I sometimes confuse being emotionally literate with being emotionally intelligent. I think that being able to categorize and articulate the nuances of my feelings means that I’m intelligent about them. But I read this (thanks Ginny for sharing on Facebook) and realized that emotional intelligence goes a step further. It’s not just about the power of awareness and description but also about the ability to exert agency over emotional states; to assess, utilize, and sometimes discard, the visceral emotional reactions we all have. To make sure that emotions aren’t undoing larger goals and endeavours.
I’m an insecure person and I’ve long been aware of that. I’m also sensitive. I didn’t feel a lot of support around me when I was younger and it made me bolshie about what I wanted to do, but also stopped me ever reaching a state of easy confidence or feeling a sense of accomplishment.
Since then, I've learned to understand the origin and contours of these feelings. I recognize patterns in my own behavior and I recognize too the hyperbolic, compensating protestations of my own ego, which often make me feel I'm unkind or hard on others. I understood that the real me is somewhere between these two voices and I try to allow myself to register both sets of feelings and ultimately learn to walk away with the temperate in-between conclusions.
What I didn’t think about was changing those emotions; eliminating the self-doubt and the compensating ego and just moving forward without so much knottiness. I pride myself on my mental acuity, my ability to reason through complex concepts and ideas, to learn, adapt and change my mind, to evolve from one complex system to another. But when it came to emotions, I thought intelligence was more passive; it was about observation and empathy but not agency. I focused on learning to accept myself for getting angry or being sensitive or insecure.
Moreover, I thought it was wrong to make value judgements about emotions or to "should" oneself about how you ought to feel. It's not that I've completely changed my mind about that. And I don't think sadness or anger or other so-called negative emotions are "bad" or should be negated. But I also think there are emotions that don't have much utility and, especially when those emotions are a go-to reaction, they can halt progress and even run contrary to what we're hoping to accomplish.
There was an article in the New York Times recently about empathy being a choice. I wouldn’t want to deny the viscerality of some emotions, perhaps all of them, or think whole dispositions can be rewired through a simple act of volition. But I find it interesting to think about emotional intelligence as deciding what feelings to indulge; learning to concentrate on those feelings that support larger goals, learning to fortify oneself against an emotional existence that's toxic or halting.
It’s interesting too to realize that I’m drawn to people who seemingly have this ability. I think it's often because I admire how much more effective they are at just blazing ahead and getting done the things they want to get done. I think about all the times my own lack of emotional intelligence (and perhaps my tendency to dwell on articulation) has been the undoing of things I’m intellectually and physically capable of. Around my birthday I started thinking it’s time to just go. It’s time to stop waiting for approval or perfect timing. Maybe I’m already becoming more emotionally intelligent.
In the past few years I’ve become better at shaping my own feelings. I was so absorbant of other's feelings and judgements before, even when I questioned their reasoning. Now I'm much more discerning. I’ve also realized, in a very basic way, that no two people can really, fully understand and empathize with each other. Waiting around for ringing endorsements is futile. And this isn’t about adopting a “could give zero fucks” attitude, though it may outwardly look like that. It’s more about realizing that you can only give so many fucks before you move on.