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Self-Awareness as Emotional Intelligence

“Self awareness is the primary pillar for emotional intelligence.

Then, one needs to be aware of others and be able to manage/self-regulate. This, together with respect, is so needed today.” —Claire Knowles, executive leadership consultant

This blog is transcribed from a video I made a year ago, where I talk about gun violence and mass shootings. And will be relevant for as long as there are relaxed gun control laws and not enough emotional development and support for young people… in fact, for all people.

I'm not going to get into what I think about gun control, but I do want to talk about emotional intelligence and why not developing our emotional intelligence leads to lashing out.


Self-Awareness as Emotional Intelligence

I teach an art class and inevitably, students start to feel more, to express more, and to put more out into the world. This happens, I believe, because they are encouraged to cultivate self-awareness of what they are feeling, to understand what is happening inside of them as it is happening.

Emotional intelligence is, in my opinion, one of the most essential tools that we aren't cultivating in the world today. There is so much that doesn't work with the systems we are a part of, the society we live in, the cultures we've learned from, but one of the biggest failures is that we aren't educated about how to feel, how to understand our feelings, how to engage and manage our feelings, and how to cultivate awareness of how to tell what other people are feeling. Awareness of the self, leads to understanding others, to empathy.

And at the same time, because we don't have this awareness, people think that they don't know what other people are thinking. The truth is you CAN actually have a pretty good guess of what’s going on with someone else because we are highly capable creatures that CAN feel what others are feeling... if we develop the awareness for it in ourselves and, by extension; with the people around us.

Emotional Intelligence & Relationships

In relationships, the more aware we become of other's emotions and rhythms, we are more able to connect with them in a gentle and loving way.

If you assume what someone else is feeling or take a guess, you might get a response of "you don't know what I'm feeling!"

That might be true if you haven't cultivated your emotional intelligence and awareness, but for humans, it isn't hard to tell when someone is angry, sad, stressed out, enthusiastic. These are simple emotions that we can perceive because we are hard-wired in our mammalian brains to pick up on it.

AND we can actually feel a lot more than simple emotions coming from others. Which we either don't want to admit, don't understand when we do feel them, or we've become numb to feeling. Yet it takes practice to discern and feel the different complex emotions that arise, especially in relationship.

For me, I can always feel when my partner is withdrawing emotionally. And hopefully, I get curious. All too often I, we; get stressed/fearful instead, and begin compensatory behaviors. This is yet to be helpful, in my experience… but what else to do?

I might ask them if they are feeling this way or that way, and they deny it. And I know for myself that sometimes it is easier to deflect when someone notices or feels what I feel, than to admit that I've been impacted by something.

Sometimes, when we are feeling affected by something, we might punish the people around us by lying how we feel about it, or lashing out with hate/anger. This is easy to do when they are strong, complex emotions such as resentment, anger, or even love.

It's understandable that this would be a reaction to someone being able to "read" you, because many people have learned that if we share our emotions or are honest about something, then our partners are going to use that to hurt us. Or they might deny it, and we feel crazy. Then we start to behave like the other person is our enemy. This is all based on fear.

The Impact of Not Knowing How to Feel

Some of these compensatory behaviors I've described that have developed in our society make up for the fact that we don't know how to feel other people. Yet we have the capacity to deeply feel others. There is a level of honesty that is possible that most of us haven't developed yet. If we learned how to be aware of how other people are feeling, to ask the right questions, to be curious and loving in the face of emotions instead of having fear and shutting it down, and to support the people we love, especially children, to feel, then we would have a much different world. I dare say that we wouldn’t have nearly as many shootings if this were true. I know this may seem like oversimplifying a terrible issue in our world; and I offer that the path is much more direct than we are willing to admit. No less difficult, if less complicated.

We emotionally lash out at people when we don't have a healthy way of sharing our anger, our fears, and even our love. Over time that develops into behaviors where we hurt the people around us. When kids get hurt that way, that teaches them how to interact with the world. “When I am hurt, then I need to bring out my defenses, my knives, and hurt those around me trying to hurt me.” (Even if in reality they might not be.) Hurt people hurt people, yeah?

This is something that then proliferates. Some people say "guns are just a tool". Yes it’s true and if you are hurting and want to lash out on people, it is one the most effective tools to cause wreckage that mankind has ever invented.

You can hear the roots of the pain of these young kids who are shooting places up. The deeper thing is that they are hurt, afraid, and they sometimes find a tool that they think will relieve that, and end up causing a lot of harm to others and themselves. The superficial thing is that these people cause that harm using guns. The deeper thing is that they haven’t been taught how to handle their emotions in a healthy way and this is one the great affliction of our society.

When we aren’t feeling what the emotions in ourselves or in others, then it creates a layer of isolation in our communities. We can actually feel each other more than we think and if we were willing to face our emotions, it would have a great impact on the health of our world. It leads to a new level of personal responsibility, which ironically, so many people are calling for others to have.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who ARE very emotionally expressive, and we call them “over-dramatic” or “crazy”, and therefore dismiss them instead of facing what they feel and what that makes us feel. We often feel powerless with other people's emotions, so we dismiss them and encourage the other person to be “logical”. But being emotional IS logical. When we are in touch with our emotions and willing to feel, we can pick up on what is going on in our world and make decisions based on our deeper knowing. We get to see and understand the logic of emotions. And it is OKAY to not feel okay. It is OKAY to feel the despair of climate change, gun violence, the immigration crisis, or whatever it is that you are picking up on. That is humans having emotional intelligence about the state of our world. It is LOGICAL to be emotional about these things and it causes harm to ourselves and the rest of the world when we shut our emotions down instead of moving us to act, to reach out, to be connected. It is our understanding and our emotional intelligence that will help us navigate this life, and our relationships with each other.

So, where do you get emotional and then shut those emotions down? Where did you learn this from? Have you been able to adjust your relationship to your emotions and feel them, or get support for them? Start the inquiry; follow the rabbit hole down, and soon enough you’ll find that we are ALL far more capable and intelligent about “Illogical feelings” than we believed we could be.

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