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My Fight with Emotional Intelligence

fightYou may have heard that emotional intelligence is correlated with higher income and greater success. Studies seems to confirm this. So you may be wondering how do you increase emotional intelligence. Well, let me tell you some of my journey around this.

First I should explain emotional intelligence for those of you may not have heard this term before. Essentially emotional intelligence is being smart around emotions. A big component is being comfortable with and managing your own emotions. Another big component is being in touch with how others around you are feeling or how they might feel if you say or do certain things.

It’s easy to spot an emotionally intelligent person because it feels really great with you are around them. No wonder these folks are more successful.

My Journey

I’ll just start out explaining my journey by saying that I would be a whole lot more emotionally intelligent if it weren’t for all these crazy emotions that keep popping up. I know this sounds funny, but that’s my dead serious experience of it.

I have identified in my life so far about four or so big life shaping experiences. Let me give you an example.

I was 6 years old one morning when my mom started yelling frantically for my dad. My dad came in and started performing CPR on my infant sister, only at the time I didn’t know it was called CPR. There was blood coming out of her mouth and dripping down her cheek while my dad was still blowing air into her mouth. Many horrifying minutes of this dragged on. Eventually paramedics came and took my sister into an ambulance and my dad went with them. And that Christmas day of 1972 was the last day I saw my sister Laura alive.

That was shocking, terrifying, and gut wrenching. But the worst part for me was in the weeks afterward. My parents who were doing their very best under hard circumstances just did the minimum to take care of me. They thought I didn’t really know what happened and that I wouldn’t be affected by it. So they didn’t even really talk to me about what happened. I remember I would cry myself to sleep at night and no one was there to comfort me.

As a 6 year old where I was forming views of how the world works, I took in the lie that I don’t count – I don’t matter. And I desperately needed it to not be true. Many years later, still, some of my behavior and many of my emotionally charged events are driven by my need to count. Much of this reaction comes out from my subconscious, and I don’t see it coming. I am taken by surprise.

How can I be emotional intelligent with an experience like this?

My journey has been a non-linear hodgepodge of learning different things and discovering different pieces of the puzzle that is my life. At first I thought that emotional intelligence meant not feeling. So I struggled mightily to suppress or at least not express my emotions. This, of course, doesn’t work. And now I know it’s the exact opposite. I can’t manage my feelings if I am refusing to acknowledge them.

I also kept trying to deal with these life shaping, emotion triggering events as if they were a side project. I thought that if I were more emotionally intelligent, I would be able to deal with them better, so I put these things off for later. This isn’t true either.

I’ve learned that, “yes you can have emotional intelligence even when you’ve gone through some really tough experiences that trigger you.”

What I’ve Learned

These life shaping, trigger causing, experiences are common. Most of us have at least one of these. They often, though not always, involve taking on a lie, or a vow, or both. These life shaping events get into our subconscious where emotions can bubble up seemingly from nowhere.

Our behavior is driven by the lie and/or the vow we take on. An example of the lie could be something like, “I’m worthless.” (And by the way, it doesn’t have to be logical.) We might just accept this lie, and never allow good things into our life because we aren’t worthy of them. Or we might react against the lie doing everything possible to prove the lie false, all the while somewhere inside wondering if it’s really true.

The vow is “I will never ever under any circumstance _(blank)_,” you fill in the blank. The vow might be, for example, “I will never ever be like my father and discipline kids.” This is an emotionally driven vow, and just like with the lie, this doesn’t have to be logical either.

Because of these life shaping events, we often get emotionally triggered. This is where the emotional intelligence comes in. We aren’t being emotionally intelligent if we are triggered and out of control. Working through these events isn’t something you do on the side. Rather this is the work of emotional intelligence, or at least a huge part of it.

While I probably will always be in processes working on my emotional intelligence, here are some things I’ve found helpful:

  1. When I’m triggered, it’s not their fault. They may have said or done something, but I am not reacting to that moment, in that moment, I am reacting to my past event.
  2. Nothing is wrong. I’m not wrong for overreacting. They’re not wrong for triggering me. Nothing is wrong. It just is. For me, this removes all judgement and makes it OK to examine what’s going on without feeling like it shouldn’t be.
  3. It helps to talk about the past event(s) to someone, even to a lot of someones. Do this when there’s a good, safe, place to share. This helps process the events and perhaps can uncover the lie and/or the vow.
  4. It helps immensely to have a skilled/gifted person who can help unmask and dissect these experiences and what we may have made them mean.
  5. It helps to link the life shaping events in my life to specific emotional reactions. Being able to say, “Oh yeah, that’s that event flaring up again,” takes much of the power out – as opposed to, “I have no idea where that came from, and by implication, I don’t know when it might happen again.”
  6. Just because I didn’t catch myself in time and prevent an emotional overreaction, it doesn’t mean I’ve failed. I can still be emotionally intelligent by what I do next or soon after.
  7. When necessary, clean up the mess afterward. Say something like, “Hey back then, I totally overreacted. I’m sorry. I’m still working through some past hurts, and it has nothing to do with you.”

It is possible to experience a peace and even victory through these past experiences. You can have emotional intelligence even when you’ve had some really tough experiences. You may need to forgive. It will likely take time and effort, but it’s worth it.

I hope that in my sharing, this will help you on your journey.

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