How does Yours Stack up?
Like mental intelligence, emotional intelligence is a combination between inborn giftedness (temperament) and learned abilities (acquired skill sets). It is easier to learn if we didn’t inherit an extreme emotional disposition, and if we have had healthy role models, or chosen them for ourselves.
The theory and research do not provide a single clear picture for what emotional intelligence is, but I have found some good insights and skills to help my clients solve the problems in their lives. We can pretty well measure our emotional intelligence by how well we believe the insights and show the skill set below.
- Being able to tell how other people feel (emotional discernment). We can read their emotions based on their body language, their behavior, and the situations they are in. Some tests we can find online about facial expressions and body language can be rather fun to try. This mental ability is sometimes called sensitivity.
- Being able to feel what other people feel (empathy). With emotional intelligence from items below, we can choose whether and when to make another person’s pain a bond instead of a barrier in the relationship. I believe most women know how to bond with pain better than most men. Autism makes these first two skills very difficult, but they can learn most of the rest.
- Having a good emotional vocabulary, being able to put feelings into words. For my clients who can’t speak this language, I give them a wallet-sized list of 25 feeling words, five different variations each of sad, mad, glad, guilty, and scared. (For your own copy, email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.) After people learn to feel and express these comfortably, they can add their own favorite feeling words.
- Taking responsibility for our emotions. Others put feelings into us, but we choose what we do with them. To get painful emotions out of our system, we can always learn constructive expressions from friends or counselors, to put them back where they came from. For example, believing that we are victims and others are villains dooms us to hold in fear and anger.
- Believing that all emotions are OK, and at the moment, unavoidable. They are accurate internal indications of how people perceive situations they are in, and the people around them. We have a right to our feelings, and to the opinions that evoke them, but we do not have the power or the right to impose our feelings or our opinions on others.
- Believing that we can suppress or deny our feelings, but we can’t make them go away. Healthy expressions require awareness. If feelings don’t come out, they fester and control us.
- Feeling our feelings and talking them out, so we can believe our beliefs and act them out. You can email me for another article I’ve written on this, again using email@example.com.
- Being able to admit, feel, and tolerate our own emotions. This means that when we are hurting, or sensitively sharing in the pain of someone else, we don’t need to distract ourselves, numb out, or puke our feelings out onto another person. When we dramatize our feelings to make ourselves feel better and others worse, this is called emotional vomiting or puking.
- Believing that the wisdom and guidance of our heart is as important as what comes from our head, and vice-versa. Some people, more often males in this culture, are taught to devalue the heart. Other people, more often females, or taught to value the heart over the head.
- Being able to come up with many different ways to express the emotions we are feeling. It helps to know that we can express emotions now or later, to various different people, and by using body language, verbal language, or acting our feelings out with behavior. The ability to wait and feel our own emotions later on when it is safer is an important skill that Scott Peck described as “bracketing” in his best-seller of the 80’s, The Road Less Traveled.
- Accurately perceiving how those various expressions will affect the people involved. Knowing when, to whom, and how we can afford to express our emotions is vital to a well balanced life. If we aren’t sure, we can ask the person if they are ready to hear how we feel. People lose respect for us when we start going on about our emotions before they are open to it.
- Realizing that it isn’t always about us. It helps to know that we don’t cause the behavior of others, that others’ behavior isn’t always directed at us, and that things often affect other people more than they affect us. Don’t take things personally just because your emotions do. People aren’t always doing things to you – they are usually doing things for themselves. Not realizing this is a “math problem, getting your to’s and for’s mixed up.”
- Realizing that it is not wise to try to fix someone else’s emotions unless you are asked. If you aren’t sure the person is asking for help to work through their emotions, ask.
- Mentally and emotionally validating the feelings of other people. Listen carefully enough to hear the emotions the other is expressing.
- Realize how anybody would feel the same in that situation if they saw it the same way. Then express this validation to let the other person know that they are understood and respected. “If I were hearing criticism of me, and I believed the other person was just trying to hurt me or control me, I would also feel very threatened and angry.”
In closing, it certainly will help both your personal and your public lives to learn to show more emotional intelligence in the way you react to other people’s feelings, and to your own.