When I was a kid, IQ was a big deal. Somewhere along the way, our understanding of human development yielded a deeper appreciation of emotional awareness as integral to our well-being. Now, EQ is considered to be one of the key indicators of human success and happiness.
Most of us have been confronted by the pervasive and somewhat misguided belief that logical thinking is more ideal than emotional or intuitive decision making. Logic and reasoning are certainly important to sound decision-making, but research is supporting a shift toward the paradigm that "mastering our emotions hold[s] the key to changing our lives." (from The Source by Neuroscientist and Psychiatrist Dr. Tara Swart)
If we can accept that emotional intelligence plays an important role in decision making, the work of increasing our emotional intelligence becomes paramount to our health.
A conversation about emotional intelligence (and its direct relationship to mental health) can take many directions. Here, I'll do my best to distill a 15 year journey of focused seeking into some insights and resources that might inspire and ease your own journey.
First, a quick little back story:
In 2010, I left my home state of Texas in search of relief (from depression and addiction) and to seek my (then) secret dreams. You can read a more full account here, but what's worth noting about my crash landing here in Oakland is that being alone in a new state forced me to sit with emotions that I had been suppressing and avoiding for years.
What I began learning in the years of unraveling myself through therapy, reading, and mindfulness is something I've come to understand now more conceptually:
If we don't let ourselves feel our emotions, we will suffer. Emotions are inevitable and and valuable pieces of information. When we choose not to feel them, they compound. The only alternative to feeling the spectrum of human emotions is to suppress (consciously push them down), repress (unconsciously push them down), express or avoid them.
There are no good or bad emotions, but there are different frequencies. Most of us admittedly prefer higher level emotions, however many of us unconsciously seek situations, people and environments that exacerbate unresolved or unfelt emotions.
By learning to recognize our emotions as they arise and allowing ourselves to feel these natural occurrences--rather than dismiss or judge them-- we expedite our ability to move through them. Avoiding or denying a feeling simply means it will linger. If our unwillingness to feel it persists, these feelings will manifest into physical, mental, spiritual and relational challenges.
To the expert avoider (like I was) welcoming your grief as the fastest way to move through it sounds like a load of crap your therapist uses for financial security. You are welcome to believe it is, and you are also welcome to know that I clung to this notion for the first 6 years of therapy, but a single encounter with the power of Surrender can tell you otherwise. It did for me.
I now have a daily practice of welcoming my fear (or anger or loneliness) and have found that when I can do this whole-heartedly, I can land back in ease and grace surprisingly fast. It takes practice, but that's why mindfulness is called a practice.
Whether what I just shared is met by "duh" or "whoa", a lot can be sourced from this. If you fall in the duh camp, please continue embodying your practice to the benefit of those around you. Deepening your practice with coursework at the Center for Nonviolent Communication, Mindful Schools or the Center for Health Minds (at the University of Wisconsin) can be powerful supports.
Recognizing what we are feeling, investigating with compassion to understand the underlying need, and giving ourselves space to meet that need is a set of skills that every individual can and must hone for true well-being.
A technique that has helped me tremendously has been the R.A.I.N. technique. For 10 solid years, I have been practicing this. While the work is ongoing, an intensive foray over several years gave me a leg up that has increased my bandwidth and created a stronger foundation in every domain of emotional intelligence.
This has changed not only my relationship to myself, but transformed my life from the inside out. By attuning to our emotional rhythms and their underlying needs, we become more resourceful. Through this work I now feel gratitude everyday, which 10 years ago would have seemed impossible.
The impact this work has had on my external life is more profound; Strengthening my emotional intelligence has been the source of opening up every area of my life: creatively, professionally, romantically, financially, and spiritually.
It's not that I never 'lose my cool', but that I've learned how to tolerate feeling the momentary loss of said cool more skillfully. I can recognize my misalignment more quickly and have more ways to nurture myself back to equilibrium with growing compassion. I wish this for every human.
There is no arrival, but as we venture to deeper levels of consciousness we can open up greater vitality and equanimity in ourselves. As we experience greater levels of emotional integration, new choices emerge. Herein lies our power to design our lives.