoidable relationships.

Sometimes being “right” isn’t so much about being non-negotiable as much as it is about trying to define values, being clear about how much you can take, knowing that you can no longer make the sacrifices you are making, or suddenly realizing the demand that someone is placing on you. Sometimes it is difficult to define the “right”-ness of your experience and keep important relationships.

Here are some ways in which you might re-consider being “right”:

  • Even if you are “right”, consider the impact that communicating being “right” has on the relationship.
  • Stop thinking about one person being “right” and the other person being “wrong.” Start thinking about it as “this is my experience” and “this is the experience of the other person.” Make space for them to be different.
  • Sometimes it makes sense to simply stop bringing it up. Refraining from pointing out your point of view can challenge you to tolerate differences, anxiety, or some other threat in order to make for better relationships. Making strong overtures in which you are constantly proving your point can exhaust any conversation.
  • If you are in the middle of one of those conversations that bring out the “I have to be right” in you, consider having the conversation while practicing loose and floppy (refer to the cartoon elephant book for more specific guidelines!).
  • Consider what you would lose if you found out conflicting information that challenges your “right”-ness. What’s the threat?

PS- Want to get a free Cartoon Elephant book? Make sure you check out the last blog post for details…

Cartoon elephants (emotions!) up close and personal: When you don’t like what you see

Sometimes, if you look closely at what actually feel, you won’t like what’s there. Sometimes it’s just too much. Here are some tips on what to do when you get up close and personal with your elephant, and this


may be what you find.

  • Start with whatever is present in the moment. See if you can notice and allow for what is there vs. actively trying to ignore or push away.
  • See if you can get yourself to willingly tolerate all sensations, discomfort, or urges associated with the emotion. Noticing if there is anything holding you back from doing so.
  • Bear in mind that the better able you are to tolerate, you will be better equipped to survive the moment. Redirect your attention back to your elephant and practice the gentle yet curious gaze.
  • Tolerating sensation does not mean that you have to approve of reality, take action, or fail to take action.
  • An unwillingness to tolerate what is there will not make cartoon elephants disappear. (You can’t have a life without cartoon elephants!) A refusal to tolerate can actually create more problems later.
  • What you pay attention to= what your life is about. Do you want your entire life to be characterized by the struggle of not looking at your cartoon elephants?


The cartoon elephants are here!

Click here for The Emotional Extremist’s Guide to Handling Cartoon Elephants: How to solve elephantine emotional problems without getting run over, chased, flattened, squished, or abandoned by your true cartoons.

Here is a sneak preview of the book chapters:

Part I: The problems of cartoon elephants

  • The non-existence of cartoon elephants
  • The weight of cartoon elephants
  • The equilibrium of cartoon elephants
  • Stampeding, out-of-control elephant situations

Part II: The basic steps for solving elephantine problems

Part III: When your cartoon elephants are in danger: How to cope with critical obstacles

Part IV: When solving elephantine problems seems impossible: What to do when stuck beneath an elephant’s foot

Part V: What to do when elephants end up on your back

Part VI: What to do when your cartoon elephant turns blue

Here are some FAQ’s about the book:

Is this book for children? The intended audience for this book is adults (hey, adults need cartoons too!) and is fine for adolescents. Younger age ranges may have some difficulty with the abstract reasoning and the metaphors, and may not grasp all the concepts and big words. However, the big pictures, changing fonts, and fun graphic design makes this an attractive book for young kids (my 9-year nephew zipped right through it).

Why are the elephants in the male gender form? I used “he” and “him” when referring to the elephant to make the book simple and less wordy. I did not have any gender specific intentions. If you experience your elephants in the female form, you are welcome to take your own copy of the book and change all the pronouns.


Do cartoon elephants (emotions!) really exist?

Cartoon elephants do, indeed, exist. The question is whether or not you believe in the existence of your own elephants.  In truth, life will be much harder for you if you go around pretending that you don’t really actually feel the way you feel.Regular

It can be that other people have worked hard to convince you that cartoon elephants do not exist- and that you have started to believe them. For example, someone might be saying, “You shouldn’t feel that way! No one else feels that way. I have the answer to your problems, and there isn’t any option for you to react to it. I want you to behave a certain way, and I will be angry or punish you for it if you don’t. I don’t care what you have to say about it. Talking about your own reactions is not an option.”

In reality, cartoon elephants do not go away because people ignore them.

Paying attention to your cartoon elephants means doing some hard work of figuring out what, exactly, is being felt. It is certainly possible that your cartoon elephants are right there, trying to get your attention. Perhaps there have been so many barriers to their discovery that ignoring them takes twice as much effort as figuring out what they are trying to tell you.

In reality, it is extremely difficult to collect cartoon elephant data. It is even more difficult to collect cartoon elephant data when people don’t believe cartoon elephants exist. Your emotions are there: Alive, present, and real.

Stop pretending they are not.


Get your cartoon elephants (emotions) some air!

Air1 copy

Here are some tips for breathing:

  • Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. When you breath deeply – into your diaphragm- the hand on your stomach will go up and down. This is one way to develop a feedback loop that will help you breathe in such a way that gets oxygen where it needs to be. Shallow breathing, hiccupy breathing, or shortness of breath can often induce panic like sensations, and can be reflected in the rise and fall of the upper chest.
  • When you breathe, think of ways in which are simply creating space for what you feel. Counteract urges to restrict, suppress, ignore, judge, or inhibit what you feel. Breathe in, around, and through emotions. Practice gently curiosity- soften your stance and allow what’s there to be there. Try softening your facial expression to encourage and invite the process.
  • Find a time during the day to check in with your breath. It’s often when we’re NOT paying attention to our breath that we can make the best use of this simple and accessible skill.

Like cartoon elephants? Sign up for my mailing list to receive notifications on when the book is ready: The emotional extremist’s guide to handling cartoon elephants: How to solve elephantine emotional problems without getting run over, chased, flattened, squished, or abandoned by your true cartoons.



Making space for your jumbled, confused, disorganized, messy, or incoherent cartoon elephants (emotions!).

This is a picture of what your elephants (emotions!) might look like if they get bunched up like a bad traffic jam.

A lot of effort may need to go into sorting, identifying, labeling, and describing your elephants. It is quite possible that you neglect to do this because you do not believe in the existence of cartoon elephants. Or maybe you do not think your elephants are important, other people tell you your elephants are not important, other people blame you for the situation that you are in, or other people do not offer very much space to allow the assortment and organization of your true cartoons.

Here are some tips for sorting your elephant situations: Gently notice your elephants. Make space for their messiness, disorganization, or lack of words. Don’t get hung up on WHY you feel the way that you do. Often people feel if they can not explain what they feel, then the unexplained should not have the right to exist.

When you start to make space for experience, elephants will slowly start to sort themselves out. When people can’t really organize and articulate experience, it can result in incoherence. People need coherence to feel organized, communicate effectively, and exert influence.

If you have nothing more right now than a jumbled pile of elephants going on, make sure that you make some space to be curious, allow elephants to exist (cartoon elephants do, indeed, exist!), and give them a bit of breathing room. It is possible that this task is twice as hard when people around you are unable to do this with you. Remember to be patient with your elephants, because impatience can often result in a bigger jumble. And, if you’re not used to making space for your elephants, it may take a lot of practice.

Don’t give up!

Who is in control? You or your cartoon elephants (emotions!)?



Emotions that control peoples’ lives prevent them from doing the things they love, working hard to achieve goals, tolerating pain in order to get somewhere in life, building mastery over situations that may feel threatening at first, and participating fully in what life has to offer.

Anxiety can prevent us from being social, meeting new people, taking risks, reciprocating kindness or disclosure, and showing people our vulnerabilities. Anxiety can get in the way of going to school or work, driving, attending public events, talking to people we want to talk to, and going to the places that we want to go. Some people’s lives are so restricted by anxiety that they can’t leave their house.

Sometimes people will say “I just don’t feel like it” or “It is too hard.” Sometimes it is easier to stay in bed and avoid things in our lives that create challenges. Sometimes people will say “It depends on my mood.” If they are in a bad mood, they will avoid commitments that might be wise to attend. Sometimes people will say “I didn’t go there or do that because I was depressed or anxious.”

People that feel more in control of their lives and their emotions will sometimes do things they don’t feel like doing. This may have something to do with seeing the value in doing the behavior- or the consequence in not doing it. If someone was terrified of driving and they learned how to drive, their ability to master new things (despite anxiety) would increase. If someone was able to hold their ground despite having someone angry with them, they may feel more influential when around angry people. If someone could sit through a class despite being worried that they won’t know the answers, they would get better at sitting through class.

In some cases, emotions give us good information about ourselves and our environments. They are like alarm bells that tell us what to avoid, what is threatening, what is scary, and what is unworthy of our efforts. They have good reasons for being around and are worth paying attention to.

But what if emotions- at least some of the time, weren’t giving you accurate information about your environment? What if you could do anything you wanted- if only you could tolerate your emotions long enough to accomplish it? Consider the value of approaching something that you would rather avoid, tolerating an emotion long enough for it to change, or facing an unwanted task despite how you feel about it.

What would you do if you had the courage?