Emotional Mastery: the first step to finding sanity and peace of mind in the midst of divorce chaos, uncertainty and drama.
Divorce is a highly trying time marked by an intense emotional upheaval, the likes of which we may have never experienced before.
What fuels this upheaval is the “ hijacking” of our sensible and rational capacities, masterminded by our reptilian brain (aka inner lizard) in response to a perceived threat; regardless of whether the threat is real or imagined.
This phenomenon is known as emotional hijacking (EH). This happens when our instinctive (and primitive) impulse for survival and self preservation override our capacity for sound decision making and sensible action leading us to act in ways that we later regret.
Unfortunately, something that is very common in a conflict situation like divorce.
Emotional hijacking is what makes smart and reasonable people do the unthinkable and dumb things!
So what is the solution? how do we “tame”the inner lizard so that it does not run us?
We do this by bringing the smarts or intelligence back into our emotions.
The concept Dr. Daniel Goleman calls Emotional Intelligence or EI for short.
Emotional intelligence (sometimes referred to as Emotional Quotient or EQ) is an emerging field with strong scientific support. The topic became popular when Daniel Goleman wrote his ground-breaking book by the same name.
The book generated a whole new awareness to the role emotions play in our lives. In fact, today there are more than 14 million references to term “emotional intelligence” on the internet.
In this post we will dive deep into understanding emotions so as to increase your awareness about the role emotions play in your life.
➤ You will also learn how to manage your emotions so they don’t sabotage you,
➤Increase your ability to read and respond appropriately to the emotional state of others and make your relationships more meaningful (great asset in managing a conflict situation).
➤Learn how Emotional intelligence can bring peace to your life when you learn to express yourself with greater clarity, and learn to read, respond to, and accept other people’s feelings.
What are emotions anyway?
The language around emotions can be confusing. Simply put, emotions are feelings and their distinctive thoughts and range of their impulse to act.
Our vocabulary is rife with words that we use to describe our feelings, ranging from sad to glad; miserable to happy; hurt to enthused; and so on.
According to Psychologist Robert Plutchik, there are 8 primary emotions, much like a wheel. They are joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation.
The wheel of emotion is likened to the color wheel in which the primary colors combine to form the secondary and complementary colors.
These basic emotions then mix and combine to form a variety of feelings. For example, anticipation plus joy might combine to form optimism.
Other researchers suggest that there are just four basic emotions, and everything that we feel is a subset or combination of these basic four: happiness, sadness, anger, and fear.
With emotional intelligence, we are at times aware of what we are feeling, and other times we are not. For example, we often know when we feel grief if we are coping with the loss of a loved one.
But, we may not be aware that we are experiencing grief when something we hoped for and longed for did not come to fruition. Additionally, there are times when we experience more than one emotion.
The term “bitter-sweet” is an example of mixed emotions.
The way we express our emotions informs others how we feel. And, to add to the confusion, the way others express their emotions informs us how they feel. This is often two different forms of expression.
That is what has made the study and practice of emotional intelligence so popular and necessary!
In further understanding emotional intelligence, the three most common words used to describe emotions are discrete emotions, moods, and disposition.
Emotions that change rapidly are called discrete emotions and are tied to a particular cause. For example, if someone surprises you with a gift–something you really wanted—you suddenly feel good.
And, if the phone rings and you are told that someone you love has just suffered an injury, you immediately feel anxious and worried.
Moods are longer-lasting feelings and are not particularly tied to a cause. Moods can last for a few hours, to several days, to even a few weeks. People can be in a cheerful mood or a droopy mood. We can feel up or feel down for several days.
Moods can be influenced by circumstances, such as the loss of a loved one, anticipating a marriage or a family vacation, or poor predictions about the economy. Often, people struggle to explain why they are in certain mood.
Disposition, also referenced as personality, is used to describe how we predictably respond to situations through the course of our life. For example, we might say that someone is a positive person–having a tendency to look on the good side all the time.
Or we might describe someone as being negative or down all the time–always seeing the bad in the situation. We all know a person with a sunny personality, and we also know someone who could suck the energy out of the room with their presence.
Most people recognize the need to be able to identify and express emotions in a healthy way. But many lack the skills to do so.
Understanding how emotions benefit us is helpful for all aspects of our life, including relationships, career, our health (yes, our health!), and our own personal development.
What’s Good About Emotions?
Emotions are our best friend. They inform and inspire us in four distinct, but often interrelated ways. Here’s how:
1. Emotions tell us what we feel about an experience. They let us know if an experience is happy, joyful, threatening, sad, etc. And they let others know what we are experiencing.
2. Emotions serve as a built in “smoke alarm” which helps us respond to other people and situations that might be threatening for us.
When you feel uncomfortable or threatened by a situation, your emotions send a signal to the brain to be more aware, conscious and cautious.
3. Emotions also help us regulate our decisions. i.e.: If I lie about this, I’ll feel guilty. Therefore, I will tell the truth. Or, If I say these words, it will damage my relationship with my friend. I’ll take a different approach.
4. Emotions motivate our actions. Strong emotions can help us overcome obstacles–real and perceived—to achieve what we want.
The 5 Stepping Stones to Achieve Emotional Intelligence
A compelling case for emotional intelligence…
Have you ever gotten worked up and made a choice that you later regretted? Said things that you wished you could’ve taken back? Misread a situation and acted inappropriately?
Sure, we all have.
If you’re like 99.9% of people in the world, at some point or another your emotions have gotten the best of you, and you’ve wished for more self-control and social understanding.
Emotions are like the gasoline that fuels your car. They’re potent and powerful, and you can utilize them to make major accomplishments, improve your relationships, and express yourself with greater clarity.
However, much like gasoline, they can be explosive and dangerous if not channeled and handled with wisdom and maturity.
Of course, some people are naturally good at this. They seem to handle others with ease, and keep their calm, no matter what. Just like those gifted in athletics, artistry or business acumen, some people will always have a high success in the emotional arena. Other people…
Well, we all have room to grow, don’t we?
Here’s the good news: YOU can LEARN to manage your emotions in all situations.
Managing your emotions improves every area of your life. Whether you want more success in the boardroom, deeper connections with your loved ones, or simply greater peace of mind and personal fulfillment, learning emotional intelligence is a key step on any path to greatness.
According to Goleman there are 5 steps to achieving emotional intelligence:
Self-awareness – Getting in touch with your emotions.
Self-regulation – Managing your emotions so you are not sabotaged by your emotions.
Motivation – Using emotional triggers to keep moving forward to meet your goals, even when you want to give up.
Empathy – Developing an acute awareness about what others are feeling and regulating your behavior to enhance the relationship.
Social Skills – Engaging in healthy emotional management skills so you understand how your feelings and the emotions of others interact. Another term used for this is emotional interactivity.
As you review this list, notice that steps 1-3 are about understanding yourself better.
Step 4 teaches you how to read the emotions of others, and step 5 helps you understand the relationship and interactions between your own emotions and those of others.
First and foremost, the skill that must be developed on the road to emotional intelligence is self-awareness. And with that in mind, we’ll start a discussion about the role that self-awareness plays in developing our emotional intelligence.
1. Self-Awareness – Developing Emotional Awareness
It can be difficult for many people to describe their emotions or trust their feelings. Many people have been told to ignore or discount their emotions at a very early age. Here’s a classic example:
A child falls down and immediately responds to a scrape on their knee with wails and tears. The responding adult typically does one of three things:
- Affirms: “I know you are hurt. Let me comfort you. It’s okay to cry. You will feel better.
- Discounts: “It’s not that bad. Quit crying. It can’t hurt that much.”
- Disciplines: “Stop crying. Boys don’t cry. If you don’t stop crying, I’m going to give you something to cry about.”
In the last two scenarios, the child is taught that feelings don’t matter or not to trust their feelings about an experience.
These statements also teach the lesson that showing emotions is a bad thing. Without belaboring the point, you can see that from an early age we receive messages that either support expressing our emotions or teach us that emotions are not important.
As a result, people develop confusion about showing and sharing emotions, especially negative emotions. However, our emotional brain is like a muscle.
If we don’t exercise it when emotions are negative, we limit our ability to feel and share positive feelings as well.
Here’s a way to start developing more self-awareness around emotions:
- Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?”
- Where does the feeling show up in my body?
- Write down words that describe your feeling(s).
- Don’t judge your feeling(s). Feelings are neither good nor bad.
- Explore the feeling(s). How intense is it? Does it linger?
This exercise is helpful to do anytime: when you experience your heart quicken; your face redden; discomfort; excitement; anticipation; or dread.
Check in with yourself and determine what caused the feeling. Simply acknowledge to yourself what you are feeling. And don’t judge. Appreciate your ability to connect with your feelings. It is a gift.
The Golden Opportunity…
The first step to being successful at this exercise (and emotional mastery) is to change the way you look at things.
This how Dr Wayne Dyer articulated it, “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”.
Pause and think for a moment about the profundity of this statement and what that can do for your life!
I can fully attest to the power of this statement. In fact, this was one of the game changers for me. It was part of what catalyzed my transition from victimhood to victor during my divorce ordeal. This is a gift of self liberation.
So how do you do you change the way you look at events in your life, especially unpleasant ones?
By engaging a sense of curiosity and wonder. So next time you get triggered or someone upsets you, instead of reacting the same way you normally do, I want you to stop, and look at it as a “golden opportunity.”
An opportunity to explore and learn about your emotional landscape…in essence, an opportunity to learn more about yourself, what makes you, You!
Bring that sense of curiosity and wonder to the moment of upset as you go through the exercise above.
And please share your experience, breakthroughs, thoughts… all of it.
In the next post, we will tackle #2, Self-Regulation – Managing Your Emotions So They Don’t Manage You!