I am writing this because of the growing importance I see, almost daily, of developing emotional intelligence. I apologize for typos or repetition. I only have a few moments to put together many thoughts.
I recently have been frustrated by the idea of ownership (or rather, the lack of it.) I believe that in all my reading and studying of ideas related to emotional intelligence, this is the most crucial. I feel that in relationships and also in nearly every political discussion I have heard in the last year, ownership has largely been missing.
To take ownership of self means that no one and nothing can make us act a certain way. It is the first principle we teach children about gettingalong: No one can make you mad. You choose to be mad.
It seems to be human nature to deny ownership when we can. To own our thoughts, emotions, feelings, and our stories is a hell of a lot harder than pointing outwards to others and saying, “you’re being mean, you’re being over-sensitive.”
For instance, I own that I had an eating disorder. I own that I feel anger, that I think both kind and unkind thoughts, that I have real strengths and also real weaknesses. I own my belief in language. I believe that the words we say to each other are important, and I own that this is a double-edged sword that makes some people like me and others uncomfortable with me, because I listen carefully to what people say.
I own that I had 2 kids in 2 years. I own that I have very keen perspective on experiences happening to myself and others, and that I am not a naturally grateful person. When people speak, I have the skill of being able to see where they are coming from. I also am way more likely to focus on negative than on positive. I own that I am Mormon. I own that I am brave and also incredible sensitive. I also own that it often takes me a long time to own something.
My story and words are mine. No one can make me do or say or feel anything. My journey is mine. No one can take that from me. By me asking someone else to make me comfortable, I am asking the impossible. Asking others to take ownership for what we must leads to manipulation and misery every single time.
The best way I have learned and am learning to take ownership is to begin confrontations with “I feel…” It’s simple but it usually works.
The second greatest aspect of emotional intelligence that I have been incorporating into my life is the ability to create space between self and emotion. This is the (somewhat trendy) idea of mindfulness. Mindfulness, often taught in buddhism, is when we, as emotional beings, can recognize our emotions and let them come and go as they will without trying to change them. This space gives us the responsibility to make a conscious choice of how we will react to an emotion, thought, or stimulus. We aren’t acting because something happened or we feel a certain way. We can look at an event, create a mental space, and then make a choice.
I used to take everything personally, because I didn’t want to recognize that perhaps the way I did things or saw things might be hurtful to someone else. Now I understand that we are all humans doing the best that we can. If I am disliked or if people are offended by me feeling a certain way, it has everything to do with them. If I dislike someone or am offended by them, it has everything to do with me. (Hence the importance of taking ownership in “I feel” statements.) We are all just mirrors for each other.
It is incredibly sensitive for me to approach Branden and say “Hey babe, I feel confused and hurt by our interaction earlier.” THIS IS VULNERABILITY. It is also mindfulness, because I am not speaking out from the emotion but rather have enough self-awareness to step back and see how I am feeling, as if I am out-of-body. I am taking ownership of how I feel in relation to a stimulus. How awful if he were to respond “well you shouldn’t feel that way because I didn’t mean it,” or “you are easily offended.” I am not offended. I am expressing my deep feeling because I care enough about the relationship to do so.
Me and my mom have become best friends over time by practicing this. We used to fight a lot; our personalities used to clash and honestly, we have very different ways of doing things. But now I can approach her and she can approach me with honesty and openness. “Kaylee, I felt attacked when you were talking about….” or “mom, I feel sad when you…”
What an incredible opportunity to show the other person that their perspectives, their realities, are valued. What an incredible opportunity to respect each other and our own realities, WHICH ARE NEVER WRONG, and to really listen and try to see merit in the other person’s emotion or thought. What I see as real and what you see as real coming into dialogue with each other gives both of us a potential opportunity to expand.
And third, emotional intelligence requires the ability to step away from our fear enough to experience the broad spectrum of emotions, both positive and negative. I think it is human nature to want to be happy. However, life is complex and we are complex. Happiness is a goal that seems to lead to more disappointment than joy.
The idea of the tyranny of positivity resonated with me powerfully. Susan David of Harvard said: “When someone says that your life is simply created by the thoughts that you have, and that we can simply choose to be positive, what we do is we deny the systematic policies that might lead particular groups of people to be disenfranchised, to be hungry, to be starving. The message that comes across is that you can just be positive and your life will be okay. It denies the reality that there is a real impact on well-being when someone needs to travel two hours to get to work each day, or struggles to put food on the table. One of the first signs of emotional agility is the real, growing body of research that shows that people who are overly invested in the idea of being happy all the time actually over time become less happy. They do not have the capacity to deal with the reality that difficult thoughts and emotions are normal. They’re part of who we are as individuals, they’re part of our human destiny, they’re part of how we have evolved as a species. And unless we and our children develop the capacity for being able to label and understand and be with these difficult emotions, the emotion will always feel bigger than us.”
Happiness is one of the many emotions that we as humans have the privilege of experiencing, as is sadness, anger, disappointment, etc… (See “Inside Out” for a glorious illustration.) One of my dearest friends told me something that has stuck with me over the years: There is something Godly about feeling all emotions deeply.
Susan David goes onto say that it is critical in emotional intelligence to “be with, show up to, and sit with the full range of human emotions that exist in our lives. To be able to show up to this in a way that feels honest with ourselves, not pushing it aside and pretending it doesn’t exist. To enter into a space, a dialogue with ourselves, where we are able to be honest.
We do not need to engage in any struggle if what we feel or think is legitimate; it just is.”
That means that literally every human’s reality is as real as my own. When they speak up about how they view the world, I better listen instead of insisting that my way is right. Otherwise, I may never have the indescribably beautiful privilege of evolving, changing, becoming a version of me that is more accepting and less offended.
And lastly, the importance of self-compassion in emotional intelligence cannot be overstated. If we are not kind to ourselves, we will feel shame after shame after shame, which will lead to nothing productive. When my mom approaches me to express an intimate feeling, and I can see that the way I portrayed, said, or thought something could have been done better, I have two options: I can either get defensive and internally destroy myself and our relationship, or I can listen, validate, and make a mental note to try to do that a little better next time. I can forgive myself everyday.
These ideas within emotional intelligence are no longer nice thoughts for millennials. They are becoming crucial skills in the workplace and in personal relationships if we want to thrive. Our world is more complicated than ever. It’s not good or bad, it just is.