Paul Hein

Here is a little of my writing. I want to share some things I believe are importand and helpful. These are things I learned mostly through life and my own studies and research. My writing is a combination of theory and practical techniques or tools.

My Theory of Life

Listening - I think this is the single most important thing I have learned in life.


The Washing Up - A Story about Understanding

Human Emotional Needs

Emotional Literacy


Conflict Resolution

Emotional Needs Based Society


Youth Suicide Prevention

Copy of my presentation for Outward Bound

This site is under constuction. If you like what I have so far, please let me know to encourage me to keep workking on it :) - Paul

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My Theory of Life

My theory of life is based on the idea that we humans have both physical and emotional needs, and that most social problems and pain in what we call the developed countries come from unmet or unsatisfied emotional needs.

Some of these emotional needs are to feel accepted, appreciated, cared about, free, respected, safe/secure, trusted, understood, valued.

I began to develop my theory when I lived in the USA and looked at all the problems there. I decided the problems were not from a lack of material or physical things, nor from a lack of religion or what is called spirituality. I saw people who needed to feel more powerful, more important, more in control. They seemed never to be able to get enough of these emotional needs to satisfy them. I concluded that we need to fill the emotional needs of children so they are not emotionally needy or emotionally "hungry" (or starving) as adults.

To help fill or satisfy children's emotional needs, (or anyone else's emotional needs) we must identify each need specifically and somehow measure it to find out if it is filled or not. Or more precisely, to what degree or level is each need filled or met?

This is similar to knowing how full the gas tank is in a car. Is it empty, full or half full? Or we could say is it 0%, 100% or 50% full? For that, we have the gas gauge. We also have a temperature gauge in a car that tells us when the engine is getting too hot.

The way I measure the level of our emotional needs is to ask direct questions about specific feelings. For example, how accepted do you feel from 0-10? How respected do you feel from 0-10? How understood?

Our emotional feelings tell us if our emotional needs are being met or satisfied in way similar to how our physical feelings tell us if our physical needs are being met. For example, if I feel hungry, I need food. If I feel thirsty, I need water. If I feel cold, I need warmth.

So if I feel rejected, I need to feel accepted. If I feel unappreciated, I need to feel more appreciated. If I feel uncared about, I need to feel more cared about. If I feel disrespected, I need to feel more respected. If I feel afraid, unsafe, unprotected, or insecure, I need to feel unafraid, safe, protected, secure.

My theory is also that we humans depend on each other for our emotional needs. I need to feel cared about by another person. I need to feel appreciated by another human being. I believe that if our emotional needs are not met, all of society suffers from a wide variety of problems.

I also believe that if I am emotionally "starved" I will be very needy and I will be constantly trying to fill my own basic emotional survival needs. This will make it difficult for me to think or respect about your needs. This is a little like having enough money or food. If I don't have enough money or food, I can't help you financially or offer to share my food. It is natural for us to be motivated by a drive to fill our own basic survival needs.

For our human relationships to work, we need to know what we feel and what our emotional needs are. We need to be able to express them very clearly and directly. And we need to be able to listen to and accept and understand other people's emotional needs. But they also need to be able to identify and express their own needs and feelings. I call this being
emotionally literate.

I define emotional literacy as being able to express your feelings in three word sentences beginning with "I feel..." For example, "I feel pressured." "I feel afraid." "I feel appreciated." "I feel understood."

I find it very useful to express feelings with a scale of 0-10. For example, "I feel pressured 8." "I feel understood 4."

I also believe that by nature, it feels good to help people. So if someone tells us what they need, and we are not excessively needy ourselves, we feel a natural desire to help them because it creates positive or healthy brain chemicals inside us.

Currently, most people do not know how to specifically identify their feelings or their unmet emotional needs. But they are still trying to fill them. This wastes a lot of time due to miscommunication, indirect communication and misunderstandings. If someone needs to feel powerful or in control, but they don't realize it specifically, they are very likely to use other people, or even abuse them, to try to fill their needs for power and control. But while they do that they are going to be taking away from their other emotional needs such as to feel appreciated, admired, trusted and cared about.

So they feel pain from those unmet emotional needs. They feel a need to stop the pain but without knowing exactly what they need, they get trapped in some kind of vicious cycle of trying to stop their pain and often cause themselves, and others, even more pain.

Society now has many unhealthy or unproductive ways of temporarily stopping emotional pain. But since the emotional needs are still not being met, the pain comes back or grows and spreads, including from one generation to the next. Few resources are directed towards understanding cause and effect or prevention. Yet many resources and a huge part of our economy is directed towards temporarily stopping or numbing our emotional pain. We do not seem to be progressing much in identifying what is actually causing our emotional pain. Without understanding the causes of emotional pain, we are unable to prevent future emotional pain. For example, we might learn a new technique to reduce our feelings of stress but we don't identify and address the cause of the stress.

Once people begin to clearly see that all humans have emotional needs, we can really start what I would call the true healing and prevention process. This process is basically identifying our needs and filling them in healthy ways. In summary, I believe the key to a "better future" is to do a better job of identifying and filling the emotional needs of children and teenagers.

I also believe our emotional needs are not identical. They might be similar, but you might need to feel more free, for example, than someone else. I don't believe "one size fits all" when it comes to either our physical or emotional needs. I don't believe we all need exactly the same amount of food or water. Nor do I believe we all need exactly the same amount of freedom or privacy or security. So I believe we need to be very clear about our own individual needs.

Only we can know just what we need, just like only we know just how much water we need till we do not feel thirsty anymore. No one else can tell us that. They can estimate, but they will never be as accurate as we are.

In society now, many people try to tell us what we need and therefore what we "should" do or "have to" do or "need to" do. But I believe we are the best judges of what we need, and if we help children and teenagers identify their own emotional needs, the world will be a much healthier place.

It seems now we live in a world where we try to change children and teenagers to meet the unhealthy needs of an unhealthy and unsustainable society. A better option would be to try to change society so it meets or fills the needs of healthy children and teens.

Paul Hein


The Washing Up

Note - "Washing up" is what the Australians call "doing the dishes" in the USA.


At around 7 AM one morning, a mother wanted her 10 year old daughter, Annabelle, to wash the dishes before going to school. But Annabelle did not want to wash them, so she and her mother were arguing. The mother was trying everything she could think of to get Annabelle change her mind, including threatening and bribing her daughter, but nothing was working and the mother was getting increasingly frustrated.

I offered to help by talking to Annabelle and they both accepted my help.

Here is how our talk went:

I started with this question:

"Ok, first of all, from zero to ten, how much do you feel understood by your mom about why you don't want to do the dishes?"


"Ok, could you explain to me why you don't want to wash them?"

After she had explained things a bit I stopped her to check to see if I was getting everything right:

"Okay, so Mom wants you to do the dishes and you don't want to. Plus Mom said she isn't going to take you and your sister to school until you do them? Is that right so far?"


"Okay, so you are probably feeling forced...?"


"And punished...?"


"And threatened....?"


I let her talk some more and listened carefully. The more she talked, the more she felt understood.

But I wanted to know just how much she felt understood by me so after a couple more minutes I said, "Ok right now, how much do you feel understood by me?" She replied, "8."

I then said, "OK, we are missing two. What else?"

She said, "Besides that, I told Mom I would do the dishes when I got home from school and she didn't believe me.

"So you don't feel trusted?"


By the way, at some point when we were talking I noticed that she actually had started washing the dishes.

After she told me she didn't feel trusted I checked again to see how much she felt understood by me. This time it was a perfect 10 and the dishes were finished too!

But that is not the end of this story. The mother later told me that when she was in the car on the way to school Annabelle voluntarily apologized to her for giving her such a hard time. The mother apologized in return and they both accepted the other's apology. They then then shared a few tears and a loving hug.


Here is another story about understanding, written by John Gottman

Zebra - A father gives his daughter the gift of understanding

From John Gottman's chapter on "The five steps to emotion coaching" p. 69, 70


I remember the day I first discovered how emotion coaching might work with my own daughter, Moriah. She was two at the time and we were on a cross-country flight home after visiting with relatives. Bored, tired, and cranky, Moriah asked me for Zebra, her favourite stuffed animal and comfort object. Unfortunately, we had absentmindedly packed the well-worn critter in a suitcase that was checked at the baggage counter.

"I’m sorry, honey, but we can’t get Zebra right now. He’s in the big suitcase in another part of the plane," I explained.

"I want Zebra," she whined pitifully.

"I know, sweetheart. But Zebra isn’t here. He’s in the baggage compartment underneath the plane and Daddy can’t get him until we get off the plane. I’m sorry."

"I want Zebra! I want Zebra!" she moaned again. Then she started to cry, twisting in her safety seat and reaching futilely toward a bag on the floor where she’d seen me go for snacks.

"I know you want Zebra," I said, feeling my blood pressure rise.

"But he’s not in that bag. He’s not here and I can’t do anything about it. Look, why don’t we read about Ernie," I said, fumbling for one of her favourite picture books.

"Not Ernie!" She wailed, angry now. "I want Zebra. I want him now!’

By now, I was getting "do something" looks from the passengers, from the airline attendants, from my wife, seated across the aisle. I looked at Moriah’s face, red with anger, and imagined how frustrated she must feel. After all, wasn’t I the guy who could whip up a peanut butter sandwich on demand? Make huge purple dinosaurs appear with the flip of a TV switch? Why was I withholding her favourite toy from her? Didn’t I understand how much she wanted it?

I felt bad. Then it dawned on me: I couldn’t get Zebra, but I could offer the next best thing—a father’s comfort.

"You wish you had Zebra now," I said to her.

"Yeah," she said sadly.

"And you’re angry because we can’t get him for you."


"You wish you had Zebra right now," I repeated, as she stared at me, looking rather curious, almost surprised.

"Yeah," she muttered. "I want him now,"

"You’re tired now, and smelling Zebra and cuddling with him would feel real good. I wish we had Zebra here so you could hold him. Even better, I wish we could get out of these seats and find a big, soft bed full of all your animals and pillows where we could just lie down."

"Yeah," she agreed.

"We can’t get Zebra because he’s in another part of the airplane," I said "That makes you feel frustrated."

"Yeah," she said with a sigh.

"I’m sorry," I said, watching the tension leave from her face. She rested her head against the back of her safety seat. She continued to complain softly a few more times, but she was growing calmer. Within a few minutes, she was asleep.

Although Moriah was just two years old, she clearly knew what she wanted—her Zebra. Once she began to realize that getting it wasn’t possible, she wasn’t interested in my excuses, arguments, or my diversions. My validation, however, was another matter. Finding out that I understood how she felt seemed to make her feel better. For me, it was a memorable testament to the power of empathy.


Note: I would just change one thing about this story. I would say that John didn't just give his daughter "the next best thing." I would say he gave his daughter something even better -- her father's understanding. - P. Hein




Youth Suicide Prevention

Note about youth suicide.

I have worked as a volunteer listening to and documenting the stories of extremely depressed and suicidal youth. I have collected some of these stories into a book. Here is the introduction to that book. If you would like a text copy of the entire book, please let me know.

I have given talks and workshops on this topic to schools in several countries. Here are a few of the points from my talks

- People who are depressed and self-harm or talk about suicide are not "crazy."

- What helps them the most is when someone listens to them, shows understanding and cares about them.

- What does not help is pressuring them, threatening them, or even trying to cheer them up.

The best prevention I have found so far is a network of peer support, in other words supportive friends of approximately their own age. A problem is, though, that friends are normally untrained and unskilled in the best ways to help. The result is they may sometimes make mistakes in helping even when they have the best of intentions. So one of my goals is to help design youth training courses in areas such as emotional literacy, emotional needs and listening skills.


Here is a list of things that "undepress" me when I feel depressed myself...

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