Our original family and our environment are the primary sources of teaching us how to understand, manage and express our emotions (aka teaching us emotional intelligence). Some families express their emotions by hugging, kissing, and being emotionally supportive or perhaps they give space for the expression of feelings. Other families are emotionally distant and detached, yet supportive in other ways or perhaps there is no space to express feelings and needs.
Sometimes our emotional education -which relies heavily on our family and environment- results in a pseudo-education in order to keep up with social clichés. Do the test yourself.
How would you answer the following questions? :
1. How are you doing?
The socially “correct” answer is: I ‘m fine.
2. What‘s wrong?
The socially “correct” answer is: Nothing, everything is fine.
That’s all you need to know about your emotions: “I ‘m fine, nothing’s wrong”.
Actually it‘s not fine, if this denying of emotions would work, we would be healthy individuals living fulfilling lives. But it‘s difficult to constantly keep emotions buried down…
Our current culture fosters emotional immaturity and illiteracy. Past generations considered emotions a sign of weakness and this point of view is largely maintained till today. I think for most of us, growing up involved suppressing at some amount the expression of our emotions.
Childhood is full of emotional stress and frustrating moments. Often the love and affection we crave is denied or it is used to control our behaviour, if we are “good” we receive love and if we are “bad” we are deprived of it.
Many parents are teaching their kids the “suck it up and move on” mentality. When we are sad we are told to “look on the bright side”, “cheer up”, “think how lucky we are”. Boys are told that if they cry they are “sissies”, “girls”, they have “to take it like a man” or “suck it up”. Girls are told that they are “bitches” or “not ladylike” if they express anger.
We are told not to be “so emotional” not to “take it personally”, not to “be vulnerable”, to “take a broader perspective”, to “be quiet”, to “be a good kid”, “don’t answer back”, “forgive and forget” – anything but acknowledge that we are actually having a real experience called “emotion”.
Some parents not only don’t allow their kids to express their feelings by giving the messages “we don’t act that way here” or “go to your room until you act right”, but also they hardly express their own feelings or discuss about them with their kids.
In the family and in the school, we are silently or verbally urged to hide our emotions and our needs. We are taught that to express our feelings is rude and weak. Children need to be accepted and loved by their environment (especially their parents), so we learn early on that it is sensible not to express emotions. So why are we surprised that as adults we have become emotionally uneducated?
I believe there is also extra intolerance to the expression of unpleasant emotions. As kids we are not encouraged and supported by our environment to express constructively unpleasant emotions, take for example sadness, shame or fear. The result is that as adults we feel vulnerable and open to criticism when we feel sad, ashamed or afraid, so we might cover up those primary unpleasant emotions with other secondary emotions e.g. anger.
A primary emotion is an immediate emotional response to a pleasant or unpleasant stimulus, it provides us with information about our current situation and motivates us to act in a certain way. A secondary emotion is an emotional reaction to our primary emotion, it begins with cognition and often it is caused by the beliefs we have about experiencing certain emotions. A secondary emotion follows a pathway that has been created by learning; images are associated with emotions, and events triggering these images then trigger the pre-associated emotions.
There are various reasons for not expressing our primary emotions. Perhaps because of our past experiences (emotional blocks from childhood, family, school, society or relationships and emotional wounds of the past) or due to a situation where it is not acceptable to express our primary emotion (work, social etc.).
Unfortunately emotions do not just “go away” if we deny or ignore them.
It is important to realise that just because we are not aware of feeling an emotion or express any emotion outwardly, it does not mean that emotional energy was not created. So the emotional energy gets stuck inside us, very often without our conscious awareness and that’s how emotions that are suppressed or covered up result to have great power over us.
If we don’t have awareness on our emotions, we’re essentially out-of-control. Which makes us also to rely heavily on social convention, instead of listening to our own inner impulses. Social convention is primarily focused on fulfilling the needs of the group, but not the individual. And even though it has been a successful survival strategy for mankind, social convention leaves little room for the individual’s needs and feelings, it limits our own potential and possibilities.
Emotional intelligence is learning how to interact with oneself, and in that context, how to interact with others. When we are better able to handle our own emotions, we can improve our relationships and our own quality of life.
Stay tuned for the 3rd part of this blog post where you can learn about how we seek substitutes for our emotions and what skills are necessary to become emotionally intelligent.