Stuffin' the Kids in the Trunk? by Pam Stoddard

I came across the following quote I attribute to Australian business strategist Kerwin Rae- “Emotions are like children.  You don’t want them driving the car, but you don’t want to stuff them in the trunk either.”  Whether applying this concept to personal or professional life, emotional intelligence is certainly worth developing.  How often do we let our emotions dictate our actions, or we ignore, dismiss, and minimize them… to our detriment?  Failing to explore our emotions can bring devastation, often in ways we may not have thought of, such as soft and hard addictions, depression, physical health issues, etc.

Emotional intelligence has been defined as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions”.  This takes self-awareness, as well as honing our ability to take the time that’s generally available between stimulus and response during our interactions in our relationships (including to self).  In other words, in the moment it can be helpful to think something to the effect of- Does this need to be said or done?  By me?  Now?  Between stimulus and response there is time.  We can choose to use this time however we’d like.

To effectively function in our seemingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, we're often faced with sometimes daunting psychological demands.  Emphasis is placed on being resilient simply to have what it takes to survive.  It seems to me, aiming simply to survive is a short-term outcome.  I'd love to see more on the promotion and nurturing of individual growth in order to thrive.  For those willing to invest time and effort in self-discovery, emotional intelligence affords us this possibility.  Emotions involve both the body and the brain.  You may be surprised by some of the research Heartmath Institute has done on the subject.  I wasn't able to embed the link here, but when you get a few minutes you may want to check it out-

I often say there are 4 Fs we have access to in how we can take action in or after an experience.  It’s fairly common knowledge fight and flight are typically the go to when encountering a perceived threat.  Of course, what constitutes threat varies greatly- everything from feeling “dissed” to being physical threatened.  Depending on the situation, freeze can also come in handy.  Less talked about (except in psychology) is the fourth F- feel.  Examples of negative feeling states – angry, anxious, bored and sad, and positive feeling states – contented, peaceful, happy and excited.  How important is it to the process that before we identify what we're feeling, we identify the underlying emotion?  Is feel primarily an affair of the head or heart?  I suppose it depends.  

You may be asking by now, what is the difference between emotion and feeling?  Debbie Hampton, author of Sex, Suicide and Serotonin writes about the difference between the two on her web site-

“Although the two words are used interchangeably, there are distinct differences between feelings and emotions.  Understanding the difference between the two can help you change unhealthy behaviors and find more happiness and peace in your life. Feelings and emotions are two sides of the same coin and highly interconnected, but are two very different things.

Emotions are lower level responses occurring in the subcortical regions of the brain, the amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortices, creating biochemical reactions in your body altering your physical state. They originally helped our species survive by producing quick reactions to threat, reward, and everything in between in their environments. Emotional reactions are coded in our genes and while they do vary slightly individually and depending on circumstances, are generally universally similar across all humans and even other species. For example, you smile and your dog wags its tail.

 The amygdala plays a role in emotional arousal and regulates the release of neurotransmitters essential for memory consolidation which is why emotional memories can be so much stronger and longer-lasting. Emotions proceed feelings, are physical, and instinctual. Because they are physical, they can be objectively measured by blood flow, brain activity, facial micro-expressions, and body language.

Feelings originate in the neocortical regions of the brain, are mental associations and reactions to emotions, and are subjective being influenced by personal experience, beliefs, and memories. A feeling is the mental portrayal of what is going on in your body when you have an emotion and is the byproduct of your brain perceiving and assigning meaning to the emotion.  Feelings are the next thing that happens after having an emotion, involve cognitive input, usually subconscious, and cannot be measured precisely.” 

So, in a nut shell, feelings stem from our perceptions, interpretations, world view, and underlying attitudes.  For example, think how differently someone could interpret feedback from their partner if they held the opposite attitudes proposed in these statements- “I am happy/unhappy with the person I am”, and “I do/don’t respect others with different views to my own”.  Outcome would vary, open or defensive, depending on the underlying attitudes held.  Increasing our awareness and ability to respond (one indicator of resilience) vs. react is key. 

Of course, there are certainly instances where it’s more appropriate to react.  I have one of those canister style water bottles, a solid purple color.  I took the last swig of water in it and felt something thrashing around on my upper lip.  An Earwig was caught between my lips.  I couldn’t spit fast enough.  The emotion I experienced was surprise, triggering a physical and instinctual reaction.  You can probably imagine my facial expression.  Next, came disgust.  I nearly threw up.  Glad no one was sitting across from me!  After all the spitting and gagging was done, the feeling I associated with this emotional experience was curiosity- "How the hell did that get it there?"  I’m resilient enough to continue drinking out of that canister… after it’s sterilized, of course.

When it comes to increasing resilience, well-being and happiness, can we ever have enough tools?  This next short video from the gang at Heartmath explains a practical resilience model, how it relates to coherence, and to how much energy we have each day to do what’s really important in our lives.

Ultimately, our attitudes about self and others reveals itself through our behaviors (I consistently behave in a manner of someone who has an aversion to eating bugs).  Our behaviors are channeled through our emotions and feelings; they dictate how we manage self and our relationships.  How do we regard our self or others?  How aware are we of our emotions and feelings or those of others?  How do we behave when emotionally “triggered”- are we curious and compassionate or do we judge, criticize, shame, or blame?  

Once we recognize our attitudes, our practice then becomes about perceiving and filtering a stimulus through our attitudes, developing varying levels of awareness and emotional layers, and accurately interpreting the resulting feeling.  We're provided with many opportunities to experience and identify emotions and feelings every day.  Our level of awareness determines how we incorporate them into our actions.  Whether we react or respond to these emotions and feelings determines our effectiveness, resilience, and reality.  The more emotionally intelligent we are, the more we’re conscious of all these aspects coming together in the moment.  Choice is key. 

Here's author of 5 Chairs, 5 Choices, Louise Evans, to share her experience on the subject-