Emotions are a tricky subject for me. For much of my life, I have believed what many people have thought about the nature of emotion: that emotions require too much time, they lead to loss of control, and only a restricted set of emotions are acceptable. In addition, who among us was taught how to to accurately define our own emotional state? Note the emphasis. Very often someone else is telling us how we currently feel, should feel, or not feel. Think about it for a moment.
I had a couple of interesting experiences recently that brought home the degree to which I need to develop this area of my psyche. First, I became certified in the EQi 2.0. As part of the certification process, I had to take an emotional intelligence test. It consists of 15 subscales that measure areas such as optimism, flexibility and stress tolerance which were very high scores for me. Definitely on the lower side were my scores for emotional awareness and emotional expression. In fact, they were as low as 37 points below my top scores. That’s quite a gap in EQi-speak!
Meanwhile, I attended a presentation on emotional awareness at a recent ICF conference. A list of 224 adjectives, describing various emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant was given out. For the next week, I experimented with trying to accurately describe what I was feeling when I felt a stirring in my body or my gut (often the first sign that an emotion is happening). I could barely do it! Certainly many of us can describe vague or broadly felt emotions like happy, angry or sad. But it’s this nuanced description of how one is feeling that isn’t so easy. Try it sometime. I can send you the list!
Yet it is been shown that suppressing emotion, the physical feeling actually leads to more of the emotion we are trying to quell. Moreover on FMRi studies, the limbic system, the place in the brain where much of our emotional is wired, seems to be further aroused the more we try to wrestle it down. So why do we do it? My first guess is that it was conditioned out of us early on in our lives.
Nevertheless, there is much benefit to becoming better at accurately describing our emotional state. Name it to tame it is one way we can do this and it has indeed been shown on fMRI that the limbic system will calm down when we name how we are feeling. However, I would like to offer up this reason: When we accurately define an emotion, we open a door for a solution or a remedy.
For instance, if we are confused or uncertain, we can seek clarity. If we are feeling vulnerable, we can seek safety. If we feel overwhelmed, we can ask for help or lighten our schedule. However, if we experience all of these as the same state- let’s say “upset”, then our doorway out is not very clear.
You can do a similar exercise with positive emotions. Happy is good but grateful connects an experience with gratitude. Do you need to thank someone? If you feel adventurous, seek an adventure.
On a final note, for those of us who prefer a different word rather than “emotion”, I like to use “state of mind.” Yes…that makes me feel comfortably in tune with myself indeed.
-Coaches can ask questions that leverage the state of emotional awareness to set goals and problem solve.
-emotional awareness can also be seen as “knowing one’s current mindset.”