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Often when I was asked how I felt, I used to respond with a mental position. It is interesting to remark that every time we respond “I feel that…” we are substituting an emotion with a thought or opinion. For many people like me, the difficulty of becoming emotionally intelligent was that I wasn’t emotionally literate. I had not developed the skill of understanding the language of my own emotions and their associated physiological repercussions.
In order to be able to better relate to emotions, Jim Dethmer from the Conscious Leadership Group shares an interesting method to get started. While being in distress, Jim asks the fundamental question, “how are you feeling at this moment?” and “where is the emotion in the body?
The aim is to connect our language of emotions (sadness, anger, shame, envy, disgust, etc.) to the sensations that arise in our body—changes in posture, breathing, heartbeat, temperature, sweetness, trembling hands, tightness, contraction in specific muscles, etc. Witnessing these changes and using investigative lenses aids in creating awareness and restoring control when being in a triggered state.
Then his prompt is to sit with the sensations, with an attitude of acceptance, giving the feeling of complete presence. This understanding of how we currently relate to emotions provides a new ground to confront them without acting on them. By the way, as valuable as these aroused states can be in specific settings, the reason to seek self-regulation is to observe the whole landscape of possibilities from the situation.
In my coaching practice, I encourage my clients to set up a reminder at different and random moments during the day to create awareness of “Where are they emotionally?”. This can give us a sample of our emotional home, meaning the emotional space we are often drawn to. Furthermore, it can reflect how certain activities, such as consuming news or social media, might influence our state without us even noticing. Perhaps such effort is what is needed to identify if we spend most of our days in a positive or negative emotional space.
Instead of reacting in counterproductive ways, we can train ourselves to down-regulate without bypassing and disengaging with reality. Self-regulation begins with breathing (we cannot get reminded enough). For centuries, spiritual and contemplative practices have known its power, and science today has a much better understanding of its capacity to influence our anatomic nervous system (I recommend James Nestor’s new book Breath). It changes blood pressure, oxygens the body, and creates a shortcut to change brain chemistry.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to experience emotions completely without becoming a slave to them. It is an invitation not to get entangled with your life’s content (specifics of the situation) but instead open the inquiry towards the context (how we choose to react and relate to whatever is happening).
Think for a second about how your life would play out if you had the power to shift your state to be available in a state of trust in the midst of situations that require more expansive thinking. Taming emotions can take years of committed work. Thus, it is essential to sustain a level of self-compassion for where we are in the process while keeping the certainty that, like any other skill, it is a matter of intention, education, and consistent effort.
Can you accept yourself by being reactive? As a reminder, emotional intelligence is not about reaching a peak of permanent equanimity. Rather is about having the courage to recognize what is happening within us and respond more effectively. The opportunity lies in not inflicting inadequate self-judgment and knowing that we all are born with different psychological challenges. Additionally, it enables us to see other people’s emotional reactions with a broader understanding that they could be dealing with dysfunctional brain biochemistry. Maybe their ability to cope with stressors hasn’t been nurtured with the same tenderness and guidance that we might have received throughout childhood.
Part of my endeavor to understand the depths of how to honor my feelings was to manage myself better. I am a work in progress, and sharing it makes me remember the steps I can take every day to improve my well-being and the quality of my relationships. I hope it does for you too.
With all love,
Santiago Barragan Noguera
Coach & Educator — Artistic Polymath
Copyright © 2021 Santiago Barragan Noguera. All rights reserved.