The term emotional intelligence, also known as EQ, has become more prominent in recent years for perhaps being the most important set of skills we could develop as part of our overall self-awareness. The simplest way I can explain the importance of emotional intelligence is like this: not having it is like trying to communicate with those closest to you, and they speak a completely foreign language. Instead in the actual case of emotional intelligence, you’re trying to communicate with yourself!
Emotional intelligence helps us find the meaning in our emotions and what they are trying to tell us. So many of us go decades, or even a lifetime, without truly understanding that our emotions are simply data that we can use to help guide our decisions and actions in a way that aligns with our values. This leads to much more fulfillment and success.
The concept of emotional intelligence is not new, however. The concept gained more prominence after Viktor Frankl’s famous 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning. In his book inspired by his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, Frankl writes about the space between the stimulus and our response. In that space, he states, is our power to choose how we respond. And, according to Frankl, in that space lives our growth and our freedom.
Perhaps the next most popular book about this topic came in Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, where he outlined his theory on the components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. While we won’t get in to the five components here, it’s important to note that the idea of ‘allowing’ our emotions to express themselves through self-awareness is key.
For generations now we’ve been told that “toughness” and “resilience” is important to achieve by burying our emotions and being stronger than our emotions. Especially in males. In fact, burying our emotions deep down inside just makes them grow and come back even more powerful as harmful beasts at a later time. Reference “he blew his stack” type behaviour. It’s actually destructive and unintelligent behaviour.
In truth, the emotionally healthiest and happiest people are aware of their emotions, can name some (or even most!) of their emotions, and like fine wine, allow their emotions to breathe. Allowing our emotions to see the light of day and be felt and expressed actually turns those little evil gremlins into harmless little creatures that were just trying to be unchained and uncaged; little companions that are actually trying to guide us!
More recently in 2016, Susan David, Ph.D. released her landmark book, Emotional Agility. David advanced the notion of emotional intelligence by clearly outlining how to be more agile with our emotions and to process them with more skill, which leads to better mental and emotional health. Less depression and anxiety. More contentment and fulfillment. David’s key points are these:
1. Notice when you’ve been hooked by emotions; also referred to as being ‘flooded’; for example — we all have that one person that gets under our skin and sets us off. To continue to recognize when the heat is rising into our neck and face (anger), and practice restraint with that person in the heated moment and then gradually getting more skilled at responding how you’ll later be proud that you did, brings us much happier and more successful results.
2. Label the emotions — name them and know where you feel them in your body; take that metaphorical step back in the moment as if you’re watching yourself from the ceiling, which greatly helps separate us from identifying as the emotion (e.g. I feel angry vs I am angry).
3. Accept them — we always try to control and out-muscle our emotions; the opposite of control is acceptance; we are not our thoughts and emotions, yet they are a part of who we are; when we can accept that they live within us, and their intent is to help guide us with more wisdom, we gain an asset in our emotional intelligence.
4. Act on your values — what are those most important things to you in life you always regret violating afterwards? Or what values do you admire so strongly in your favourite people? These are your deepest values that should guide your decisions, thereby granting you peace and fulfilment with your decision making. This will guarantee more deeply fulfilling results and outcomes.
The next time you’re struggling with an emotion and trying to beat it down into the basement, try a different strategy. Notice and name it. Even pay attention to exactly where you are feeling it in your body. Then allow it to say its piece. Breathe through it and tell it you appreciate its wisdom and the message it is trying to tell you. Often right at this moment it will click for you just why you’re feeling the emotion, and you’ll realize what you need to do to remedy it. Remember to apply the filter of your key values, those things most important to you that guide our important decisions, and you will shape your plan of action exactly how you want it. One ounce of courage injected and you’ll be well on your way to tackling that emotion, and really, the problem or necessary conversation that the emotion was just making you more aware of.
Chris Wilkinson is the co-owner for Nurse Next Door Home Care Services for Cowichan and central Vancouver Island. For more info visit www.NurseNextDoor.com or for questions or a free in-home Caring Consult call 250-748-4357, or email Chris.Wilkinson@NurseNextDoor.com