In many Emotional Intelligence workshops I have facilitated, I often come across questions like, “If I am okay the way I am, wouldn’t discussing emotions make me an overthinker?” “Isn’t it likely that talking about emotions would make us more vulnerable and emotional than we already are?” “Wouldn’t reflecting on emotions make our decision-making process more complex?”
All these questions stem from how we perceive emotions in our culture. For some of us, emotions denote weakness as we view them as getting in the way of operating rationally. But emotions have an all-encompassing role to play in our lives. Emotions matter. They impact our learning and the way we make decisions. They affect the way we treat other people. Most importantly, they impact our well-being. No human is exempt from feeling emotions, but what separates the emotionally intelligent ones is their awareness of their emotional patterns and some idea about their management.
Reflecting on our emotions doesn’t have to mean ‘overthinking’ or ‘taking things too seriously,’ as is usually perceived. There is a distinct difference between the two. Reflecting on emotions to understand ourselves and our patterns better is much different to playing thoughts repeatedly in our heads. Emotional self-awareness is the process of reflecting on how we feel (pleasant or unpleasant emotional experiences) as induced by different situations or interactions (triggers) and what do those emotions signal (fulfilled or unfulfilled needs).
There was a point last year when my brother wasn’t getting as good grades as he did previously, and it was affecting my parents. My mother especially had a hard time processing it because she is an educator and values learning above everything else. Whenever she saw my brother use the phone or laptop, she would start telling him how incompetent he was becoming because of his over-indulgence in gadgets. She would blame him for his carelessness and incompetence. And, as a natural reaction, my brother would either shut himself up completely or start quarreling continuously.
When it became too much to take, I decided to intervene. Of course, such intense cycles of blaming and accusing wouldn’t stop after a single conversation, so it took a lot of effort on my part to help them express and understand what they were really trying to tell each other.
I eventually found that what my mother wanted to express was a feeling of disappointment. She didn’t want to accept that while she helped other students improve their learning, her own son wasn’t doing well academically. Her need was to be helpful to her son. On the other hand, my brother felt hurt because instead of receiving generous concern and a helping hand from my mother, he was being blamed and criticized. He needed his mother to understand why he wasn’t doing well and help him find a way out.
When both of them were able to connect with each other’s feelings and needs, I witnessed them becoming more open to resolving the problem. They worked together to improve my brother’s grades. There are many high-stake situations like this in our relationships. In such situations, if we can try to pause and reflect on our feelings and needs, we can respond in an emotionally mature way rather than getting trapped in a continuous cycle of blame and judgment.
Another common notion when it comes to emotions is that it’s equivalent to sadness or vulnerability. ‘Pheri senti kura garna khojyo’, ‘dherai deep naho depression hola’, ‘chod yesto kura, drink garna jum baru’ are phrases we often hear from others when we want to express our true feelings. However, when we say that being emotional is more or less similar to being sad, we make a false claim. Sadness is just one emotion out of an array of different ranges and intensities of emotions that we get exposed to in our daily lives.
Being emotional could mean anything—it could mean being happy, anxious, stressed, disgusted, joyful, calm, angry, hopeful, and so on. Sadness is also one of the emotions we experience—it’s not the entirety of our emotional experience. Emotional vulnerability helps us acknowledge, understand, and express a full range of our feelings. When we engage in relationships that don’t give us permission to feel, we might feel overly observed, judged, ashamed, or rejected.
Self-awareness enables us to respond in helpful ways and sometimes this could help reduce emotional distance in relationships. Of course, this process can’t be completed overnight but the investment we are making in understanding our reactions and patterns can make our personal and professional lives so much better. To do this, we have to learn to distinguish between ‘being emotional’ and ‘discussing emotions’.
The author is a linchpin at My Emotions Matter, an education initiative that helps individuals and teams learn the mindset and skills of Emotional Intelligence