“Emotional Fat on the Bone” is a term I use to describe our emotional resiliency. It represents our ability to handle our lives with as much emotional competence as possible. It also represents our ability to live as true adults, instead of adult-appearing children.
Picture Emotional Fat as insulation or a buffer between your raw nerves and the world around you.
The more Emotional Fat on the Bone, the better.
To borrow from our animal cousins for a moment (which I’ll often do in my office to keep things even more interesting), one of my Labrador Retrievers has a LOT of Emotional Fat on the Bone.
Low flying airplane?
No problem for him; no reaction (no, he’s not deaf.)
Strange person walking up to us?
No immediate reaction; he deems them innocent before he finds them guilty depending upon their behavior.
Changes in routine or food?
He deals with it in stride.
My sometimes less-than-adult reactions or behaviors?
He forgives me, then we move on.
A hard day’s work or multiple tasks in a row?
He takes them on one by one until they’re done.
How much Emotional Fat on the Bone do you have?
Here are some ways to tell:
(By the way, this list is by no means meant to make you feel badly if you find yourself lacking in Emotional Fat on the Bone, because we can always grow some more as we become more experienced in life and heal from childhood wounds.)
How long does it take you to anger or lose control?
(Less than a minute= very little Emotional Fat vs. hardly ever lose it= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
What TYPES of situations can make you lose it or become angry?
(Most situations= very little Emotional Fat vs. extreme situations= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
How quickly, during a conversation, do you talk negatively or about negative things?
(Within three sentences= very little Emotional Fat vs. hardly ever, or not for a long time= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
How much does it take to make you very anxious?
(Everything makes me anxious= very little Emotional Fat vs. I tend to remain calm= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
Do you hold grudges?
(Yes, all the time, and for long periods of time= very little Emotional Fat vs. hardly ever= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
How hard is it for you to trust people?
(I don’t trust people or their motivations= very little Emotional Fat vs. I start out trusting and let them prove me wrong= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
How long can you focus on something without getting distracted?
(Seconds= very little Emotional Fat vs. as long as needed= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
How much does it take for you to become distracted?
(The wind blowing= very little Emotional Fat vs. I am very focused when I need to be= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
How much does it take for you to become overwhelmed?
(More than one thing on my mind or getting interrupted overwhelms me vs. it takes a lot of goings on to make me feel overwhelmed= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
How much patience do you have with people?
(People are idiots= very little Emotional Fat vs. A LOT of patience= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
How much does it take to frighten you or make you feel threatened?
(I feel frightened or threatened most of the time= very little Emotional Fat vs. I usually feel pretty secure= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
How adventurous are you?
(Not very= very little Emotional Fat vs. pretty darn adventurous if it interests me= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
Do you like challenges and new things, or do you prefer things to remain the same?
(I always prefer the status quo to change= very little Emotional Fat vs. I welcome change when it seems appropriate or advantageous= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
How much of the time would you tend to take things personally?
(I ALWAYS take things personally= very little Emotional Fat vs. I usually DON’T take things personally= LOTS of Emotional Fat.)
Having given you all these examples, let me encourage you by saying that, compared to my one Labrador Retriever that I described above (my black one), I have VERY little Emotional Fat on the Bone- so don’t feel too badly.
In fact, the day I realized this was quite a wake-up call for me.
Here was a dog that actually conducted himself in a more adult-competent manner in his life than I sometimes did in mine!
The level of Emotional Fat we have is often a characteristic which is dependent upon two factors: one is our genetic, inborn temperament; the other, our upbringing and parental influences.
I have met people with excellent inborn temperaments, but who had overly anxious or aggressive parents, and who turned out to have about average levels of Emotional Fat on the Bone.
On the other hand, I’ve met people with significantly less genetic gifts, but who were exposed early on to one or two caregivers with lots of Emotional Fat on their bones. The result? Again, about average degrees of Emotional Fat.
For most of us, we probably have somewhat average genetic temperament gifts (some of us are a bit on the anxious side, others a bit more aggressive, some maybe more easily distractible, etc.)
What this means is that we all have to absolutely MAXIMIZE our genetic potential by practicing what I call “adult emotional competency skills” (see my REALADULTS mnemonic post where each letter of REALADULTS stands for an emotional competency skill.)
The more we practice these skills in our lives, the more we will be able to leverage our God given (or evolutionary, whichever you prefer) temperaments, and the more we’ll have to offer our children and the world around us.
So, there you have it; Emotional Fat on the Bone.
Now go out there and work on growing some more of it!
(Maybe you’ll turn out to be a bit more like my beloved Lab, Boston, than I could ever be.)
All the best,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.