Making Friends with Your Emotions, and Better Decisions by Including Them
Posted on May 12, 2022 by Julia Quillen, One of Thousands of Relationship Coaches on Noomii.
Includes practical and specific questions to ask yourself to identify and respect your emotions AND make choices you feel good about later.
Sometimes I wonder when emotions became the arch-enemy of strength. It’s an insult, isn’t it, for someone to declare, “She’s so emotional!”? Yet emotions are a significant part of what makes us uniquely human. And in typical fickle fashion, we are equally quick to insult folks who are completely emotionally unaware.
I recently ran across this Dilbert video on YouTube poking fun at the stereotypical engineer, which highlights (with humor) the almost universal acceptance of the need for social skills. It’ll take less than two minutes to watch, and is worth the chuckle – especially if you know an engineer.
This causes us to laugh because it touches on the truth that unawareness of emotions leads to undeveloped social skills – something we’ve linked to pocket protectors and a calculator.
For more than a quarter century the idea of Emotional Intelligence (EI) has been studied, pondered, debated, and lauded. Ideas originally received with skepticism have been supported by sound research. Emotional Intelligence became an accepted, and much talked about, component of an individual’s resume and portfolio during the job search.
Businesses began including EI as part of their hiring strategy, realizing an emotionally competent individual was a better investment than a similar candidate with high technical intelligence and low social skills.
Yet with all the recognition of emotions and the importance of understanding, appreciating, and learning to live with them, emotions still get a bad rap. People who express their emotions are often dismissed as irrational and (over)sensitive. And while Emotional Intelligence became an important focus in Human Resources during the hiring phase, throughout the rest of the company, emotions remained a bit inconvenient.
Emotional Intelligence seems to be fighting an uphill battle – one step forward, two steps back – because at some point in history, we redefined “strong men” as men without emotion other than anger (consider phrases like “real men don’t cry” and “never let them see you sweat”).
Somewhere along the way we forgot that men like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, Walter Cronkite, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were not only strong and amazing leaders, but also experienced – and expressed – deep emotion. Indeed, their actions were often a direct result of their emotions, but not necessarily the result of unchecked emotions like we saw with leaders like Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, and increasingly in the American political sphere and with contemporary leaders like Putin.
Stripping men (and by default women, since to be “emotional” was redefined as weakness) of their ability to understand, confront, and connect their emotions to right actions, has actually weakened humanity. One of the fibers woven into the essence of humanity is our ability to be moved into appropriate action by what we feel. (Incidentally, the word “emotion” comes from the Latin ēmovēre, to move (a contraction of ex = out, movere = move, literally move out).
When we divest people (men or women) of the essential fiber of emotions, it is like removing a strand from a cord; the whole person becomes weaker.
Emotional Intelligence research brought this to our attention, but did little to weave a healthy understanding of and relationship to emotions. Though we have begun to value people who are emotionally stable and to denounce those who we now consider toxic (because they either intentionally manipulate others or destroy others through ignorance), we have yet to embrace emotions and weave them back into our understanding of how to be fully human and live life well. We are ill equipped to manage our emotions and direct them onto a constructive course.
So what do we do?
Perhaps the first step is to realize that emotions are not the enemy. We need to learn how emotions are tied to our physiological make up – in other words, we were created to be emotional (not in a hysterical, irrational way, but to fully experience emotions).
For Christians, we must look at how Christ – fully God and fully man – experienced a wide range of emotions, and yet did not sin (Christ was not afraid of his emotions). What can we learn from his example?
For all of us, we need to learn how to recognize and be honest about what we are feeling – and then think through the potential consequences of “moving” in the direction our emotions are prompting.
And finally, we need to identify when our emotions are leading us away from honoring our values, so we can make choices empowered by emotions, but directed in a constructive way toward what we hope to accomplish. This allows us to respond with intentionality even when it’s hard, rather than react, driven by unchecked emotion, and multiply the negative impact of our choices.
Specifics on HOW to engage your emotions in a healthy way:
The next time you experience an emotion – and it could be something as simple and small as the pleasure/pride of your child slipping their hand in yours when they are frightened, or as powerful and encompassing as road rage – stop and name the emotion.
Next, ask yourself “Why am I feeling this?”
Follow that by considering, “Is what inspires this feeling true?” Also ask yourself, “What else is true?”
Think through what you want to do as a result of the emotion. What are you hoping to gain? What are you afraid of losing? Assess whether or not taking that action will help you accomplish the things you most want. If not, what action would support you in achieving what you really want/protecting you from what you fear? How can you show up in the situation in a way you will be encouraged by (and not ashamed of) tomorrow?
Now you can choose – What action will I take in response to this emotion? When is the best time to take action? What result do you hope for & what do you need to do to achieve that result?
I thank Ken Sande, the Founder and President of Relational Wisdom® 360 and author of The Peacemaker, for permission to use Relational Wisdom resources in this article. For more on Relational Wisdom®, please visit www.rw360.org.