When we think of a powerful person, there is a tendency to imagine a “made of iron” person that can be emotionally detached and cool. Power is often perceived as control over people and money. There is a popular belief that it‘s better to keep emotions under strict control in order to be powerful.
I can understand how for some people (including yours truly) it seems scary at times to let go of our emotional restraints. We are afraid that if we dare to express more freely how we feel, it would result to discomfort, or even “all hell breaks loose”. Oh and those judgemental thoughts we have about what is proper and acceptable in our environment, they awaken feelings of shame and block us from being authentic. In fact we so often block the expression and awareness of our feelings that at the end we lose the contact with our self.
Emotions are an essential part of our human nature. When we are cut from them we lose a fundamental aspect of our human qualities. Our emotions have the potential to serve us as a sophisticated internal guidance system. Perls, Hefferline & Goodman, the founders of Gestalt psychotherapy, describe emotion as “a crucial regulator of action, for it not only furnishes the basis of awareness of what is important but it also energizes appropriate action, or, if this is not at once available, it energizes and directs the search for it”.
Purpose of emotions
E-motions are signals of what is happening in our inner self.
In simple words, emotions serve various essential functions:
-They help us to become aware of our needs, e.g if we are not aware that we feel lonely we will not recognize the need for connection and we will proceed to fulfil another need that we think is genuine while it is not.
– They alert us when our needs are not being met, e.g when we feel afraid our need for safety is not met.
-They guide us to take decisions. It ‘s difficult to make even simple decisions when we don’t know how we feel about our choices.
– They support us setting our boundaries which are necessary to protect our physical and emotional health e.g when we find disturbing the behaviour of another person our emotions alert us to protect ourselves in various ways such as expressing how we feel to the other person, taking a distance or other ways.
– They help us to communicate and connect with other people e.g we share our happiness verbally or through our facial expression with another person, a smile can bring us close.
– They motivate us to act. Without emotions we wouldn’t go far, plus when we are emotionally educated , our actions are an authentic representation of our self.
Emotions and rationality
Contrary to what many people think, emotions do not “get in the way of’” rational thinking – emotions are essential to rationality.
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has made significant contributions in the integrations of emotions to cognitive neuroscience. Through his extraordinary work, neuroscience is able to integrate mind and heart.
A part of Damasio’s research focused in studying the process of reasoning in people with neurological damage to their emotional systems. The research showed that people with brain damage to the ventro-medial part of the pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain where emotions are generated) may be able to perform to a high level on many language and intelligence tests, BUT they display huge defects of planning, judgement and social appropriateness. These defects are caused by the inability of the persons to respond emotionally to the content of their thoughts. The defects go as far as taking simple decisions such as what food to eat.
Damasio says that “humans are not either thinking machines or feeling machines but rather feeling machines that think.”
What happens if instead of being out of touch with our emotions (in order to be emotionally detached and cool), we are over aware and respond to our emotions that haunt and terrorize us? I ‘m sure most of us experienced moments of being so angry that we would explode. Whether tightly controlled or over expressed, our emotions in these extreme situations fail to empower us. Unfortunately, in today’s world, our interpersonal experience often involves emotional pain, so we do need an armour to protect us.
Emotional intelligence training facilitates harmonious interpersonal relations, dealing creatively with conflicts, developing inner empowerment and a strong sense of identity and it provides the tools for avoiding a cynical view of life. Being emotionally educated doesn’t guarantee material rewards, it is a key to personal power. Emotions are powerful if you can make them work for you rather than against you.
Emotional intelligence is a universally useful ability, but it has to be learned because we aren’t wired that way. The ability of the brain to adapt and change through repeated training and experience (brain plasticity) means we can acquire emotional skills through the course of our life.
Some effective forms of emotional education are: individual and group therapy, workshops of self-awareness, mindfulness meditation, various philosophical systems, books and others. From my personal experience I found the setting of psychotherapy most effective and direct in learning emotional skills and practising them in a supporting environment.
Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence” says “There is a certain amount of intellect that people are born with, but emotional skills you can learn even at an advanced age”. I find it inspiring that emotional skills can be taught because these skills are what we need right now to lead fulfilling lives. It is never too late to improve yourself.
Damasio, A. (2000). The feeling of what happens.
Steiner, C. (2003). Emotional literacy: intelligence with a heart.