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A Long Journey Through the Badlands

Posted Aug 02 2010 8:30am

EPM – The Emotional Pain Model of behavior, a guest post by F. Elliot Siemon

Our gracious Urban Monk host, posed an open question here a couple of months ago, Why People Are Mean and What We Can Do . Perhaps there is an answer.

Hostile, mean, nasty, back stabbing people seem so common we would expect it to be such a well worn issue as to be elementary – Psyche 101. The topic strangely seems obscure or ignored by researchers, but by coincidence, it has been an armchair study issue of mine for quite some time. If, both the informal study and this discussion are correct, there may be an explanation as to the research deficit and why problematic personalities seem so common. There also is a relatively simple solution, but would take at least one generation to begin having an effect.

Eureka Moments

The Emotional Pain Model, EPM, developed as the result of three main eureka moments interwoven, intertwined by seemingly divergent and disconnected issues and experiences. The critical first observation was in high school. Clearly, after school activities attracted few of the cool, or in crowd. Instead, such activities seemed attended mostly by those who tended to be socially insecure, the out crowd.

Ironically, fortuitously, in those years the self improvement emphasis was on “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (D. Carnegie). The main point of it and its predecessor, “Think and Grow Rich” (N. Hill), is that if you are positive, uplifting, friendly and helpful, you will attract the good graces of society – and prosper. Very simply, regardless of how mean a person might be, they are generally less likely to trash someone who holds them in high esteem. But intending no disrespect for the author’s ideals, success of that agenda depends on a number of critical factors: the percentage of mean people, their positions of power and/or responsibility, degree of inclination to be bad or mean, and whether they can accept someone’s compliment without regarding it as brown nosing.

The first and most important eureka moment came upon reading a reference to the self explanatory sociological principal: Society’s Control of Excellence (SCE). It rang a lot of bells because, at that time, though reserved in demeanor, the more experienced I became, the pickier, more contrived the issues, the shorter and shorter were my segments of employment (Industrial Design). Finally, when an interviewer said that my portfolio “… is about the best I have seen”, it was clear from the total lack of response to my resume, my career had reached its finale.

The second eureka moment came toward the end of my stint in the design field. Because the pattern was the same as SCE, it was clear that our rage-a-holic employer, besides a mechanism for her self control, was trying to keep the staff as unhappy as she was. Then, a line in a psych book that schizophrenics seemed in a constant state of emotional pain and that started my watching the issues more closely.

Going back to college the third time, continuing an extra heavy elective emphasis on behavioral science, I switched from Bus/Mgt to Criminal Justice. (Some experiences had turned my interest toward the criminal system and law, but that is another story along with, why it didn’t work out.)

Following the turbulent termination of my marriage (my ex became the delusional, unhappy one), I began exploring various social groups, and there some critical issues fell into place. From one sizable social circle there were two ladies I ran across around town and asked why they don’t come by anymore. They both said essentially the same thing, that “people don’t go there to socialize” – quite puzzling.

Then just as I was becoming known and had attracted a couple of better looking lady friends, suddenly, even good friends and couples I have known for a while began avoiding me. There was the uneasy feeling that something was going around, but what? And was it my imagination and paranoia instead of something real? (Apparently my limited success had been noticed…) It took a couple of years of hanging in there, but I happened to turn back to a lady I had been talking to. Coming up behind, a big fellow known as “Crazy Eddy” had leaned over to her and was saying, “Don’t ya know y’ suppose’ t’ associate with MEN?”.

The Model Begins to Take Form

With any of the class of emotional pain causing problems, because they are rarely as bad as we might imagine, they are more of a delusion than based on reality. The more frequent an episode resulting in anxiety and emotional pain, ultimately, a displacement defense reaction and the more problematic a person can be. No matter what the problem, whenever in emotional distress/pain is the result, and pain demands a more immediate response than pleasure.

We are even taught that the discomfort or pain of delayed gratification provides a greater economic gain than taking immediate gratification. Thus enduring the pain of abstinence is associated with thrift and virtue. While I absolutely agree with the general concept and benefits of appropriately delayed gratification, there seems a subtle social acceptance of, and a constant undercurrent of social emotional pain. No pain – no gain, right?

The final eureka moment came while looking over the book case of a friend and med student. One psych test preparation book caught my attention. It happened to open to a question, something about the percentage of population that was, something… whatever. Not knowing the answer I checked the answer in the back. It said (paraphrasing), according to the Midtown Manhattan Study (fn-1, a-c), 81% of those surveyed had some level of behavioral dysfunction, 23% were markedly impaired and 19% were relatively free of psychological problems.

The reason the Carnegie and Hill premiss didn’t seem to work, suddenly became clear. It was the reason why a cheery “Good morning” too often made enemies, why becoming better in your field can shorten employment, and why social success caused a heinous backlash – it was not the issue of excellence so much as it was, for whatever the cause – emotional pain. Emotional and/or physical problems cause some degree of emotional pain, and those afflicted – the majority – potentially and by varying degrees, whatever the cause, tend to bring those around them down to their level of unhappiness and pain.

Thus, emotional pain, to me, has emerged as the primary engine, the device driver of society and even world history. Becoming tuned to it’s nuances is perhaps the most valuable psychological position because it explains more of general social behavior than anything I have run across. As distinguished from schadenfreude, pleasure at someone else’s misfortune, this might better be described as relief, relief when one can cause or heighten the emotional pain of another (though some might describe their feelings as pleasure or delight). But like a fix it is only a temporary relief, because the underlying cause, unless treated via analysis and/or therapy, is inherent and does not go away (the reason criminals are repetitive).

Finally it became clear what was going on with social groups. It amounts to games of keep away. Those with relationship problems are more attracted to ready made social events; once there, since they have difficulty with or can not have a relationship for their particular behavioral problem reason, they respond to seeing relationships via displacement defense, acting out their emotional pain. If they can’t have productive relationships, no one can. The common term is jealousy, but the same regarding SCE, the underlying common operative is emotional pain.

You are already aware that people also try to spread their problem and have refined their radar for similar people (misery loves company – misery needs company). If they can convince others that their irrational fears or point of view is real, then it supports their reality, and they feel better. A psychiatrist friend, musing aloud, once said, “hmmm… reality is what people believe it is”. Several other observers are attributed with the observation that “reality is nothing more than a collective hunch”. Differentiating between the nebulous, contrived or delusional realm and reality, is largely the function of science, the scientific method and psychiatrists, but that doesn’t help much if the problem is someone telling your spouse you’ve been seen around town with someone else.

And, we’re all aware that what one says about another person – that projecting says more about the orator than they are saying about the subject. But I have yet to see any reference to what people believe, which to me, follows the same principal. Like, if on someone’s word, your spouse believes that you are unfaithful – projecting includes what people believe.

Rumor mongers, perfecting their craft of spreading emotional pain, use their radar to identify who would buy into their game as well as what a person’s hot button might be. They become buddies of subterfuge with part of their game being, not telling the subject what it is that is going around. It works because those who know, being in the majority, are sufficiently in the emotional pain loop they are not motivated to ruin the joke by blowing the cover.

Why, and What can be Done

Where does all this come from, and why so prevalent? Perhaps the answer can largely be explained by certain studies regarding schizophrenia. The first that I noticed was a British study on why people with deeper skin tone (to me we are all the same color, just a different tone) seemed to be more prone to schizophrenia. The conclusion implicated pregnancy, vitamin D and sunlight: the deeper the skin tone the more filtered the sunlight, and that is complicated in norther latitudes by the increased amount of clothing, especially in the winter. There has also been a backlash so to speak against sun exposure because of it’s aging affect and increased possibility of melanoma. (I just came across an excellent broad article with references on the subject – fn2).

And where else do we find increased clothing, even in warm climates? The interesting thing is that we find the problem in the same place as tyrannic militancy arising one generation following a certain religious revival and its extremely modest female dress code. Within the framework of the EPM, the indiscriminate violence, largely against their own people – you can imagine the level of emotional pain driving such behavior.

Viewed another way, the problem with problematic and violent behavior, regardless of origin, has a silver lining, either more sun for pregnant women, more vitamin D, or a bit more of both.

Nevertheless, becoming tuned to and sensing emotional pain can either help interpersonal navigation or if not, explains the difficulties one runs into. Among the dead give-aways is a short fuse – anyone experiencing emotional pain is closer to losing it. A person who seems always to be acting is struggling for control. Also, what bothers a person, whether they indicate any frivolous issues, projection and/or delusion. Other give-aways are upmanship and put-downs. Those that slip by your observations are likely those with a more refined masking behavior. With masking behaviors, the person not only knows they have a problem but what that problem is (how else could they effectively mask it).

This brings us to why the scant research on bad, mean people – because the behavioral science field is not immune. Likely there is a larger percentage of potentially problematic practitioners in the field than we’d guess. Either they feel OK about themselves (after all, they are in the majority – the eye can not see itself) and/or have entered the field as part of a masking behavior strategy.

There is a fine, recent article which touches upon EPM issues, The Secret to Having Happy Employees (fn 3). Relating to the old adage about one bad apple in a barrel, he author observes that: “Bad management can make a good employee dysfunctional. On the other hand, good management will not always make a dysfunctional employee good.” and he weeds out unhappy staff members. But because even one bad employee can bring a good business down, a peremptory psyche test for employment candidates always seemed to make good business sense.

Sadly there is no magic bullet, no super hero to make it all better. Those who recognize themselves as pain driven, should seek therapy – there are constructive solutions. Societies with extra modest dress codes for women should adopt something like pregnant women only sun sessions along with appropriate diet and supplements. The issue is gaining more and more attention. Hopefully, in 20+ years there will be reports of lower reliance on therapy, a drop off in crime and terrorism, and hopefully increasing world peace and understanding.


With any condition, physical and/or mental, causing emotional pain, those inclined to act out will tend to do so in a manner, by violence or destructive social behavior, to bring others down to, or below their level of unhappiness/emotional pain.

The EPM can be boiled down to: People tend to bring those around them down to their level of unhappiness or emotional pain.

Emotional pain, to me, is the main device driver of society and noticing the indications can help us chose those we would like to associate with.

The Emotional Pain Model also extends to criminal behavior; crimes are put downs of sorts, intended to make people or businesses feel the perpetrator’s pain, and because it is just a fix, criminal activity continues; recidivism would be reduced with proper, appropriate treatment.

Misery, likes/needs company which gives rise to subterfuge clicks, and being nice to them heightens their pain and subsequent resolve.

The basic cause (certainly one of several) of emotional pain, likely is the mother’s lack of sunlight exposure and/or vitamin D, causing mental impairment, subsequent behavior problems and inherent emotional pain in their offspring.

(1a) Midtown Manhattan Study, (1962) .

(1a) “Prevalence of DSM-IV Disorder in a Representative, Healthy Birth Cohort at School Entry: Sociodemographic Risks and Social Adaptation”: As children transition from day care to formal schooling, 21.6% will have a psychiatric disorder with impairment. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; July, ‘10.

(1b) DSM-1V: 28% or 29% of the population in managed care plans, adjudged to need mental health treatment per year. (This stat has been criticized as seeming a bit high.)

(2) Schizophrenia, Immigrants, and Vitamin D, by Marie-José Dealberto, MD, PhD, . The article covers a broad range including what is covered here, but on the issue of high schizophrenia among immigrants, I have an explanation for that which might be another article.

(3) The Secret to Having Happy Employees, by Jay Goltz, NYT., .

Most people would rather be certain they’re miserable than risk being happy.

– Robert Anthony

We all have strength enough to endure the misfortunes of others.

– Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Misery no longer loves company. Nowadays it insists on it.

– Russell Baker

People seem to enjoy things more when they know a lot of other people have been left out of the pleasure.

– Russell Baker

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