Emotional Intelligence: Tarzan and His Ape-Like Behavior

ByCindy M. Nelson, M.B.A., C.S.L.C.

Emotional Intelligence: Tarzan and His Ape-Like Behavior

emotional intelligence behavior leadership development coaching

Why does Tarzan act like an ape? Because he was raised by apes.

Is his ape-like behavior his fault? No.

What happens when he meets Jane and realizes he is a human? What if he wants to have a more human lifestyle? Is it his responsibility to change, correct or heal his ape-like behavior? Yes.

The same scenario holds true for all of us. It is totally normal to behave in ways that were modeled for us when we were growing up. When we get older and start having relationships and jobs, we start to become aware that the behaviors that were modeled for us might not be very effective. As young adults, our behavior truly isn’t our fault (just like Tarzan). However, as we age and learn that our behavior isn’t serving us very well, it becomes our responsibility to change, eliminate or adjust the behavior based on the results we’d like to get. In other words, if Tarzan wants to go out to dinner with Jane in London, he’s got to give up eating with his hands and learn how to use a fork.

There is one area of our lives that most of us are ineffective in and that is dealing with and processing feelings. It’s because that behavior wasn’t modeled for us when we were growing up, so we really have no idea how to do it (effectively). In fact, the average emotional age of Americans is 14 years old (this includes our parents). If you are starting to feel uncomfortable thinking about this, know that you are completely normal. It’s normal to not want to think about our parents in this light because of the core ego defense Parental Idealization (which I have defined in a previous post).

As a result of Parental Idealization, we either unconsciously model (copy) our parents’ behavior, or we make a conscious decision to do the opposite. For example, if my dad was very critical and demanding, I’m either going to grow up being critical and demanding, or I’m going to be accepting, nice and easy-going (a.k.a. a people-pleaser). The problem is that neither of these behaviors are effective in all situations. Ideally, I’d have the choice to be critical when need be and then have the ability to be easy going when that is appropriate. Unfortunately, with Parental Idealization, we become locked into the same or opposite trait. There is no choice, and there is no in-between/balanced state.

If you are feeling brave and want to learn something about yourself, try this exercise. Take a piece of paper, and draw a line down the center, making two columns. On one side write “Mom” and on the other write “Dad”. Now, pick which parent you want to start with, and write down all of the behaviors and personality traits you don’t like about him/her. Note that this exercise is pretty uncomfortable. You are not bashing Mom and Dad here. You are merely trying to understand what behaviors you may be modeling. List the undesirable, irritating and negative behaviors for both parents. When you are done, go through the list and ask yourself, “Do I model any of these behaviors or personality traits?” Circle the ones you model. Then go back through the list and ask, “Do I consciously act the opposite of any of these traits?” Even though it may seem like this is a better option, it is still worth looking at. Even if you’ve chosen to be nice and easy-going because Dad was critical, I bet this alternative behavior causes negative consequences for you in your personal and/or professional life.

The lesson from Tarzan is a bit of a tough pill to swallow. The paradox is that although “my behavior is not my fault,” it still stands that “it’s my responsibility to change it.”

This blog post was provided by Cindy M. Nelson, M.B.A., C.S.L.C. from Anakh Leadership Coaching LLC.  We specialize in developing business leaders and professionals by increasing their self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and overall effectiveness thereby increasing professional success and personal satisfaction in their lives.  For more information, please go to aleadershipcoach.com.

Connect on social media:




About the author

Cindy M. Nelson, M.B.A., C.S.L.C. administrator

As a Certified Spiritual Life Coach, I specialize in emotional and social intelligence coaching for business leaders and key managers to increase effectiveness and overall satisfaction in both business and personal arenas. I provide one-on-one coaching in person or over the phone.