In my lead-up ramblings I’ve queried whether we as a society and culture and therefore as individuals might benefit from exploring and validating our emotionality more. Contrary to the cultural norms we might have absorbed, could learning to better utilise our emotions as a useful, additional source of information help us to ‘function’ better? We might all agree, that relying on emotions alone is also less functional, hence, perhaps the innumerable restrictions and stigma on emotion- so that’s definitely not my query.
I’ve also been very abstract. So, what’s an example of how I can see emotional information being used for more ‘functional’ outcomes? In order to explore just one possibility of how emotional information could be useful, I’ll engage in a deliberately reductive, simplistic illustration.
EXAMPLE SCENARIO (taken from ‘Peep Show’, Series 9, ep.4): This guy, Jez, hasn’t had much career success in his life is is currently practising as a fraudulent ‘life coach’, and dating one of his only two clients. Jez’s boyfriend asks who’s the most interesting client Jez has life coached. Jez, under pressure, thinks, “think of someone famous, think of someone famous”, replies, “The Queen”, and proceeds to fabricate details of life coaching the Queen and the location of his headquarters (He doesn’t have a headquarters. His ‘office’ is his bedroom). Highly amusing television. Of all the possible speculative emotions that could have combined to motivate this decision- insecurity, inadequacy, embarrassment, nervousness, inferiority, failure, etc- I’ll focus on just on ‘inadequacy’ for simplicity.
A possible, more ‘emotionally intelligent’ alternative for Jez:
1. Attention to feeling- What am I feeling? “I’m feeling inadequate”.
2. Attention to cause- What prompted this feeling now? “Boyfriend asked about my work. I want to impress my boyfriend. I’m generally not proud of my achievements. I generally always feel inadequate because of this”.
3. Attention to motivation- What is this feeling making me want to do? “I’m feeling the urge to lie about the Queen”.
4. Attention to need- What does this feeling tell me I might need? “Right now: I need some reassurance that I’m okay. Longer term: I might need to make changes so I’m doing things I can feel more proud of”.
5. Attention to efficacy- Is what I’m feeling motivated to do going to work towards these needs? “No. Lying about the Queen as my client will not make me feel okay right now and will not serve my future achievements because it doesn’t represent my actual life and it’s an unrealistic goal”
6. Attention to options- What could I do to attempt to meet these needs better? “Reassurance that I’m okay: Give myself reassurance- remind myself it’s a work in progress? Remind myself it might take time to really accept this? Tell boyfriend this is how I feel and this is where I’m at even if that won’t impress him? Working to make changes: Begin working on a plan? Begin the process of working out what I might need to learn and improve on?
I’ll concede, such a reasoned, articulate, conscious examination seems laughable, especially written out in such a way. It’s also very definitely not a process Jez went through. Unsurprisingly, the character of Jez had a solidly reinforced habit of reacting protectively to mask his sense of inadequacy. He put a lot of energy into his lie about the Queen, even asking his best friend, Mark, to pretend to be Prince Philip on the phone when his boyfriend tried to visit him at his office that he didn’t rent. Jez gained some momentary relief from confronting the full force of his inadequacy, but maintained and strengthened his felt and behavioural inadequacy in the longer term. I’m glad he wasn’t scripted to act with more emotional intelligence because that’s the whole hilarious point of the show. The internal monologues conveying the pervasive insecurity and inadequacy of the main characters are simultaneously cringeworthy, reassuring and entertaining.
It’s also laughable, because in order for Jez, or any person to engage more actively in a process like this, there are several conditions internally and externally that need to be met first and often aren’t. With the current state of human relations, to varying degrees, it is actually often not safe at all to engage in. The strategies that ignore the direct, causal emotions, while sometimes counterproductive in the long run, can offer more protection in the moment.
What could some internal, personal conditions be?
-Awareness of feeling?
-Acceptance that this feeling is valid?
-Knowledge that using feelings as information is possible and could be useful?
-Long term developed mental skill to engage processes like this?
-Comfort and confidence to engage in this?
-If involving other people: courage to face the risks and preparedness to respond to whatever reaction is forthcoming or, the external conditions to be met?
What could some external conditions be if a person either does not have the courage or it would be too high risk too use that courage?
-Other individuals also having developed the above?
-Possession of the above enabling individuals to respond with ‘kindness’, ‘consideration’, ‘empathy’, ‘acceptance’? In contrast to ‘judgement’, ‘criticism’, ‘blame’, ‘defensiveness’ ‘rejection’, ‘diminishment’, ‘avoidance’, ‘dismissal’, ‘ridicule’…*
-Possession of the above enabling individuals to feel comfortable being exposed to a broad range of other people’s human experiences?
Considering the range of social and cultural concepts relating to emotion combined with just these few hypothetical conditions (a rudimentary list), all the possible emotions, all the possible moments and all the possibilities of how these may interact there are infinite possible permutations of these inter-relationships. Simply put, humans are complex. No shit, Sherlock?
In the spirit of getting back to basics, I’ve included with this post lists of ‘feelings words’ and ‘emotional needs words’
*I’ve listed these words in quotation marks because what they mean for individuals and the actions that convey them are very subjective and I feel are often applied without individuals gaining a shared understanding of that individual subjective meaning.