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Emotion: Who Needs to Know About it Anyway?

What is your current state of mind?
What is your current state of mind?

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.”

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. In many ways, I believe science in general is grappling with the complexities of human emotion. In response, I always like the way you lay the cards on the table Ann ; your insight often reveals the ace as a simplified answer & that is really appreciated. Although, some answers can create more questions as with “state of mind” this is more than an “emotion”, ( laziness can be a state of mind but it’s not an emotion ). There are a lot or grey areas towards emotional awareness ; it’s a true voyage of discovery…
    Your articles always get me thinking, many thanks.

  2. Thanks for your kind words about my article. I believe you are right. There are a lot of grey areas in our understanding of emotional intelligence. I am reading more about it and experimenting with it in order to understand it better. I am curious and motivated. Ironically those 2 words are not on my emotions list either. I would definitely call motivated an emotion though. Wouldn’t you? Hmmmm!

  3. Surely, trying to measure your emotional intelligence/state of mind is not an emotionally intelligent thing to do. What does the number mean? What do get from it other than avoiding the emotions?

  4. Good point regarding the “number”, Jeremy. The number is only a way to work with the information but it is really more about the profile or how the components work together. For instance, an individual with high levels of assertiveness and low levels of empathy might be experienced as aggressive or bossy. When an individual takes a personal assessment of any kind, particularly one that is self-reporting, the ensuing dialogue with a coach is key. It’s not like one is measuring cholesterol levels where the number clearly indicates whether you need to watch your diet or go on medication. EQi numbers are really more descriptive and can have multiple interpretations and implications.

  5. If I might belatedly respond: EQi numbers are not at all descriptive! They’re numbers. Numbers don’t describe they purport to measure.

    The same person taking the same test hours apart will get different scores; and if any one score is subject to multiple interpretations – in other words, it means what I say it means – I cannot see how they can possibly be of any use.

    These scoring systems have a number of dubiously useful purposes:
    (1) to allow practitioners to sell clients intellectual property at a handsome profit
    (2) to allow those people who are unwilling to engage with their emotions at an emotional level (and, of course, this includes many clients and prospective clients) the illusion that they are doing something useful or meaningful – on account of the appearance of scientific accuracy that the numbers give – when, in fact, nothing of the sort is provided or possible.

    As you say, “the ensuing dialogue with a coach is key” (though I would prefer to say “the ensuing dialogue with someone trained in emotional intelligence is key”).

  6. Absolutely. The hope is that the practitioner of any instrument would have the ethical standard that he/she understands what is being measured and to further understand the limitations of any assessment tool. In another recent blog I wrote titled “Is it a Diagnosis?” I outline that assessments are a starting point and cannot be taken in the same vein as a medical diagnosis that comes from measuring something like hemoglobin in the blood. You may also want to tune into my webinar this Thursday that discusses off-label uses of personality instruments. I will argue that assessments are not meant to be the final word on anything, only an opportunity to shed light on opportunities for growth.

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