How are you feeling? Most of us use a variation of three words to describe what we’re feeling: mad, sad, and glad. It’s easy to think that these three words cover all our emotional bases, but in reality we are feeling so much more!
What’s the big deal? you might think. Why would it even matter to distinguish the facets of our feelings? If you’ve ever struggled to communicate exactly how you were feeling, then you know what I’m talking about. I’ve experienced that challenge, and it often resulted in remorseful behavior, especially when I was angry.
During these times, we can feel assaulted by our feelings and believe the lie that we have no control over them. I spent many years a victim of this falsehood, but the unfortunate truth is that I was the one who victimized others because I didn’t know how to control my feelings…until I did. If you’ve been in the same boat, and are tired of living at the mercy of your feelings, let me share one EQ skill that can help you get out.
HOW IT WORKS
We experience our feelings in the emotional center of our brain (the amygdala). When we stay there, we are unable to add rational thought to them. The essence of a higher emotional intelligence is the ability to combine rational and emotional thoughts at the same time. The problem is that the emotional center of the brain receives the signal before it reaches the rational center (the prefrontal cortex). You’ve experienced this if you ever:
- regretted saying something and wished you could have reeled those words back in.
- were plied with guilt after doing something in the heat of an emotional moment.
The moment you experienced regret is the moment that the signal finally made its way to your prefrontal cortex, which is your seat of reason. Emotional intelligence is the act of engaging both your emotional and rational centers of your brain, to work in tandem. There are no right or wrong feelings, so it’s fine to feel whatever the feeling is, but allowing your rational brain to determine how you react is the key to healthy emotional intelligence.
When you take a moment to identify what you are feeling, you are actually inviting your rational brain into the situation. This process alone will help you manage your feelings better, because the very act of accessing the word engages that part of your brain. There are other skills you can develop that will help shorten the gap between when you feel something, and choosing how you want to respond, but expanding your emotional vocabulary is a good start that will help regulate your emotions more effectively, rather than falling victim to them.
Increasing your emotional vocabulary helps you to name your feelings in specific terms which can:
- increase your self-awareness, which is a key EQ skill
- improve your relationships
- help you to look more like Jesus.
Expanding your emotional vocabulary builds self-awareness, which is another core skill of emotional intelligence. One fundamental truth about our emotions is that no one can make you feel anything. Your feelings are your own. They sprout out of your life experiences, filters, and judgments you may have. No one makes you mad, sad, or glad. You choose how you feel and are responsible for your own feelings.
In Psychology Today, Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. explains, “A prominent view in psychology is that our emotional lives are shaped by our values and judgments. The judgmental aspect of emotion suggests that our emotions are not entirely beyond our control. They do not just happen to us; we are responsible for them. Our inability to control emotion relates to our limits controlling our beliefs and thoughts.”
When you isolate the reason for a feeling, you can better choose how to respond. Being able to drill down on feelings and to better distinguish the intensity of them can help you know what action to take to resolve the situation.
For instance, understanding that anger is a secondary emotion to hurt or frustration is valuable for knowing what action to take. If someone has hurt you, you can use specific words to express your anger. A more fine-grained examination may reveal that you’re feeling disappointed by their actions. Knowing this can diffuse a ton of negative energy, because when you share what you’re feeling (not what the person has done), you’re not accusing their actions. The shift in energy from accusing to expressing creates a more tender, open space for them to engage with your experience. This works because they’re not feeling criticized or attacked, which would typically put them on the defensive.
A rich emotional vocabulary is beneficial, but it doesn’t give us license to emotionally vomit on others in more eloquent ways. It’s meant to be coupled with other EQ skills to help regulate our emotional experience. By doing so, this allows us to own our feelings and experience them without causing harm to others.
The truth is that no one can tell us, or deny how we feel. Our feelings are deeply personal experiences that can’t be snatched. Ultimately, the goal is to move through the feeling, and not to ignore it, or camp out there. None of us want to be stuck in grief, bitterness, or fear.
One way to do that is by engaging others. When we share what’s on our hearts, it opens the door for others to respond in ways that can help us move through them. So, if you are angry because someone has disappointed you, rather than lash out at them, you can articulate your feelings and allow them to respond. They may make amends or provide information that brings things into a new light in, hopefully, a way that will help you move through your feelings.
Relationships, all around, can be improved when we accurately express our emotions. When centered in love it builds trust and intimacy. Using succinct words to convey what you’re feeling helps everyone know how to better navigate.
LOOK LIKE JESUS
There’s no denying that Jesus had feelings. The bible shows us moments where Jesus was more than mad, sad, and glad. He was frustrated, tempted, compassionate, angry, disappointed, delighted, confident, sorrowful, disgusted and experienced enjoyment. With every feeling came the right response that would glorify God.
How many times was Jesus hurt and disappointed with His disciples? Quite a few times! In every case he verbalized His feelings (maybe not always in the non-confrontational way I’m suggesting), but he always moved in love to teach them or to explain the error of their ways.
When we weave emotional intelligence into our spiritual growth, we have the opportunity to look like Jesus more often than not. Jesus always responded to people in the right way, at the right time, and for the right purpose. He always glorified God, no matter how he was feeling. We can too!
If you’re up for growing this way here’s a tool, called the Feeling Wheel*, that will help you expand your emotional vocabulary. At the center are core feelings. As you move outward you will find words that reflect aspects of that core feeling in more specific ways. Knowing the nuance of your feelings helps to identify the issue better. Once you know that, you can construct a healthy response.
Expanding your emotional vocabulary enriches your life and helps shape a more Christ-like character. Bringing your feelings to God in prayer is one of the most intimate, spirit-stretching offerings you can give Him. No matter what you feel, He wants to be a part of it. There is no feeling that He can’t handle. I know, because that’s where I used to be…until I wasn’t.
You can take more steps to increase your EQ when you sign up for my mailing list. You will receive a monthly email with coaching resources to help you grow spiritually and emotionally. In 2018, I included a coaching portion at the end of each blog, but starting this month it will become part of the monthly emails. Don’t miss out, sign up today and begin to experience more freedom and control over your feelings.
As a Christian Life Coach, I can help you move from where you are to where God wants you to be. If you are interested in growing more as a disciple by increasing your emotional intelligence, then let’s chat. I’d love to be your champion in what God is calling you to do!
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*Feeling Wheel: Dr. Gloria Willcox