Emotional Intelligence and Resilience have become buzzwords of our time. It seems we want to build skills in these areas and realise that this will help us at work to become better at managing relationships, dealing with set backs, being good leaders, and managing up, to name a few. Whether we like it or not our emotional responses make up a great part of our day and are even present in the quality of our sleep and can enter into the content of our dreams. However, the tools we need to go deeper into our emotional world are mostly found in therapy. Normally the people who choose therapy go in when they are facing a crisis and in general people talk about mental health issues as if it is limited to those who are depressed or emotionally fragile. However, we all have a mental life that is part of us and shapes our behaviour, relationships and performance.
A good example is looking at stress. Most people think that stress is just something endemic in modern life and business. However, stress is directly linked to our internal world; the beliefs, assumptions and the things we tell ourselves about situations which are often hidden from us. We know that when we get stressed we are telling ourselves something catastrophic otherwise we would not produce the chemicals, adrenaline and cortisol, that we do when we are under attack. The tools we need to understand this equation are therapeutic ones. Without them this type of insight is hidden, it is like we are living a life blinded to conversations that are going on inside of us.
Here is an illustration of how we can manage our responses to a stressful situation using the ABC model, which is one used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Many people feel stressed when they present. Some people can feel sick, have difficulties breathing and race through their presentations in a state of heightened anxiety. These are all symptoms we experience when we produce adrenaline and cortisol (commonly referred to as the flight or fight hormones we produce when under internal or external threat). The question is; why have we told ourselves something terrible when the majority of us do not struggle talking to friends or in more informal contexts? The thing that has changed is our internal dialogue. So perhaps we feel exposed and vulnerable when in front of a group and some of the things we may be telling ourselves are “I am going to do a rubbish job, everyone is going to think I cannot do my job, I am useless, they are going to sack me, I am the failure I always thought I was...” This would account for adrenaline and cortisol being produced in this way. We tell ourselves awful things and then our body responds accordingly.
Once we have a better idea of this equation i.e. what catastrophic things are we telling ourselves to make us produce adrenaline and cortisol, we can start to reduce our stress levels by engaging our rational brain which can provide a counter script.
This thinking can be helpful but it misses another deeper layer; where did these beliefs and assumptions, that drive our internal dialogue and are so toxic to our wellbeing, originate? If we could understand more about this we could change our internal thought process more significantly. I believe, along with other psychotherapists and psychoanalysts, that they often come from our childhood experiences, parents, culture and generational history. If we could learn more about this we could work at a much deeper level to change how we behave, react and respond to others. This would have a profound impact on many areas of our life.
For us to fully understand and build our emotional intelligence and build resilience we need to explore our emotional world. This would help us reduce our responses to things like stress, relationship issues, conflict, difficult conversations and a whole raft of other situations where our emotions come into play. We can only do this by bringing therapeutic tools into the mainstream so they are not just known by those who are in therapy. If we all had a better insight into our internal world or our emotions we would be better able to genuinely increase our emotional intelligence.
Insights Article written by Leanne Hoffman – Developing People Trainer/Consultant and practising Psychotherapist