In order to help our students apply increasing logic to the choices they make in their lives, the best place to start is the unconscious driving force behind those choices-our emotions. With increased awareness of feelings and how to respond to them, we can help ourselves and our students move toward more conscious and effective choice-making. We can help our students choose and rehearse how they would like to feel, express, and handle those feelings.
Without realizing it, we are propelled by our feelings to act to change them, remove them, or keep them. This can lead to choices that bring no result, the opposite result, or results which are not in our best interests.
The first step to managing emotions and greater emotional intelligence is becoming aware that emotions exist. At every moment, we are experiencing feelings, often without our awareness or conscious choice. We are affected by our emotions in numerous ways, including our physiology, movement, and speech.
We can help our students become aware of their emotions by looking to their voices and bodies for clues. We can help them look for examples of tension in their muscles throughout their body. We can help them explore whether or not they are holding tension in their stomachs or heads, which can lead to stomach pains and headaches. We can help them become aware of the speed of their breathing. Faster breaths often indicate a feeling needing to be examined and dealt with.
They can become aware of their voices and seek out clues as to how they are feeling. The rate, pitch, and volume of our voices change in response to our emotions. For example, has anyone ever asked you why you are angry with them and you had no idea why they asked that? We may feel that we are responding to someone calmly, but the volume may be louder and the pitch may be higher than intended if we are upset about something.
Additionally, we can help them examine if their daily habits have changed at all. Often, when we are experiencing certain emotions that we are not handling, we can find that our eating habits have changed – eat more or eating less than in the past. Also, our sleeping patterns can change, needing more sleep or not being able to sleep as much. Our relationships with others can be altered as well. For example, we may feel like we want to isolate ourselves, or we my feel like we are more clingy, needing more reassurance than usual.
Once they become aware that they are experiencing an emotion, we can help students examine the assumptions that they may hold regarding their responses to their emotions. For example, if they held the assumption that “I must never let out my feelings or it will be awful”, their responses to their feelings are then very limited. The only option they have left themselves is to stuff the feeling down and try to ignore it.
However as I have said, emotions propel us to deal with them in some way by making themselves known. Not dealt with, they can often build up. They can lead to pain, illness, or spill over in ways that we did not want. For example, a person may be angry about something that happened with a coworker, not deal with it at work, and then yell at his or her spouse later in the day for no reason.
We can help students examine and edit their assumption to expand their options and take control over how they handle their emotions. We can help them look at expression of feelings through a lens that encompasses shades of gray instead of all or nothing thinking. When they assume that they must never let out their feelings, they are saying that there are no other choices available. Simply having them say and embody an affirmation like “I am always able to show and express how I feel” would likely not be enough to change how they express their feelings.
It would be helpful to transition their thinking by looking at the exaggerations in their assumptions, beginning to understand and act on shades of gray. We could help them edit their assumption “I must never let out my feelings or it would be awful”. We can help them change the word “must” to “might”, “never” to “sometimes” and “awful” to “might be all right”. They can then begin to consider the possibility that “They might sometimes let out their feelings and it might be all right.”
We can help students look at the realistic likely outcomes of expressing their emotions, rather than the worse case scenarios that they could go to in our minds. We can help them safely predict that when they express their feelings, it is highly unlikely that they would be laughed at, or made to feel worse, and that in fact, they would likely feel better.
Once they become aware that they are feeling a certain way, and allow themselves to experience it, they can begin to explore choices about how they want to deal with the feeling. Upcoming blogs will focus on specific emotions, ways to express and handle them.