Our emotions are a wonderful thing.
We feel on top of the world, like we’re soaring across vast beautiful landscapes made specifically for us when we’re happy, but we can also feel like we’re trapped, locked in a dark exhausting pit when we’re angry or sad.
Our emotions, good or bad, help us experience the world around us and are responsible for creating a wide range of memories.
We’ll often see a fluctuation in our emotions throughout the day depending on a variety of factors. Our brains are superb at identifying our surroundings and situations to provide us with an accurate response. These responses are based on our understanding of what a particular situation or encounter means to us. Responses are formed on core concepts our brain has.
See, it’s not possible for our brain to accurately interpret everything around them every moment of the day. Instead, it forms concepts – a collective combination of information. Your brain would have formed a concept the first time you had a team meeting, for example, which it then uses to determine an emotional response in the future.
It’s pretty fascinating!
Yet, how does this knowledge of emotions help us further understand what we’re feeling?
How we form concepts
Emotions can seem complicated, difficult to understand and in some cases, frightening. They’re the backbone of what makes us who we are, and our emotional reactions to experiences can often define our personalities.
Particularly bad experiences may lead us to repress emotions associated with these memories as reliving those moments can be difficult. These repressed memories often find their way back into our lives through unconscious physical or verbal outbursts or uncharacteristic actions. When these occur, the person in question rarely understands why they did what they did.
An inward look into our brain tells us that our brains react solely to what gives us the best chance of survival, regardless of our emotions.
Worry and anxiety can loom over us like a roaring thunderstorm, thrashing our vessel without remorse, but these emotions are our brains’ way of telling us we’re in danger.
Whether it is an unknown concept that you should take with caution, or if you’ve had an awful experience in a similar situation before, your brain wants to keep you safe.
Cortisol – your body’s primary stress regulator hormone – is released to maintain stress, motivation and fear, which attributes to your fight-or-flight response and can subsequently impact your emotional response to the situation around you.
Repressed Vs Hidden
Despite the brain taking a proactive approach to protecting us, it does not go out of its way to repress or hide our emotions from us.
Doing so would cause us to shut down as we fail to perceive the world around us.
What it does do is focus on them less.
In essence, our brains don’t hide our emotions, but they can remain hidden from you if you don’t actively seek them out.
Understanding our emotions isn’t a simple one time, sit down task. We all experience life in different ways and handle our emotions differently. But understanding what they mean requires inward, deliberate thinking.
Repressing emotions can certainly be a method for our brains to lockout trauma; however, these are regular emotions waiting to be understood for most of us.
If your spouse, friend, partner or sibling is stressed and acting irrationally, wouldn’t you ask what was wrong? Would you try to comfort them and understand their situation?
If yes, are you doing the same with your brain?
I have seen high-level executives tremble and drag themselves through the day with the belief that there are underlying issues within their life preventing them from achieving the goals they dream of. They cling to the idea that their emotions are shrouded in mystery, when in actuality they’re in plain sight waiting to be seen.
Building Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence can impact our lives in various ways, from understanding relationships and communicating better, maintaining a more positive outlook, and greatly influencing our responses. Even though building emotional intelligence takes time, the great part is that you can start right now, even while reading other articles in this magazine.
It is far easier for us to shrug an emotion off when we experience it, including positive emotions. We don’t give happiness a second thought; we’re told we should be grateful for it.
But if I asked why you were happy, would you know? You might know when you were happy but do you know the exact cause and why that created the response it did?
Similarly, an argument might be the cause of anger, but would you know, in-depth, why that response was created? And more importantly, why are you still holding on to it?
The most significant benefit of emotional intelligence, in my opinion, is being able to understand why you felt the way you did AND be able to set that emotional response aside.
Holding onto negative emotions often feels like there is an inescapable cloud over our eyes. The beauty of the world is drained away and all that remains is problem after problem. Our solution, our beam of sunlight bursting through the fog, is to acknowledge what we’re experiencing as fact, and ask if we need to continue feeling this emotion.
Why are you angry, and do you need to continue to feel that way?
This train of thought is life-changing. Once practiced, an emotional response will no longer be an uncharacteristic outburst, an uncontrollable overtake as you feel helpless, an unjustified reaction, instead, you’ll be able to understand that the situation or experience is making you feel a certain way, and consciously direct your emotions correctly.
As Daniel Goleman said: “If you are tuned out of your own emotions, you will be poor at reading them in other people.”
Becoming a better communicator starts with the realisation that others are experiencing similar emotions to yourself. How you decide to communicate, the tonality you use and the vocabulary you settle on will ultimately determine their emotional response. Similarly, communicating with someone overtaken by emotion can sometimes feel like throwing a dart into a field and hoping you hit a bullseye.
Regardless of your position in life, being unsure of how to communicate to someone is scary.
Emotional intelligence allows you to understand these emotions, understand what the person is going through and make informed decisions on how to communicate with intent, considering their emotions in the process.
Whether you spend 5 minutes writing down what you’re feeling and confronting your emotions or meditate to bring them to the surface, identifying and analysing them daily will move you closer to being one with your emotions.