Emotional Intelligence and Self-awareness

Published Categorized as emotional literacy, self esteem, Understanding emotions

How might you respond when….

  • Someone doesn’t listen to you
  • You’re asked to do something that you know you haven’t got capacity to do
  • Someone laughs at you for something you did

Now I know you’re going to say, ‘it depends’ because of course it does. It depends on where you are, what situation you’re in, who you’re with, what’s happened before this moment, what your relationship with others involved is like, how tired or stressed you are or even how hungry you are. But when things like this happen, do you just move straight to a reaction or are you aware of any process that goes on inside you?

How you react to potential triggers of your emotions depends upon your emotional intelligence. Good emotional intelligence makes you aware of what’s happening for you individually every time an emotion is triggered and consequently increases your self-awareness. Poor emotional intelligence can mean you go automatically to a reaction: often an unhelpful one.

 Let’s have a look at some of the possible responses to each of those triggers. (This is by no means comprehensive!)

Potential triggerYou feel…Possible responseBecause you thought….
Someone doesn’t listen to you  AngryStorm offThat person doesn’t think I am important
Rejected and hurtGo away and moan about the personNobody listens to me
ConfusedGo away puzzledThey don’t normally respond like that.
Concerned and curiousAsk of the person is OKThey must be having a bad day
Potential triggerYou feel…Possible responseBecause you thought….
You are asked to do something that you know you haven’t got capacity to do  AngryAggressivelyThey ask too much of me and it’s unreasonable.
Stressed and overwhelmedExasperatedly state the stress you are underI have too much to do I will not cope. They don’t care about my wellbeing.
A need to pleaseAccept the job and struggle to manage itI might be able to squeeze this in somewhere. I can’t
CalmExplain that you do not have time to complete thisThey will understand when I explain I have not got capacity to do this
Potential triggerYou feel…Possible responseBecause you thought….
Someone laughs at you for something you did  AngryYou become defensive and ask what’s so funny aggressivelyThey are horrible.
HumiliatedYou leave, head held lowI messed up and deserved to be laughed at
EntertainedLaugh tooI probably was funny!

If a person has poor emotional intelligence, they will just react with limited awareness of the process leading up to their automatic response. They won’t be very conscious of the ‘back story’ (thoughts, emotions, automatic behavioural patterns) behind their reaction. This tends to mean that they inflexibly react in the same way every time that trigger occurs. They are on repeat and usually unaware of this.

A person with good emotional intelligence, however, will:

  • Notice emotions as they arise. (And for a bonus point – be able to name it!)
  • Resist any impulsive urges the emotion could activate that could make the situation worse. (Create a ‘gap’ between trigger and response.)
  • Be curious about their interpretation of the situation and challenge any unhelpful judgements, assumptions or thoughts caused by low self-worth.
  • Consider the situation from the viewpoint of anyone else involved and what might have made them do whatever they did.
  • Not take the situation personally (as we all make mistakes, we all sometimes behave in less than optimum ways, we can appreciate others might be struggling, it probably wasn’t about us and if it was, it’s down to the other person’s interpretation which might be incorrect etc.)
  • Decide whether there is a useful message in the emotion that means action needs to be taken.
  • Know when to ‘let something go’ – either because that is the best course of action or there is nothing that can be done. (e.g. a stranger’s road rage)
  • Manage, sit with and accept uncomfortable emotions, knowing they will eventually pass. E.g. Find ways of self-soothing or putting things into perspective.

The more attention we pay to our emotions and emotional reactions, the more we get to know ourselves; we become witness to the self-beliefs, our assumptions and our negative judgement that can lead us to unhelpful interpretations of events (so negative emotions are triggered unnecessarily). This awareness can also help us see why the same event can trigger quite different responses in different people. We all have unique ways of thinking, unique beliefs and emotional tendencies.

So for what to teach children, find a list of what you could cover and the reasons why here: How to become emotionally intelligent.