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Healing the Heartless Giant

Today I might justย spin your thinking 180หš around with the next ingredient in my recipe for a good marriage.

And it is;

Go on a quest to find your heart

I wonder if you have heard the story of The Heartless Giant?
It goes something like this …

Once upon a time there was a giant who lived locked in the dungeon of the king’s castle. Day after day, through the bars of his cell, the giant whispered to the king’s youngest son, eventually tricking the boy into letting him out. Once released, the giant went on a wild killing spree throughout the land, creating a trail of destruction and leaving the young boy feeling guilty and betrayed.

One by one the king and his older sons left the castle to do battle with the giant, but none of them ever returned. Eventually only the king’s youngest son was left. His mother pleaded with the boy not to leave her – but wracked with guilt the boy set out on what appeared to be a hopeless journey.

On his journey the boy met and helped an injured bird, a fish that had been landed out of water, and finally a starving wolf. Arriving at the giant’s house on the wolf’s back the boy discovered his father and brothers, all turned to stone around the perimeter of the gloomy house. Courageously the boy knocked on the door and reminded the giant of their former friendship and secured a job as a servant in his house.

Night after night the boy cared for the giant and worked to earn his trust by cleaning his house and feeding him. Day after day while the giant was out – the boy searched the house for the giant’s heart, which the giant had hidden. Eventually the giant softened to the boys requests and told him his heart’s true hiding place: down the well inside a church on an island an impossibly long way away. The creatures from earlier in the boy’s journey (the bird, fish and wolf) then assist him in what would otherwise have been an impossible journey. And at the break of day the boy returned with the giant’s heart. On having his heart returned to his chest – the stone victims all returned to life and the family was reunited.

I love Jim Henson’s movie of this story and after watching it again the other night, I got to thinking about the characters from a psychological point of view. When Steve and my marriage was at its worst I remember seeing that movie and thinking “If only I could find where Steve has hidden his heart!”

But now I know that to truly understand this story we need to stop asking, “Where is that key that will unlock my husband or wife’s heart” and instead start looking for the heartless giant in ourselves.

Because I do not believe we begin our life with a heart that is naturally empathetic towards others. Instead, just as this tale describes, this ‘heart’ is something we need to search long and hard to find.

But that is the end of our tale today; first let’s start with the King and his son who, from here on, we will call Leo …

In my version of the tale, the giant represents Leo’s instinctive emotional nature and – just like all good parents – the king is wise to restrain this nature in his son. What good parent allows their child’s emotional nature to develop unchecked? As children we all feel like lashing out and hitting other people when we are angry, sulking when we are upset, and over indulging our senses in every pleasurable activity we come across. It is our parents and teachers role to subdue and restrain these impulses and teach us to regulate our emotions in a healthy way.

But as Leo grows his instinctive emotional nature continues whispering to him, “Why do my emotions and desires need restraining? I am certain that what I desire so passionately MUST BE GOOD AND RIGHT!” Eventually seduced in this way by his instinctive emotional nature, Leo leaves the castle and releases himself from the restraints imposed on him by his father’s influence, unleashing his unbridled emotional nature on the world.

The result – as often is the case – is as predictable and destructive to ‘Leo the giant’ as it is to the people he hurts. One by one his family members try and reach out to him — but ‘Leo the giant’ cannot see that his feelings are wrong and destructive. It feels right to indulge his senses when his natural desires run so deep. It feels necessary to scream and cry when he is hurting and justifiable to hit and even destroy anyone who angers him.

So instead of listening to the people who try to help him conquer this nature in himself, ‘Leo the giant’ symbolically turns them to stone.

Let’s stop for a moment and see if we can see a bit of ‘Leo the giant’ in ourselves?

Do you know what it is to turn someone to stone?

We do this as soon as we objectify people by calling them a bad name.

When anyone tries to come between us and what the heartless giant inside of us is craving – instead of hearing them – we simply call them selfish, controlling, or any name we can think of that means we do not have to consider that maybe what we are wanting is not good for us or anyone else.

And this might include people in our life who do not love us in a way that soothes our anxiety and fears. Even when we have no idea how to handle those emotions our self.

What names do we reserve for those people?
Can you see how labelling them cuts off all compassion for their point of view and in this way is just like turning them to stone?

How many people that you once loved have you objectified by labelling them with a bad name?

So alas, the giant has been freed, but Leo’s conscience remains with his parents in the castle. This other side of Leo is desperate to reason with ‘Leo the giant’ – but the odds of him winning such an uneven match seem hopeless indeed.

And this is the plight of the human condition.

Because when faced with the tempest of our own emotional nature, listening to our conscience and truly considering our own needs — and the feelings and needs of others — is a terribly hard thing to do.

But if you really want a great marriage, it is a quest you have no choice but take on.

And this is where the gold in this story begins …

Because rather than his conscience storming in and taking on his own worst nature (in a battle he would ultimately lose), Leo does something very interesting instead.

He begins by practicing empathy towards small helpless creatures that he comes across throughout his day.

It’s interesting that in ancient Chinese philosophy – this practice is known as the only way to change a person’s fate.

Because even the vilest bully amongst us, can in private show tenderness to a small creature, without publicly admitting any vulnerable feelings or weakness or having to come face to face with their own false pride.

So step by step on Leo’s journey – he begins practicing empathy and compassion where he can.

Then once in the giant’s house, Leo begins studying ‘the giant’ that is his own instinctive emotional nature.

The giant’s likes and dislikes become apparent to Leo and more importantly, he learns how to soothe him and build trust. And in this way, day after day, Leo’s confidence and self knowledge grow.

And then finally one day Leo begins learning how to not to let the giant trick him any longer.

This is a process we describe in detail in our books. Watching and studying our actions and emotional reactions (instead of acting on them) while slowly we come to trust and understand ourselves.

And where at first the giant was able to trick Leo – eventually Leo learns how to trick the giant instead.

Do you have any idea what it means to trick yourself? Everyday when I don’t feel like working. I say, “I will just answer a couple of emails … ” when I know that really I will get caught up in it and work for at least half a day.

Because if I tell myself in the morning that I have to sit and work at my desk all day, it brings up resistance in myself that makes me want to do other things instead.

Or when I don’t feel like exercising … instead of saying I have to do this next exercise ten times (and deciding I can’t) – I just say “I’ll just do one and see how I go”, and then when I am finished I say the same thing again!

But back to our story where Leo’s conscience is finally ready to bring ‘Leo the giant’ his heart!

For this he has to go the distance and dive deep within a sacred place in himself. And he could not do this without the help of the small creatures he has practiced empathy with along the way.

Because truly learning to love other people is not something you will learn overnight.

It takes discipline and commitment and humility and patience – and focusing on our own heartless giant and not the heartless giant in somebody else.

Did you know that 1/3 to 1/2 of the chocolate produced in the world today is harvested by child slaves who are treated horrifically and brutally beaten?

Knowing this now – will you begin noticing what brands of chocolate you buy and rejecting offers of slave made chocolate even when you are just longing to put that chocolate in your mouth?

Because the heartless giant who by nature puts our own emotional drives before the feelings and needs of others is definately in us all.

So what is the ending to our tale? We know the stone people come back to life – but doesn’t the giant finding his heart make him vulnerable to being hurt? Maybe … but I am not so sure this is right. Because in my life learning to love has been one of the greatest antidotes I have ever found to feelings of rejection and hurt.

Are there people in your life that you have ‘turned to stone’?
And do you ever objectify the people you love in your life right now?

It is all very well to blame other people, but are you prepared to go the distance and dive deep within that sacred place in yourself and find your ability to see and feel things from someone else’s point of view?

And if you think that the heartless giant only represents a person’s selfish anger and lust — please read more on this site on the subject of codependence. Because a person who cannot restrain their own infantile and unrestrained desire for attention and soothing or take the time to understand others rather than objectify them can be as destructive a force as any angry liar or cheat.

In my case I had to finally see that no matter how badly Steve was behaving, the expectations I had of him were completely unrealistic. I was asking him to love me and fix our lives, when I wasn’t loving or taking care of myself.

Because ultimately the best we can do is give our own giant a heart. Because if we haven’t done this for ourselves – what hope will we have in taming the heartless giant in anyone else?

Part 5 – More Attractive than Wealth Status or Botox


Kim is the author of seven books on the topic of relationships and emotional intelligence.

A prolific multi-media content innovator, Kim has created and shared a library of articles and multi-media educational tools including radio shows,
movies and poetry on 'The NC Marriage', and 'The Love Safety Net'.

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. hi
    I enjoyed your article – just wanted to add that I came across research that found that people are born with natural primitive empathy precursor. Alfie Kohn in his book The Brighter side of human nature talks about a lot of research confirming it.
    I believe people are naturally empathetic but our cultural training teaches us otherwise.
    Please take a look at Alfie’s Video – he talks there about Empathy in Children -
    I still agree with you that we need to develop our empathy because our cultures are not supporting empathy

  2. hey just wanted to add I really like your metaphor of name calling and turning someone else into the stone ! It helps with the understanding.

  3. and last but not least I m going to look into the chocolate ! I love it how you incorporated the other cause in this article !

  4. I love this story! Amid many prayers, heartache, confusion, perseverance and the help honest friends and your work, I have taken this very journey and slayed my own dragon heart. It is counter intuitive but very true that we all need to start with ourselves. It brought me such freedom that I no longer “needed” my husband to change. But the amazing part is, once I no longer expected and wanted him to stop being so “mean”, he stopped! Its not perfect and we are both still growing, but we are on the journey more together and like a team than ever before. Thanks for all you wisdom and work!

  5. Kim – You last few posting have been really powerful. I wanted to share with you two quotes which have been circulating at my work.

    Conclusion statement from a review article on multiple research studies of what makes happy relationships –

    “Find the most generous explanation for the other’s behavior and believe it.”

    (reference avail if you want it)

    A second one item too that hits home for me…

    S …smart
    T …talented
    U …unique
    P …person
    I …in
    D …demand

    I owe you an update … it is in progress.

  6. I am a codependent….I often treat people in a business like way…my walls/defenses. No wonder they rebel against it.

  7. Great essay. I believe the giant Leo was born whole and loving but life caused him to throw his heart into the well cause it was damaged or to not feel the pain he endured.
    Babies and child stop being pure love 100% unconditional acceptance as when they were born cause they are not seen heard respected and loved

    The point of existence by a h Almaas
    Getting the love you want by h Hendrix
    The dance of the wounded souls by rudolf

  8. Kim,

    I’m big fan of yours. You helped me saved my custody when my lawyers and the court fails.

    I tend to think, the boy and the giant is the same person (the author probably splitted this into two beings). But I love the way you approach your analysis too.


  9. I agree Kim that empathy isn’t something you’re born with, but need to develop, a higher order capacity. Your article also reminded me of M Scott Peck’s definition of love – something like ‘to extend oneself for the spiritual growth of another (or oneself)’ – not simply a feeling, but a verb. So I guess I’m starting to understand that loving ourselves and others requires extending ourselves, which leads to growth, which leads us down the path to that well where the full capacity of our hearts can be found.

    I’m only getting close to understanding the real nature of love now, after having a healthy partnership for the last 3 years. Your articles and insights have helped to lead me out of an unloving desert, starting about 5 years ago, Kim (and Steve). I thought that I wouldn’t need your resources after leaving my narcissistic relationship behind, but I keep finding more to learn – from and with you. Thank you with all my heart (I am now a subscriber as well)


  10. WOW! So powerful, like when TRUTH hits you in the gut and you know you have to face it, dig deep, and work hard, or choose to stay in your miserable state. That was incredible writing Kim, and you are being guided to bless the lives of others so they can heal with these new found truths and move forward in their lives. I just was reading about our gift of agency here on this earth being one of God’s greatest gifts to us next to life itself. We are here to ACT and not just to be just acted upon. It is so challenging, but yet will bring us the most peace and joy in ourselves and our relationships.
    I am working hard on my codependency and painfully looking at how I pushed my first husband away with it, and why my new marriage is so difficult with my unrealistic expectations. Of course it doesn’t help that their false pride is what attracted me to them. ๐Ÿ™‚ (But, i dont want to turn anyone else to stone). It takes a lot of disipline to “tame the heartless giant” with LOVE (or I like to call Charity) in me, with God first, and then others. I want to thank you again for all your work and wisdom! There is HOPE (even when I thought there was none)! And that feels good!

  11. Hi everyone ๐Ÿ™‚

    I am glad everyone liked this weeks story – I really liked this one too!

    I do see the giant and Leo as the same person – but very different parts.

    We have a conscience that is naturally empathetic – but as soon as our amygdala (emotional brain) fires all of us (and particularly as children) tend to forget about everyone except for ourselves. We see that selfishness in others when they are emotional – but unfortunately when we are emotional we tend to rationalise behaviour as reasonable that probably looks very different to everybody else.

    Forging a bridge between these two parts of our mind is what the work I present is all about.

    For this reason I think it can be dangerous to believe that babies are perfect when they are born and only damaged by social conditioning and I have seen many children’s development damaged by child led parenting.

    Because the truth is that we are best to learn about the world and our place in it from healthy adults, not from other children or ourselves.

    Teenage suicide statistics paint this fact very clearly – with peer attachment and peer rejection being the cause of suicide in nearly every case.

    I do believe children have natural empathy – but learning to regulate and understand our emotions is something all of us need to be taught.

    Feeling our children are perfect can lead to insecurity as a parent and also to being over anxious about the harm we can cause them growing up.

    There is certainly abuse that results from things happening
    to a child that should not have. But much more of the time the abuse is caused by things that should have happened that didn’t.

    One example of child lead parenting leading to a person becoming over anxious is when a parent and child are playing happily and then suddenly the child looks away.

    A secure and ‘in charge’ parent will understand that the child is just taking their own ‘time out’ for a moment to calm down and get centered in themselves again. Not taking this disconnection personally they will wait a few moments and then happily attract the child’s attention and the play will resume again.

    A parent who feels they must be led by their child’s signals on the other hand may feel rejected and that the child is showing they have done something wrong. They may hence become anxious and withdraw – leaving the child scared in the future to take time out to self soothe for fear of rejection – or the parent may become clingy or aggressive in trying to bring the child back into communication and to find out what is wrong.

    If repeated, these insecure circles of communication then carry on into our adult personal relationships causing dysfunction and pain.

    So in brief I believe children do have natural empathy yes, but our instinctive emotional natures need wise coaching in their development.

    The good news is we do not reach our peak at being able to learn emotional intelligence skills like these until we are well into our 40s and many years after that it is still not to late to learn.

  12. Another awesome article from you Kim. Your insights contributed a lot to people like me who desperately search for an answer to a hopeless problem. Hope you continue to share your thoughts and experience to everyone who have this problem. More power to you and Godbless!

  13. โ€œAs the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive. We need mutual forgiveness in order to thrive.โ€ โ€“ Bishop Chartres, The Royal Wedding, 2011

  14. Excellent story!! Very thought provoking indeed. This goes back to the idea that we have to first learn to love ourselves before we are able to love someone else. It’s setting expectations and boundaries for ourselves and being true to ourselves. Another way of looking at this is: When we are truly healed ourselves (not broken anymore), only then are we ready for a real loving relationship and will no longer attract unhealthy abusive people in our lives. Bottom line: if we are with an unhealthy person, we do have to look in the mirror because we are what we attract. And when we finally heal the brokenness from within ourselves (learning to love and honor ourselves) are we able to finally recognize it in others and be able to approach them from a position of strength and love versus hurt and anger.

    We all have to realize that what we are is what we attract. If we are loving and healthy we will attract likewise. It’s never too late to heal and start over. Even if our abusive partners never change, we can still love them from a distance and go on with our own lives and sincerely wish them well and actually mean it. Because when we heal, we will have compassion instead of anger and strength instead of hurt. God bless all as we continue to learn more about love and how powerful love is.

  15. Being Mindful!

    I DVR’d a program on PBS hosting Dr Rudy Tanzi. The stuff in this article SO made me think of all Dr Tanzi talks about.

    Kim and Steve, you are bringing all the various things I’ve searched the internet for, together. It’s no longer like a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s just the light is bright now.

    Here’s a link on Dr Tanzi I’d like to share:

  16. I love this week’s article, Kim. Thank you! Bless your beautiful heart for all you’ve given to me and others. Your words (in this article and The Love Safety Net) have changed my mind and my life and consequently, all those around me have changed for the better. And all the way from Australia! ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Thanks Kim for yet another enlightening article. Your article helped me with my partner of two years. However, after the latest betrayal I decided to cut my losses and move on. I will continue to read your articles. They have given me much insight to help me develop myself.
    P.S. I love Lucy’s comments.

  18. the deep wisdom clothed in “fairy tales”!,… I remember a related anecdote about humans “learning to love”,… first, start with a plant, taking close attentive care of it,… then do the same with an animal,… and only after those successful efforts/lessons, work on learning to love a human,…

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