Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is usually defined as the ability, capacity, skill or, a self-perceived ability, to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one’s self, of others, and of groups.  And there have been many models, complex and scientific, that have attempted to examine it.  Much research and writing has been done in this field since Daniel Goleman introduced it in his book Emotional Intelligence: How It Can Matter More Than IQ.  Yet, Daniel Goleman still mentions that in terms of evolution we are really behind in the development of our emotional competency.  Although much advancement has been done, we have much work to do in order to have a complete incorporation of emotional intelligence ethics in our institutions, systems of operation, education, relationships and day to day lives. 

I was first introduced to the term emotional intelligence, EQ, when I began working at the Center for Nonviolent Education and Parenting.  One of their goals is to educate families to raise emotionally intelligent children.  Their teachings are rooted in brain research, brain and child development, nonviolent communication, and empathy (see Peace & Parenting).  I have a basic understanding of the scientific aspects of emotional intelligence yet what I have been striving for in my learning is the understanding of the role it plays in my life and the life of those around me.  From everyday conversations it has become more apparent that as humans we struggle to relate.  We feel incomplete and disconnected.   Besides being the victims/survivors of all sorts of traumas, we are constantly reminded of the lack of strong emotional foundations.   Socially we don’t place much value on our emotions.  In most Western social contexts, being emotional is equated with being weak.  We never understand fully the power of our emotions and the emotions of others.  So we go through life disconnected from ourselves and from people around us causing a lack of empathy, the ability to share someone else’s feelings, and the atrophy of our emotional health.  We just need to look at the constant power struggles going on around the world and at home, the constant rise and normalization of violence and the constant state of fear we live in.

Leonard Shlain proposes in his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image the theory that with the invention of the alphabet and the increase of literacy across civilizations we caused an unbalance in the development of our brains that consecutively assisted in the raise of patriarchy, systems of oppression and the decrease of Goddesses worship around the world.  He argues that previous illiterate cultures relied on the evolution of both the left brain (logical, abstract, male) and the right brain (holistic, intuitive, feminine) to survive.  This made these ancient cultures more egalitarian, in which both masculine and feminine principles as well as men’s and women’s functions were complementary and necessary.  Then as literacy grew, human brains evolved and the left side of the brain was overdeveloped resulting in masculine values being predominant in Western civilization and more often than not female values being diminished as a consequence.  Now we continue to perpetuate this brain/value unbalance in the way we raise and educate our children and in the way we relate to one another within family, gender, class, social, and ethnic structures.  I would argue that the overemphasis on rationality and logic, the left brain, has caused us to suffer from an inability to truly connect to ourselves and to others emotionally (atrophy of the right brain).  Perhaps this is why many of us, that are at least willing to admit publicly, walk through life searching for something, feeling lost!  The array of self-help books published within the last 10-20 years can attest to this.  People are wanting to feel complete.  People are wanting full access to their human needs and emotions.  People are wanting to heal.

Part of emotional intelligence is Emotional Literacy, being able to name our feelings.  Through this we can develop a compassionate language that can assist us in the processing of our emotions as well as in assisting others with their processes, i.e. our children.  That is the purpose of Nonviolent Communication, to communicate with others in a compassionate, giving way that honors our and their basic human needs as well as the feelings that emerge from having met or unmet needs.  “You made me angry” transforms into “I was angry because I was needing, wanting…”

Another key component of emotional intelligence is Empathy, the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person.  Having the understanding that every single human being at any moment in time is using strategies to meet his or her basic human needs will allow us to be more empathetic.  Empathy is our ability to be present and connected, imagining what the other person must be thinking or feeling, without judgment, agreement or disagreement.  Empathy is not about developing solutions for other people, or condoning behavior, it is about showing that we can see what is alive for others.  This can prove supportive in our day to day interactions and can reframe our own judgments as it provides the ability to connect to others even in the face of conflict.  It takes time yet it is rewarding in the relationships we form with others and with ourselves.

In emotional intelligence, feelings are not good or bad.  They are all part of our human make up.  Although there are outside triggers, our emotions are ours with no blame on others.  This places responsibility on ourselves for our emotions and seeks to avoid the “you made me feel this way” approach to conflict resolution.  As we become emotionally competent we own our feelings and identify what needs, met or unmet, are causing them.  A basic understanding of the human brain is needed to understand the internal physical processes of our emotions.  The brain is divided into three areas, the lower brain also called the reptilian brain and the first one to develop, the mid brain or emotional brain where feelings reside and the upper brain or thinking brain.  When our brain receives an emotional trigger, for example a stressor, our alarm center goes off and our mid brain becomes flooded which is then translated into emotions.  If the mid brain is able to connect to the upper brain, where our critical and creative thinking resides then we will be able to regulate ourselves.  If our brains become over-flooded, we remain in our mid brains, causing us to become reactive, impulsive and unregulated.  As the hormones responsible for our emotions (stressors release cortisol and pleasure releases adrenaline) flow throughout our bodies, and our brains attempt to self-regulate, some sort of physical release is needed.   Since emotions are sensed physically, we need a list of sensory tools (CNVEP) that will assists us in processing our feelings in a safe, life-affirming way, i.e. taking a deep breath or jumping up and down to release energy.

One of the greatest misunderstood feelings is ANGER.   What we have learned from our families and society in general is that anger is an unacceptable feeling.  There is much shame and guilt surrounding it and we are taught that there isn’t a safe place for its expression.  We don’t have foundations to process it in a healthy way, which causes us to suffer from intense stress from bottling it up or to become extremely destructive if we release it in a harmful way.  Anger is a compound feeling (made out of several feelings) and at its core are unmet needs.  Although it is challenging, viewing anger in these parameters will allow us to recognize the feelings that are surfacing and what is really at the root of our anger.  What are we really needing?  Most important of all, we will be able to release our anger, as it must, in a way that is life-serving to us.  Imagine if we were able to develop the emotional competence necessary to process our anger and to honor the anger of others.  Although our safety is always first, in this context we can find ways of taking care of ourselves through self-empathy and limit setting to engage with a person flooded with anger in an emotionally healthy way.

Part of creating mental and emotional health has to do with self-regulation, the processing of our emotions, and the choices we make in our expressions.  We need emotional and physical awareness.    We learn emotional intelligence through our parents and care givers.  Our brain wiring happens at an early age within social contexts.  If we didn’t receive a strong foundation, then we will struggle as an adult.  And trauma can also affect that wiring.  Yet one of the greatest things I’ve learned is that our brain has “neural plasticity”, which means that our brain can change and adapt.  We CAN rewire our brains.  We can create patterns that increase our emotional intelligence and we can make the choices that will heal the wounds of trauma.  We can be whole.

For further learning follow my blog under categories Emotional Intelligence and Empathy.

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