Emotional Flexibility


If you’re under the age of one, it may be possible for you to respond to the world with more emotional flexibility than an adult.  (Those of you who are under the age of one can stop reading now and run along.  If you can write, please jot down your thoughts on EI and send them to me. I would be forever grateful to, once again, have the emotional resolve and flexibility of a one-year-old.) If you’re over the age of one, dig in your heels. Your EI adventure is all very possible; it just gets progressively more difficult as you age.

A child’s emotional possibilities are boundless – from A to Z and back again.  An adult, on the other hand, often loses h/er emotional flexibility as s/he ages, running the broad spectrum, instead, from A to C and back again.  Where children can choose from hundreds of options to express emotion, adults often confine themselves to only a few.

This happens, I feel anger.

This happens, I feel depression.

This happens, I feel anxiety.

This happens, I feel joy!

With very limited variation.

Choosing irrationality over rationality leaves us with the burden of overcoming a number of cognitive and structural (biological) barriers that children do not yet possess.

Children learn from adults the proper way to express emotion within a particular cultural model.

When is anger a fitting response?

When do I express glee?

What do I do when I am jealous?

Children often play out their roles with toys, experimenting with scripts, rehearsing roles and solidifying their future place in society. One lesson builds upon another until the child suddenly realizes that what separates h/er from being viewed as a mature, emoting adult is that adults don’t rehearse anymore. Children come to view the transition to adulthood as a forfeiture of their toys for inflexibility and rigidity in thinking and behaving. Toys, however, might be made more purposeful in the resolution of adult problems.

I suggest getting some Barbie dolls and GI Joes and playing out different resolutions to the same emotional issues. Try having Barbie forgive Joe for his careless behavior.  Have Joe express sadness that Barbie is behaving foolishly. Try out new scripts and roles before committing to them. Regaining a child’s creativity when faced with solving emotional questions may be what we are all trying, once again, to regain.

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23 responses

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