For many years I believed that having emotions or showing my emotions was a sign of weakness, and that emotions were labeled as good or bad. I also felt uncomfortable when I was witnessing other people expressing their emotions, regardless of being the good or bad ones.
I was emotionally ignorant.
For me, the Mind Learners coaching school was the game changer. Spending three months with other 13 amazing ladies, and going through the Transformational Coaching Program led by Alecsandra Liţu and Carmen Şidon, helped me to identify beliefs that held me back, including emotions related limiting beliefs, and helped me to allow myself to voice my fears, and to overcome some of my self-doubt behaviors.
Without having the coaching school experience, I wouldn’t have become genuinely interested in being aware of emotions and understanding them. Without wanting to understand emotions, I wouldn’t have been drawn to enroll to the Emotions Centered Coaching Program led by Dan Newby.
I’m in progress of becoming emotionally literate – “in progress” because I see “emotional literacy” as a lifetime journey, not a destination.
There is a distinction between “learning about emotions” and “learning emotions”. The distinction can be well understood as the difference between “watching how is made” and “making it yourself”. As Dan Newby says, “it is learning from the inside out”. Deep understanding of emotions comes from marrying the conceptual, understanding the concepts, the idea and the logic, and the experiential, spending time with emotions, sensing their energy, naming them, embracing them.
Emotions affect our behavior without actively noticing them.
The cognitive appraisal that leads to an emotion is done unconsciously, thus just because someone isn’t aware of an emotion, it doesn’t mean it’s not affecting their behavior.
The unconscious mind is able to process 500,000 times more information per second than the conscious mind (Lipton, 2015), thus emotional messaging will be decoded faster. This aspect is vital for the existing decreased attention span.
In other words, as Dan Newby says “we are never not in an emotion”. If we understand that emotions represent the energy that moves us, we can see that they are always present, whether we are busy or inactive.
Emotions are nondiscretionary.
Even though we display emotions differently depending on our culture, education, past experiences, emotions are present in every human being from birth to death. We are emotional beings.
Emotions are not always comfortable, and most of us have tried to numb the pain provoked by these emotions with distractions, that worked temporarily. And actually, the avoidance of an emotion is the predisposition of the emotion denial, meaning the refusal to believe something we see or feel. The opposite of denial is the emotion of acceptance, which means that something “it is what it is” even though we may not agree, endorse or like it.
When we face emotions and when we get to see ourselves as emotional beings with acceptance, we are taking a step forward in becoming emotionally literate.
Emotions are far from being “just a feeling”.
Emotions are lower level responses taking place in the subcortical regions of the brain (for example, in the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system) and the neocortex, where conscious thoughts, reasoning, and decision making is happening. These responses create biochemical and electrical reactions in the body that modify its physical state, meaning that emotions are neurological reactions to an emotional stimulus.
While emotions are associated with reactions of the body, which are activated through neurotransmitters and hormones released by the brain, feelings are the conscious experience of emotional reactions. Originated in the neocortical regions of the brain, feelings are flashed by emotions and shaped by personal experiences, beliefs, memories, and thoughts linked to that particular emotion. In conclusion, a feeling is the side-product of our brain perceiving an emotion and assigning a certain meaning to it.
Emotions are part of a continual cognitive appraisal and feedback process. This process has evolved for our survival. It forms the basis of our decisions on not just how to act, but who to trust.
Emotions are vital for decision making.
Emotions are part of our cognitive mechanism and advise us on our most logical decisions. Regardless of having all the logical and rational reasons to make a decision, it’s also necessary to “feel” it.
Studies show that 95% of our cognition happens in our emotional brain and it was found that when humans had damaged the area of their brain where emotions were generated and processed, despite still being able to use logic, individuals that were void of emotions seriously struggled to make any decisions.
This can be seen also in the development of artificial intelligence. Regardless of the continuous improvement of logic algorithms, the biggest challenge is to find a way the artificial brain to discern the value of the possible choices it has.
Thus, emotions are assessments of situations that drive survival and wellbeing. If a message doesn’t make us feel something, we are unlikely to act on it. So we need to think of emotions as guidelines for every decision, without which there would be no action.
Emotions are not good or bad.
As I did in the past, we tend to label the comfortable emotions as “good” and the uncomfortable ones as “bad”. And from an ethical perspective, “good” means “right” and “bad” means “wrong”. Thus, the consequence of this reasoning is that we will make an effort to have more of the “good emotions” and less of the “bad emotions”. Also, we believe that people that experience and show “good emotions” are morally superior.
The truth is that emotions allow us to take certain actions and keep us from taking others.
One “bad” emotion people run away from is anger. The value brought by experiencing the emotion of anger is that it tells us if what we believe in is just or unjust, if one of our values has been violated or not. Thus, if we wouldn’t have anger available, we would be ignorant about our values and about the things or beings that are important to us.
We are not our emotions.
Emotions do not define us, we just experience them. As Dan Newby says “there is a distinction between us having an emotion and an emotion having us”. Understanding this distinction is important because it allows us to respond instead of react to our emotions. Responding to our emotions means to stand back, notice and reflect on our emotions. Reacting to our emotions means to get caught in them because our predisposition to the emotion is faster than we are able think.
Even though it is shown that our emotional reaction is faster than our intellectual response, being in a process of becoming emotionally literate involves training ourselves to make space between experiencing an event and reacting to it.
The deepest form of understanding another person is through the emotion of empathy.
An important step in becoming emotionally literate involves having the curiosity to find out and to understand the emotions experienced by people around us, being aware that our behaviors are influenced by our emotions.
Empathy involves a shift from us observing how others seem on the outside, to imagining what it feels like to be them on the inside, wrapped in their skin with their set of experiences and background, and looking out at the world through their eyes.
Emotional literacy is an important area of learning for leaders, teachers, coaches and parents.
Embracing emotional literacy increases our capacity to build healthy relationships, personally and professionally. Identifying and overcoming the limiting belief that emotions are a problem, it will be much easier to reflect and understand that most of the challenges in our life come from a lack of emotional understanding of ourselves and of others.