Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

Lego man sitting at desk and looking worried

At school we tend to put more of an emphasis on intellectual and mental growth rather than emotional despite the fact that at that time of life it would have been especially useful to at least learn something about our emotions and what we’re going through.

We don’t get a lot of teaching about emotional intelligence in school. One of the reasons is because as kids we are still developing our emotions and trying to understand them, so it’s very difficult to really have the maturity to understand all the emotional changes that are going on as you grow up.

I remember when I was in year 8 in high school (so I must have been around 14-15 years old) and we had a Health class where the teacher asked if anyone had any questions they wanted to ask anonymously. Questions were left in her pigeon hole and she would share them or talk about them in class. One person asked, “If you feel sad a lot of the time, what can you do to make the sad feelings go away?” The teacher remarked that that was a really good question and asked if anyone in the class had any ideas. No one had a single one.

I think as kid especially I grew up with the idea that my emotions were dependent on my environment. That I would feel happy or sad depending on whether happy or sad things were happening to or around me. I felt that I had very little control over my environment (which was true at the time) and so therefore I was the victim of circumstance. I think for a lot of people that feeling often doesn’t go away when we grow up. Despite a lot of literature and podcasts and videos telling us that it’s “all in our attitude”, and that we can make our lives better just by thinking about it, we still don’t necessarily see results. At least not the results that we feel we should be getting.

I think in these situations we would be better served by learning about how our emotions actually work and how they influence our thinking rather than the other way around.

For example, one of the issues that is common for young people growing up is the sense of isolation that almost everyone goes through. The sense that no-one understands me and that no one understands the pain that I’m going through. Because I feel this way, it leads to me thinking that that must actually be the case. After all, I wouldn’t be feeling something unless there was some truth to it, so I need to work through it and deal with it alone. I can’t talk about it to anyone for fear that if I shared it then no one would understand. Or that they would see me as being a freak, misfit or weirdo. And I so much need to belong.

This is related to the ability to deal with loneliness that I talked about in my very first post and developing the emotional intelligence to realise that others often feel exactly the same way as I do, including everyone else also has the feeling that no-one else feels the same way as they do.

There’s even a word for this: Sonder. This is defined by John Koenig as: The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.

It wasn’t until I went to university before I discovered studies on personal communication and psychology. Perhaps most of that would have gone over my head in my high school days and I probably wouldn’t have been able to see the wider ramifications of some of my behaviour back then, but I do think that at least some of this information would have been very useful to me back then and possibly made me think twice about some of the decisions I made.

One of those areas that would be good to explore would be the notion that emotions come and go in cycles. E.g. “This too shall pass.”

Even if you are going through an incredibly difficult time then the human mind is incredibly resilient and can often learn to adapt. You will learn that you will often have slightly better days and slightly worse days and sometimes you can even predict when these days will occur through your experience with the situation.

The change in our emotional state may happen gradually over a number of days or weeks and can be hard to detect if we are not looking out for it, but it is part of life and it needs to be something we are comfortable with and are prepared for.

Both sadness and happiness are not permanent. Seeking after a permanent emotional state is like trying to catch fog in a net. Emotions are triggered by a whole bunch of both internal and external systems in our minds and bodies. They can be related to how much sleep we have gotten lately, what have we been watching and listening to recently, what have we been eating, and who have we been talking to, as well as aspects like attitudes, expectations, background, our level of interest, and our values.

The key to emotional intelligence is to be aware of our own and others feeling without judging them. Emotions aren’t actually good or bad in and of themselves, they simple show us what is important to us at the time. That’s why they change. They should be understood as an important part of our thinking process and as something that can be used to help us understand ourselves and others and why people act and react the way they do.

Everyone values something. But it’s not always going to be the same thing that we ourselves value. We need to understand that, and also to understand that getting an angry or negative reaction from someone should be a learning experience for us to let us know that we have touched on something that is important to them.

Similarly everyone does things for a reason and the reason usually makes sense to them. It doesn’t have to make logical sense but it will often make emotional sense. Trying to understand people logically will only take us half way, we need to be emotionally intelligent to do the rest.

That’s something I wish I was taught at school.


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