As our culture continues to accept the phrases, “He makes me so mad,” and “They piss me off,” as balanced, sane and reasonable explanations for the source of their emotions, we will be forever a culture of nuts. These phrases, although quite common, are nothing more than products of magical thinking. You will be moving exponentially forward if you take a moment to examine the veracity of these statements and conclude that continuing to speak this way leaves little potential for improvement in emotional intelligence (EI). The fact is – no experience, circumstance or event has intrinsic meaning; events unto themselves are meaningless until we apply meaning to them.
The individual application of meaning is the impetus for emotion.
Meaning, however, abounds, varying to some degree from one person to another. Meaning can differ slightly or it can diverge to such a degree that getting the basic facts of an event can become an exercise in utter bewilderment. We are likely to apply as many meanings to the same situation, circumstance or event as there are people experiencing it.
In my quest to encourage the concept of taking personal responsibility for one’s own emotions, my learner often makes a quick adjustment in semantics, replacing the phrase, “It made me feel,” with the more rational declaration, “I made myself feel.” That progress in sanity, however grand, is often impeded when the learner begins to describe h/er emotional upsettedness using the phrase, “I let it make me feel;” as if letting something make h/er feel is a rational replacement for describing the source of one’s emotional problems.
The phrase somehow implies a shared responsibility for one’s emotions.
That simple concession in responsibility won’t do.
Improvement in EI requires taking full responsibility for one’s emotion. If EI improvement is your goal, responsibility for your emotions cannot be shared with anyone or anything.
When working with learners, I am often left with either ignoring this variation in semantics, or pointing out the illogical thinking. Of course I choose the latter and I am almost always faced with a learner who is baffled.
“I thought I was making progress.”
“Well, you are. There is still more to know.”
It is one thing to explain to the learner, “You cannot let something make you feel if it doesn’t and never has had the ability to do that in the first place.” It is quite another to explain this notion in terms that are not so meandering and convoluted that I lose the learner’s ambition to improve at all.
I will make my best effort.
Believing that you can allow or let people make you feel, on its surface, is an hysterical notion and is wholly batty. In order to accept this idea, one must first agree that people, in fact, possess super powers that can, if allowed to do so, subdue you and make you feel emotion. Leaving you with no other option than to submit to that magical power or thwart its influence over your emotions. (Something like holding up a shield to the thunderbolt of energy that intends to bring you down, emotionally.) People do not have magical authority over how you feel and, so, cannot be allowed or let to influence your emotions – whether you want them to or not.
Only you can do that.
You have always made yourself feel.
There really are no other excuses for it.
In my experiences, it seems that people are somewhat prone to make strides in their EI, after being introduced to the concept that their emotions come from their thoughts about situations, events and circumstances. It’s not a hard sell, really. “You make yourself feel by the way you think,” followed by some explanation of the workings of the brain, and the wonders of improved EI are set in motion.
I do not often run into much push back on that account.
Of course, as you may have figured out already, actually doing something with that knowledge is an altogether separate issue. This phenomenon of forbearing to do without actually doing can be described as intellectual insight without corresponding behavioral change. Learners easily understand the biopsychsocial connection between their thinking and emotion, but they are often reluctant to do anything more than appreciate that concept.
Emotion is a product of biology, psychology and social learning. Social learning often includes perception, interpretation and the application of meaning. These three components are unique to each individual and share little connection to external phenomena. Essentially, shit happens and you apply meaning to it. The more meaning you apply to shit the stronger your emotional connection to shit will be.
The belief that you are letting or not letting something bother you is an alternative way of externalizing the source of your emotion. It’s pretty much like saying, “I make myself feel,” only you are holding on to the idea that something outside of you still influences your feelings. The phrase is something of a hold out, an individual’s way of not fully accepting h/er responsibility for h/er emotions without at least attributing some part of the emotional source to something external.
To truly make improvement in EI, you will have to take FULL responsibility for your emotions. You cannot imply or even allude to the idea that your emotions come from anything other than yourself. People don’t make you feel and you don’t let or not let things, circumstances, events or happenings make you feel.
You always make yourself feel, regardless of the stimulus.
Emotion is always a result of your own perception, interpretation and the meaning you apply to stimuli. So, as you grow in your pursuit of EI, the most beneficial step you can take is assuming responsibility for every emotion you feel – while not falling for the idea that something outside yourself is magically making, producing or stimulating that emotion.
If you know someone who can truly make others feel emotion, sign h/er to a contract and join the circus together.
- The Bio-Psycho-Social Model (eitheory.com)
- Articulated Thought and EI Theory (eitheory.com)
- What Is Emotional Intelligence? (eitheory.com)
- The Burden of Change Is On You (eitheory.com)
- What Is Emotional Intelligence (part ii) (eitheory.com)
- What Do You Fear? (eitheory.com)
- EITheory: A Biopsychosocial Intervention Model (eitheory.com)
- Social Problem Solving (eitheory.com)
- You can really push my buttons! (eitheory.com)
- Incremental Change (eitheory.com)