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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Forgiveness is a Choice

We have all heard the phrase “Time heals all wounds.” And perhaps in some instances, it does. Perhaps the passing of time helps move us farther away from what brought us heartache or loss.

When it comes to forgiveness; however, time tends to just pass along. When someone has betrayed us, the hurt has the potential to sit weighted. The bitterness and anger that comes as a result of the betrayal has nowhere to go, so it rolls around inside us, settling down as stones in our heart.

The decision to forgive someone is a choice that we make. It doesn’t happen automatically – the emotions tied up to the act of betrayal will keep you in an angry place to protect you. The decision to forgive someone is a choice that once decided, works away at those stones until your heart feels less heavy, lighter, and free of bitterness. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse what happened. And if the betrayal was such that it ended the relationship, forgiveness doesn’t need to change that either. Forgiveness is a choice you make for yourself.

As Bernard Meltzer stated:

“When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.” – Bernard Meltzer

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Emotion Regulation System; Post 3

In our last post based on the work of Dr. Paul Gilbert, we look at the Drive System.

The Drive System, also known as the Incentive and Resource-Seeking System, is built to help us achieve goals. Its primary function is to motivate us, to provide the incentive for us to accomplish tasks and to seek resources that are going to allow us to survive.

Think about our drive to get out of our cozy bed in the morning, the effort we undertake to go for a walk after working all day, the motivation we muster to finish that last assignment in course work or the effort it takes to prepare our family’s dinner.

The brain chemical that is produced when the drive system is engaged is dopamine, our reward hormone. This is why we tend to always feel better after doing something that we had to convince ourselves to do in the first place!

When the drive system is engaged, we feel motivated and excited. Our emotions illicit pursuing and consuming behaviours as a way to keep us on track to achieving our goals.

The three systems of emotional regulation – the soothing system, threat system, and drive system – best serve us when working together. When we can recognize that one of our systems is out of alignment, we can work to create balance again. That might mean pushing the drive system, taming down the threat system, or making sure our soothing system isn’t left behind. 🙂

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Emotion Regulation System; Post 2

Yesterday’s post featured the Soothing-Contentment System of emotion regulation according to the work of Dr. Paul Gilbert. Today’s post features another system entitled the Threat & Self-Protection System.

The main function of this system is to pick up on threats early in order to protect us. This is the system that helps us to survive danger in order to seek safety and will attempt to manage fears. The feelings that are typically associated with this system include anxiety, anger, disgust and shame.

Picture a car suddenly coming to you in the oncoming lane, the feeling that you get when the Ferris wheel stops mid ride and you are at the top, feeling triggered to a past trauma or that rushed, overwhelmed feeling that you get when you are worried about something.

The main hormones that are activated when this system is in motion are cortisol and adrenaline, as our bodies are put on alert to deal with the danger. Although we may not realize it, many of us spend too much time in the threat and self-protection system, not because we are faced with real danger, but because we perceive the feeling of not being safe.

It is important to recognize what is a true alarm versus what is a false alarm so as to regulate our fear and worry and get back to our soothing and contentment system.

Tomorrow’s post will feature the Drive System.

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Emotion Regulation System; Post 1

According to the work of Dr. Paul Gilbert, we have three different systems we use to manage our emotions. These systems are different from each other and yet are designed to work together to help regulate emotion; they include different brain regions and chemistry. This post will begin a three part series in which we examine each of the systems in turn.

The Soothing-Contentment System: The main function of this system is to create a system in which we feel the safest.  It is the system that allows us to slow down, encourages rest and it is our restorative system where kindness and care are felt. When this system is engaged, we feel overall contentment and connection.

Think of sitting cozy by the fireplace, resting under your favourite tree while capturing the warmth of the sun, being in the arms of someone you love and feel secure with or standing by the ocean, enjoying the sounds of the birds and the slight breeze on your face.

The hormone that is produced when we are in our soothing-contentment system is oxytocin, our “feel good” chemical.

It is important to recognize when we are in our soothing-contentment system, as we are often not in it enough – the busyness of our lives and the stress and anxiety that are present as a result will often push us into the threat and self-protection system; our focus in tomorrow’s post.

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A Quote About Grief

What lovely words from American novelist Anne Lamott:

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

– Anne Lamott

I have a client who, after 20 years post losing a child, stated to me, “I have a very deep crack in my heart and my sorrow can be immediate and raw when I get triggered in grief. But the same crack allows the good to come in and my moments of joy are profound.”

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Overcoming Mental Illness Guilt

Trying to manage a mental illness can be quite difficult at times; the symptoms are often pervasive and debilitating. In its wake, mental illness will bring along a myriad of feelings, one of which is guilt.

For some, it is a general guilt about mental illness; it may be that we feel guilty about how our mental illness impacts others, what it means in our workplace, guilt about the inability to function optimally, guilt that we may have to take some time to get back on track. We may get our illness back to a manageable state, yet the guilt remains; it can be quite tenacious.

We are much better served when we process the guilt. The first step in this process is to ask ourselves, “Is the guilt I am feeling appropriate?” And further to that, “Is it warranted?” Perhaps you feel guilty that you were not able to be there for your loved ones in the same capacity due to your mental illness – if that is the case, talk to them about it. Apologize for not being able to be there for them as you normally would be.

Perhaps you feel guilty about not having been at work for two weeks; warranted? No. How productive would you have been at work if your symptoms have moved to a place where they feel unmanageable?

If you need to make some amends, do so. If you realize that much of your guilt is unwarranted, then challenge its presence. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that mental illness will wreak some havoc; we are capable of tidying up the aftermath. Some of that may require some rebuilding, some might be about what we need to discard. 🙂

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Distress Tolerance Techniques; DBT- Post 2

Yesterday we focused on some distress tolerance techniques from DBT that are intended to help us center ourselves for the short term. Sometimes, however; the solution is not to be found in the immediate future. Possible examples include grieving the loss of someone, going through a break up, trying to quit a bad habit, waiting for a better job to come along.

When we are faced with a situation that tends to roller coaster our emotions, we can use some of the following techniques:

  • Being mindful to plan activities. Sometimes we can tend to isolate ourselves when our emotions feel overwhelming. We are better served to build our time; planning coffee with a friend, daily walks, scheduling a weekend away.
  • Contribute to the greater good. We often underestimate the sense of meaning we get from volunteering – sign up to help serve a meal, visit a seniors home, sing in the choir at church.
  • Use your emotions to re-focus. Feeling sad? Watch something funny. Feeling blue? Put on your favourite high school dance tunes.
  • Write by way of comparison – jot down how things were for you a year ago, how they will be a year from now. Sometimes getting ourselves out of our current train of thought helps us to see the bigger picture.
  • Do something creative. Nothing like getting lost in our imagination. 🙂

These types of distraction techniques are considered part of distress tolerance as they help us to deal with long term situations, allowing us to focus on how to feed our comfort system and feel grounded despite our emotional state.

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Distress Tolerance Techniques from DBT

Sometimes we find ourselves with a problem or situation we can’t immediately solve. Perhaps our emotions are running high and we need some space to compose ourselves or perhaps it is an issue that just can’t be solved in the immediate future but still gives us an element of worry or distress. In either case, we can begin to feel consumed by our feelings. Distress tolerance techniques are a part of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) and can be quite helpful when feeling upset about something. Today’s post will focus on immediate, or short term distress.

Someone upsets you at work with an insensitive comment, you get wind that a friend has gossiped about you to someone else, the school calls and your teenager has skipped class – these are all examples of situations that can create an immediate reaction in us; of anger, hurt, frustration, disappointment. Perhaps dealing with it immediately might not work – time does not allow for it or we fear that we may say or do something that isn’t measured.

One way to deal with short term or immediate distress is to use our senses to self-soothe; it can be helpful in grounding yourself. After taking a couple of deep breaths, try and use your senses to center yourself:

  • Stand by a window or go outside. Focus on the trees, water, people walking by.
  • Scroll through pictures on your phone that bring you good feelings.
  • Put on some music that is soothing or uplifting.
  • Listen to a guided meditation or podcast that you enjoy.
  • Light a candle; cook something flavourful, buy yourself a Pumpkin Spice Latte at lunch.
  • Put on a cozy sweater or wrap. Cozy up to your pet, take a shower or a bath.

These types of distraction techniques are meant not to help us avoid dealing with the situation, but rather give us the time to focus on how we want to handle the issue that has brought us emotional upset. As they are also self-soothing activities, they help to feed our comfort system, which allows our rational brain to inform us as to how we want to move forward in finding a solution.

Tomorrow we will look at the types of distraction techniques needed for long term emotional upset.

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Things to Remember About Anger

Anger can be an intense emotion. It can sometimes get the better of us and we may say or do something we later regret. Here are a few things about anger that can help us to understand this complex emotion:

  • Anger tends to isolate us. No one pokes an angry bear, right?
  • Anger is an emotion that serves a function. It is often our frustrated or angry feelings that prompt movement. Working towards righting a wrong can help us not only in processing the anger, but in affirming that we can exercise choice.
  • Hitting something actually increases hostility. You are much better served to focus on deep breathing and talking yourself down.
  • Know your triggers. We all have instances or situations that can make us feel angry fast. When we know our triggers, we have greater understanding of why the anger is so intense.
  • Walk away. Leaving the situation can help diffuse it – making sure that you communicate that you are doing so. When calmness returns, it can be revisited.

It is okay to feel frustrated and angry; those feelings are simply informing us of something. It is acting on the anger that can get us into trouble. We are much better served to slow it down, figure it out and move towards the effectiveness of doing so.

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