“I am action oriented.”
“I am rational.”
“I am emotional.”
What did you notice when you read these statements? One of the statements is not like the other, right. In fact, identifying yourself as emotional is likely to make most people conclude that you are not action oriented and that you are somewhat irrational. Why is this?
An irrational and dangerous bias
Why are we biased against being emotional? Perhaps it is because we are afraid of emotions… because we realize that we have little control over them?
As much as we understand about the brain, we still know very little about emotions. Emotions, like thoughts, are little more than chemicals and electricity in our brains. They are one way that we respond to our environments and to ourselves. We know that emotions serve a number of purposes:
- They are a type of warning system, keeping us safe in uncertain situations and from risky individuals.
- They enable us to connect with ourselves and other people.
- Emotions help us to make sense of our lives and they serve to motivate us to work to achieving a goal.
- They can make us better at problem-solving because we are not merely responding with our rational brain, but drawing on all aspects of our intelligence.
In short, emotions are much more complicated than most people give them credit. It really is a compliment if you, or other people, think that you are emotional.
Being unemotional is bad for your health
Did you know that being unemotional can be dangerous to your health? In fact, life should come with a warning label: “Warning, living without the aid of emotions can be a hazard to your health.”
Author Stephen Braun (see reference at the end of the article) tells a story of a young woman who experienced a medical condition that rendered her insensitive to pain. They call her Miss C. and she was the focus of considerable research.
When she was young, Miss C. was repeatedly hospitalized due to various infections, serious burns, and an over inflated bladder. She was unaware of blisters, cuts, and tears. Small injuries quickly became one more trip to the doctor. Her health problems began to multiply. She was unaware of simple twisted ankles that would stop most people. Multiple injuries eroded her tissues, and within a few short years, her bones and joints were disintegrating. Eventually, she was crippled and deformed from the damage caused by her inability to feel pain.
“Her pain alarm system was disabled, deaf to her body’s screams” p. 84
At 29 she died from an infection. It could have been prevented if her body’s pain alert system worked the way it is designed.
Your emotions are a communication system. Learning to listen to your emotions can protect you, and propel you into greater health and maturity.
8 Keys to developing emotional intelligence in your relationships
The following 8 keys are based on Erik Erikson’s 8 stages of growth and development that each person needs in order to grow and be a fully functioning human being.
1.Begin with trust: In yourself, other people and the world. Is mistrust is your default response to other people, and even towards yourself? This may be from a history of trauma, neglect or family pain. Or trust might be difficult because of what you see in politics or world leaders. Whatever your reason, if you are not open to yourself or to other people, your world will be a lonely place. Trust grows when you make a decision, risk speaking to a stranger, asking for help or telling your story. Trust is rarely built with mountain sized decisions. It needs to be practiced daily, with consistent actions.
2.If you want to explore the world, begin with a question: What makes you curious? You don’t have to teach a child to be curious. It’s natural. But somewhere along the way, we trade our curiosity for certainty. Take a risk and be curious. Do you want to learn more about yourself or about the world? Learning more about about the world does not begin with travel. If you have to move more than 12 inches from where you are at in order to learn something new, you will never grow. Exploring the world can begin at your library, by reading something from a different section. Try fiction, try biographies. Just pick a book and let it open your world. Ask your friends, or ask someone you just met today what makes them curious about the world. Your questions can change your life.
3.Learn about real freedom: Not freedom FROM hard work, but freedom IN hard work. Whether you have a job or whether you are making your own job through entrepreneurship, work gives you three choices: quit, quit and stay, or choose yourself. You can give up on trying to find work that you love, or you can just become cynical and put in time. Or you can choose to better yourself, no matter whether you love your job or dislike it.
4.If you want to feel more confident, you first need to be competent. You know when you feel incompetent, and that feeling can drive you to do anything to feel like you can handle things. But competence is not found through advanced education, making money or having things. Competence comes from making mistakes and learning as you go. It is discovered rather than revealed. True competence, and confidence, comes from seeing who you are when things are difficult, from making hard decisions and from sticking by people who you care about.
5.Emotional maturity grows when you stretch your comfort zone. Learning to tolerate frustration and cope with your emotions is one of the greatest lessons you can learn. It is one of the keys to emotional maturity, lasting relationships and even personal success. But frustration tolerance is not about breathing, counting to ten or walking away. These things are important, but they won’t change how you respond unless you are willing to change how you think. When you step out of your comfort zone, your mind is more open. Step out of your routine, out of what makes you comfortable and you will grow.
6.Be vulnerable. Vulnerability is one of the cornerstones of maturity. It takes courage to be yourself. My 13 year old daughter taught me something about being vulnerable. She and I were laughing and being weird together. It was one of those father-daughter moments that I will never forget. Then she told me that her friends give her the courage to be who she truly is, they give her the freedom to be weird. It made me realize that standing out from the crowd means that you need to be vulnerable enough to be yourself. You will never find out who you are without giving yourself permission: permission to be misunderstood, to be underestimated, to be weird. Vulnerability is one of the greatest strengths that you can have.
7.Help others out of genuine desire instead of shame or guilt. Giving back to others will built your maturity, increase your ability to tolerate frustration, it will show you more about your strengths and give you confidence. Giving means you have something to give, and you always do. You don’t have to give gifts or cash. You can give to friends or to strangers. You have much to offer: friendliness, encouragement, inspiration, help, hope, ideas, your story and so much more.
8.Let go of competition, judgment and be grateful. Your life is a gift. Sure you work hard and sometimes you even break into a sweat to make it all work. But it’s all a gift. Every minute of life is valuable. Being grateful is not something that you need to be weird about, and you don’t have to meditate or go on a spiritual retreat. These can be powerful, but gratitude will make you more aware of the people in your day. Practice telling one person what you appreciate about them. Sure it will make you feel good, but don’t do it for what you can get. Do it to make their day. Be intentionally grateful for your opportunities, your success and even your failures. You can learn some of your greatest lessons from the things that you would not choose.
Emotional maturity will set you free to be more of who you are, and to learn about who you can be. You are capable of more than you think. One of the greatest paths to maturity is the willingness to laugh at yourself and let go once in a while.
Maturity means that you are free ranging it: You know you have grown up when you know your limits and you know when to test them. You know how to let go sometimes and you know how to get back. You trust that you will be able to get back and that you can make things okay.
Braun, S. (2000). The science of happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of mood. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
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