What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. It isn’t really a focus in traditional education or something our caregivers teach us, especially if they struggle to express their own emotions.
Unfortunately, many people are not taught how to express or experience their emotions in a healthy way and because of this may observe unhealthy expressions of emotions from friends and family members. Some individuals may completely internalise their emotions and avoid discussing them, while others may have explosive overreactions or lash out at others. Others may turn to alcohol or social media as a way to numb their emotions instead of confronting them directly.
Internalising emotions is where a person keeps their emotions inside and does not express them. This can lead to bottled up anger, frustration, and sadness, which can manifest as physical or mental health problems. On the other hand, explosive over-reactions can lead to damaging relationships and cause harm to oneself and others.
The use of behaviours like alcohol, drug use, gambling or scrolling social media to numb ourselves from emotions is also a common coping mechanism, but it only provides temporary relief and can lead to addiction or further negative consequences.
These unhealthy expressions of emotions can be harmful to both individuals and their relationships which is why it’s important for us to learn healthy ways to express and experience our emotions, such as talking to a trusted friend or therapist, engaging in physical activity or practising mindfulness techniques. By doing so, individuals can improve their overall well-being and build stronger, healthier relationships with others.
What does ‘feeling our emotions’ mean?
‘Feeling our emotions’ is a subjective and conscious process of identifying, deciphering and decoding both our positive and negative emotional experiences.
Why is it important?
We all have subconscious ways of avoiding uncomfortable feelings, known as coping mechanisms (some listed above), which can thwart emotional processing. Because we’re generally unaware of how our coping mechanisms work, it can mean we fail to process our emotions without even realising it.
Recognising the importance of ‘feeling our emotions’ empowers us to understand and cope with our emotions in a healthy manner, improving our mental health and overall well being. Without this process, we wouldn’t learn from our mistakes and instead could keep repeating the same unhelpful behaviours and experience the same adverse repercussions – our lives forever locked in a downward spiral.
How can you improve your emotional intelligence?
Here’s an activity that can help improve our emotional intelligence.
What to do: When we experience a negative emotion, it can help to tune in to the message it is trying to give us. We can then ask ourselves these questions with gentleness and curiosity:
1. What triggered my emotion?
2. What is this emotion trying to communicate to me?
3. What does this emotion suggest I need right now?
Asking emotion regulation questions can help you pause and understand what your mind and body are telling you.