For years and years, I would have told you that I was a very emotionally intelligent person. I was aware that emotions could take many forms, had many names and I knew intellectually it was important to understand them. Emotional intelligence has been a notable topic for many years, and I considered myself to be one of those wise people who were in the know.
Unfortunately, in all of my information gathering on the topic, I ignored one crucial point. That in order to have emotional intelligence you actually have to experience emotions. Who would have thought?
The key to emotional intelligence is to not just identify the emotion we are experiencing with a handy dandy robust emotional vocabulary, but to allow ourselves to feel it non-judgmentally. This is a key point, because many of us who grew up in households where emotions were not welcome got used to shoving them down and pretending they didn’t exist.
Feeling is freeing
When we suppress emotions, it typically doesn’t lead to much good. We end up accumulating hurt on top of hurt and over time these feelings build up until one day we can’t shove them down any longer, and the long-awaited bomb finally erupts. Or we can try to numb them out with the help of food, booze, shopping, video game playing or any other addictive habit we have accumulated over the years. Not a recipe for success either.
We often try to squash the negative emotions. The ones we consider to be “bad” like anger, frustration, sadness, guilt, shame (my personal favorite), disgust, overwhelm, anxiety, fear. We’re often not super aware of the oh so subtle tricks we’ve accumulated over the years for disowning these things in ourselves.
I feel anxiety before delivering a leadership development program, particularly a new one. Perfectly reasonable, right? And yet, in my head I’m thinking to myself, “Bad Shelley. You shouldn’t be feeling that. You’re only feeling that because you’re a bad teacher and facilitator. If you were better at your job, you’d be more confident and you’d never experience this.”
So the anxiety comes up, and I try to swat it down by directing anger at myself for having the emotion in the first place.
Or perhaps I’m frustrated or angry at a family member. “Bad Shelley. You shouldn’t be feeling that. You’re only feeling that because you’re a bad niece, sister, cousin, etc. If you were a better person, you would be more caring and emphatic and understand their perspective and where they were coming from.”
Here is the mental leap that often eludes us: having and especially feeling an emotion does not make a person “bad.” What matters at the end of the day is what we do with the emotion we’re having. I can be angry and resentful inside and yet I can still manage to put that aside and recognize in the moment exhibiting that behavior would not be helpful. I can choose my response. I feel the way I feel, but I can choose what action I ultimately take in any given situation.
IAAA Framework for Emotional Intelligence
I’ve recently fallen upon a framework that has been extremely helpful when it comes to fully acknowledging and processing emotions. IAAA. Sounds like an insurance company, right?
Have a think about which of these aspects are the trickiest for you:
I = Identify the emotion. What am I experiencing right now? What is the emotion word that describes this? This is an important first step and comes back to the principle that if I can name it, I can tame it.
A = Acceptance. This is key in acknowledging the experience we’re having and normalizing it, so that we can lean into the emotion and allow ourselves to experience it. “It makes sense I am feeling this right now. I’m a human being, humans have emotions. It’s okay that I’m feeling this. This emotion doesn’t make me a bad person.”
A = Attribute. What might be causing me to feel this way? What’s recently happened? What story might I have created that’s causing this emotion?”
A = Action. How do I want to show up now? What action do I want or need to take as a result of what I am feeling?
Coaching questions for you
So where might you need to focus? What do you need to work on to create more emotional freedom for yourself? How might you be judging your emotions and numbing them? What is that habit costing you?
Shelley Pernot is a leadership and career coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and find a career that utilizes them. Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!
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