Ego States; Post 2

In yesterday’s post we learned what ego states are and why they are important to our understanding of the choices that we sometimes automatically make.  We learned about child ego states where we end up feeling small, and parent ego states, where we seek to feel powerful. Essentially, neither one of these ego states is where we want to stay – we may land there in default, but it is important for us to recognize how we are feeling and pull out of it.

A good gauge to assess where you tend to go involves immediate reaction – if you feel responsible for someone else’s mood or response and feel powerless to it, you know you are in child ego state. If your immediate reaction tends to be anger, and you move to seeking powerr , you know you are in parent ego state.

Where we aim to be is in an Adult Ego State – it is here that we feel most grounded and settled. It is here that we are able to use both our emotion brain and logical brain to make decisions, and we tend to be less reactive. We can move to not owning someone else’s mood or behaviour; we can move to a less automatic defensive position.

Recognizing is always the first step. Knowing where the potential triggers came from is the second. Deciding to change the way we react is the third. Remember, whatever is learned can be unlearned. 🙂

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What are Ego States and Why are they Important?

I like to say that within us there are many different parts. And when we are feeling good, confident, and strong, those parts work together like a well-oiled machine. When we are feeling vulnerable; however, some of those parts begin to work independently of each other, or can come into conflict within ourselves.

The psychological definition we use for describing these parts are ego states. Everybody has them and we all experience them. We tend to shift into an ego state when triggered by something that typically comes from our past. Some examples include:

  • an automatic reaction to someone else’s anger; including the 0 to 60 response, immediately apologizing, feeling responsible regardless of the situation.
  • automatic care taking behaviours.
  • reacting out of fear of ‘getting into trouble.’
  • overly passive or overly aggressive reactions.
  • moving to fix.
  • automatically taking ownership.

One of the ways we can become aware of being in an ego state includes asking ourselves this question: “Am I feeling small right now?” When we can recognize that we feel small, we are most likely in a Child Ego state and will move to feel and sometimes react as we did when we were children. If, however, we are feeling ‘big’ in the moment, we know that we have moved to a Parent Ego State; where we are seeking power over other with ‘rules’ or reactions that tend to feel rigid and inflexible.

Being able to recognize when we have been triggered into an ego state is the first step in creating a healthier reaction to situations that mimic childhood experiences. Tomorrow’s post will expand on our overall goal with ego states to live in Adult Ego State.

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Making Space for Grief

When it comes to our emotions, we are best served to feel them as they come; with no judgment or criticism. There are moments where we may feel rejected; there are moments where we may feel surprised. We may feel sad or joyful. Perhaps we feel irritated or angry. Our feelings are meant to be and we must simply scooch over and offer them a seat beside us.

When we are grieving, it is a feeling that envelops us. It will often come in waves; it can feel raw and untethered. It can feel comforting. Grief carries memories which can elicit both sadness and joy. Very often, we are tempted to try and ignore grief; to tuck it away, to hide from its persistent knocking.

Grief needs to be felt. The process of grief needs to be honoured. When we do so, we in turn honour those whom we are missing.

Making space for grief is an important part of the experience of loss. When we are open to the process of grief, we not only step aside so that it may stand alongside us, we turn to grief and open our arms.

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The Word ‘Unpack’ and The Use of Imagery

In therapy, we often hear the phrase, “let’s unpack that.” Those words provide an image that we can work with to further explore.

Think about the last time you were on vacation and brought your suitcase (I know, it’s been a looong time!) When I get to my destination, I like to hang my good clothes in a closet that has all the hangers ready for me; I put my casual clothes in the dresser, and my cosmetics in the bathroom.  Doing so allows me to feel organized and hopeful as I feel ready and excited for my week ahead. I also put our valuables in the safe; that allows me to feel secure.

We can achieve the same feelings in therapy when we unpack something that has been occupying space in our baggage. By exploring things in an environment that feels safe, we can begin the process of putting those memories or experiences in places in which we don’t have to carry them anymore. When we share the secrets we have guarded for so long, we can tuck them safely away. By unpacking the event, the experience, the trauma – we eliminate the weight that they inherently carry. Imagine if we had to lug our suitcases around with us the whole time we were on vacation? We would feel irritated, tired, anxious and depressed. The same things happen when we carry the weight of unprocessed events.

Let’s lean into the process of unpacking. That might be with a therapist, but it can also occur with a trusted friend, partner or family member. We can journal, mediate, pray. In any form we choose, when we focus on what needs to be explored, we set ourselves up to feel lighter, more joyful, grounded and confident.

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The True Meaning of Love

For the past two days, we saw the world continue to react to the death of Betty White – on her 100th birthday (January 17th), donations poured into animal shelters in communities far and wide. It is a tribute worthy of who she was and all that she embodied. When I saw this passage by a.r. lucas, it reinforced what love truly is:

“We’ve been infected with this idea that love is an emotion only felt between two people.

But love is universal. An energy. A contagious force. A gift.

To offer money to a homeless man is to love. 

To save a worm from the sun is to love.

To smile to a stranger is to love.

To be grateful, to be hopeful, to be brave, to be forgiving, to be proud, is to love.”

– a.r. lucas

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Emotional Intelligence; Post 5

In our last post about Emotional Intelligence, we look at the fifth component of EI: Social Skills. When we think about social skills in the context of emotional intelligence, it is about the art of being able to effectively communicate with others, being influenced by both your emotions and your ability to read into what other people are feeling. Social skills include being able to convey our point of view while respecting someone else’s, being able to manage conflict, being able to manage change, co-operation skills, being open to work as a team member, and leading by example.

Ways that we can increase our EI social skills include:

  • Build your self-confidence. Don’t like small talk? Practice it. Don’t like confrontation? Take a course on conflict management skills. Create a bigger window of opportunity for yourself to practice your skills and increase your confidence.
  • Keep your established relationships healthy. When we are actively working on the relationships we have, not only is it good practice for the outside world, it emphasizes the importance of good social skills in relationship.
  • Emphasize a collaborative climate. When we work towards creating cooperation both at home and at work, we focus on the importance of the relationships in accomplishing tasks.
  • Smile. You’d be surprised at how far a smile will go in letting people know that you are open minded.
  • Practice gratitude. Saying thank you is a simple and effective social skill.

Five components of Emotional Intelligence. EI starts with Self-Awareness and understanding our own emotions which leads us to being able to manage them – Self-Regulation. From there, we can use our emotions to reach our goals through Motivation. Once we have a good grasp on our own emotional intelligence, we move towards Empathy, and the art of understanding other people’s emotions and finally through Social Skills, we can secure healthier environments for ourselves and others.

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Emotional Intelligence; Post 4

Moving right along in our series about emotional intelligence, today’s post features the fourth component: Empathy.  Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of others; it is about being aware of or being sensitive to another person’s emotions even, at times when it is not being fully communicated. When we have good empathy skills, we can imagine what it would feel like to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes – it is a vicarious experiencing of the feelings.

How do we increase our empathy skills?

  • Listen. Listen to understand and not just to hear. Try to imagine what it would feel like if you were in the same situation they were in – connect with the emotional component in their words.
  • Allow yourself to feel vulnerable to their experience. If we struggle with empathy, it may be because we protect our vulnerability. Attempt to come into the conversation from an open and flexible place.
  • Be curious. Ask questions about their experience. Ask yourself questions about how you may or may not feel differently than they do and why.
  • Notice non-verbal cues. Facial expressions and posture can tell us a lot about emotions and can provide valuable insight as to what others might be feeling.

When we have good empathy skills, we tend to be less judgemental, better at managing relationships, and we relate well to others. It is a valuable component of EI and one that is considered essential to our relationships. Tomorrow’s post will feature the fifth component of emotional intelligence: Social Skills.

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Emotional Intelligence; Post 3

People who have emotional intelligence also tend to possess Motivation – the third component of EI, and topic of today’s post.

If we are constantly distracted by our emotions, we may find it difficult to see tasks through to completion. When our emotional brain makes decisions for us, we can de-rail from our goals,  reinforcing self-defeat, and feelings of failure.  When we have self-awareness and are able to regulate our emotions; however, we are free to move forward in our goals and as an extension, feel more motivated.

Daniel Goleman identified four elements that make up motivation: our personal drive to achieve, commitment to our goals, initiative, and optimism. Ways that we can boost motivation include:

  • Create an action plan by writing it down. What is achievable right now where a goal is concerned? How much time can I set aside to dedicate to it? What will help me to accomplish it?
  • Celebrate small wins. Breaking down our goals into stepping stones greatly increases our chances of success; we tend to reinforce our achievement when we acknowledge our successes along the way.
  • Work on changing your internal dialogue. If you notice a consistently negative voice in your mind, work at replacing your internal dialogue with something more affirming. Positive affirmations are often helpful to keep us on the right track.
  • Be curious. Explore options, new interests, what makes you feel excited or hopeful. Being curious allows us to challenge the fears that often work against our motivation.

The components of Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation and Motivation are what Goleman considered to be personal skills indicative of how we manage ourselves. The last two components focus on how we manage our relationships with others – tomorrow’s post explores Empathy; considered to be the second most important component of emotional intelligence.

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Emotional Intelligence; Post 2

Yesterday’s post looked at the first component of Emotional Intelligence; Self-Awareness. Today’s post looks at Self-Regulation.

When we begin to have a greater understanding of our own emotions, we can begin to manage our emotions more efficiently, which leads to feeling capable and self-confident when it comes to controlling our emotional response. Some ways that we can build emotional self-regulation skills include:

  • Taking a pause. When emotions begin to feel out of control, take a pause – by way of a deep breath, by actively slowing down – we  give ourselves time to allow our rational brain to weigh in on how our emotional brain is reacting. This gives us a more informed decision as to how we want to move forward by way of action.
  • Being accountable. When we make a mistake, we need to own it. If we said something we regretted, lost our temper, did something we wish we could take back – it becomes important to acknowledge not only to ourselves but to those we affected that we messed up. Doing so tends to build our self-regulation skills as it reinforces what we don’t want to do.
  • Manage stress. Living in chronic stress tends to wreak havoc with our ability to regulate our emotions. By managing stress (self-care is a good place to start), we create a better foundation for emotional self-regulation.

Emotional self-regulation promotes feeling efficient; we begin to feel emotionally stronger when we can see the results of having controlled an emotion that we may have struggled with in the past. Tomorrow’s post will explore the third component of EI – Motivation.

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Emotional Intelligence; Post 1

When we possess emotional intelligence, we tend to have a good understanding of our emotions. We are aware of how we feel, are able to control our emotions when necessary, and can express our emotions to others. A strong EI (also called EQ) tends to make us good listeners, as we apply the same awareness of emotions to others as we do to ourselves.

Daniel Goleman is a psychologist and author of the 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence.” He created five components of EI that help to define emotional intelligence. We will explore each one in the next five posts, with the first being Self-Awareness.

A key ingredient to self-awareness is being able to recognize our emotions. This may seem simple, but think about the number of times that your emotions may have led you to a certain thought or action that you later questioned. Lack of emotional self-awareness can lead to anger management issues, acting defensively when constructively criticized, the feeling of ‘shutting down,’ feeling constantly overwhelmed by emotion, and/or a lack of trust in your own emotions.

How do we begin to build emotional self-awareness? Here are some good places to start:

  • Simply observe. This is probably one of the simplest ways to begin to recognize our emotions. It is the voice that helps us to begin to understand what we are feeling in any given situation. “This makes me feel sad.” “I am feeling so good inside right now.” “I can feel my anger beginning to rise.” “I have this bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.” Simply observing what is happening by way of emotion allows us to not place a judgement or action on them. They simply are.
  • Ask others.When you really want to know how you react to situations, ask your loved ones. Sometimes the perspective of others can help to either confirm what we suspected, or give us a greater understanding of how we react to anger, sadness, guilt and so forth.
  • Build mindfulness skills. Through guided meditation, deep breathing or mindfulness exercises, we begin to appreciate the ‘here and now’ of the present moment. This can often help in the self-reflection of our emotions as well.
  • Journal. Jot down how certain situations in your day made you feel; not with intention to figure out direction but simply how you felt at the beginning, middle and end of the interchange and any emotional reaction you may still be having at end of day. This can become a great tool in recognizing our emotions.

Goleman notes that self-awareness of our emotions is foundational to the rest of the components of EI. Self-awareness allows us to become more insightful, creating the path for Self-Regulation: the second component of EI and topic for tomorrow’s post.

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