Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Feeling emotional

When I reflect back on my journey as a coach, I think the most important lesson I learned was to paraphrase the emotion that someone was experiencing, before paraphrasing what a person has actually said.  I've used this over and over again in my daily life as well as professionally, so that it has become part of who I am.  The reason it is important is because you have to first acknowledge the existing reality of a person before you can coach them to move forward.  It allows you to express understanding in an empathetic and non-judgemental way.  Only after acknowledging the emotion that a person is feeling, can they be liberated enough to move forward.

This brings me to Chapter 2 of the PYP Bookclub reading Onward by Elena Aguilar.  Here she talks about understanding and accepting emotions because this allows you to see where you can - and cannot - influence a situation.  It helps you to let go of what is outside of your control.  As a coach, one of the things I find difficult still is not getting caught up in the emotions of others.  At times we have to hear difficult, even traumatic, testimonies, and acknowledging a person's feelings about these is the first step to helping them to explore their own emotions.  

Elena writes about how emotions are reactions to an event.  She describes the 6 part cycle of an emotion, which I'm summarising below:

  1. An external event happens and this can also trigger internal thoughts and memories.
  2. You interpret the event - your mind makes sense of what has happened.
  3.  The event and your interpretation lead to a physical response in your body.
  4. Alongside this physical response, you feel an urge to do something.  You may or may not act on this impulse.
  5. You may act - and at this point you may also feel out of control of your behaviour.
  6. The original emotion starts to affect other emotions, thoughts and behaviours.  You might need time to process the original emotion, or perhaps a secondary emotion is triggered.
Here's the thing - learning to identify where you are in the cycle is important because you can interrupt the cycle at any step.  Although emotions feel incredible strong, we know they are also temporary.  Resilient people can rebound quickly once they understand the emotion is temporary and that they are in charge of the cycle.

Sometimes emotions are regarded as positive or negative, and even more important culture can determine how, where and when emotions can be expressed.  A person's age, gender and race can all lead to other people interpreting these emotions in different ways.  In fact our emotions are not either good or bad - however the way we respond to our emotions can cause problems.

There has been a lot of interest in emotional intelligence over a number of years.  This can be defined as self-awareness (recognising your own feelings), self-management (deciding how to respond to emotions, social awareness (recognising the feelings of others) and social management (forming healthy relationships, managing conflicts, collaborating etc.).  Emotional intelligence is learned:  we can all learn to understand our emotions and develop strategies to respond to them.  However one of the first things we need to do is to actually identify our feelings and name the emotions.  When I was training to be a Cognitive Coach I remember hearing that there are 4 main emotions: sad, mad, glad and afraid - and that all other emotions are greater or lesser states of these.  However emotions are hard to define because they are so complex and multi-layered, and they come in waves and varying intensities.  In Elena's book she has a list of emotions in Appendix C where she breaks down the emotions into 8 core emotions: fear, anger, sadness, shame, jealousy, disgust, happiness and love.  The lists with the longest labels for these 8 are sadness and happiness, however it's interesting to know that of the 8 core emotions there is only one set that seems positive.  As a coach it's important to be able to name emotions.  For example I might say "you are feeling anxious" and the person I'm talking to might reply "no, actually I'm terrified" which is a stronger intensity.  It is only once we name the emotion that we can made a decision about what best to do.

When I talk to teachers, especially after 2 years of disrupted education, I hear so much about how teachers are tired, stressed and overwhelmed.  Interestingly, these are not emotions in themselves, they are indicators of emotional states as they are the symptoms that arise from emotions.  The danger is that stress, anxiety and depression can turn into burnout, where teachers feel exhausted, apathetic, frustrated, angry and depressed - a dissatisfaction with teaching or life in general.  It's important to deal with this.  We need to boost our resilience through taking care of ourselves, for example sleeping more or taking more time off.  Emotions that stick around too long can turn into moods, and moods can turn into emotional problems such as depression or anxiety, when teachers feel they have little support.  Research has shown that about 10% of teachers suffer from depression.  This not only creates stress for the teacher, but also negatively impacts the climate of the classroom and so also impacts the students.  There are more long-term impacts on health as well - more headaches, indigestion, insomnia for example - and we know that stress has a role to play in the progression of many medical conditions.  Pay attention to how you feel physically - it will be mirroring how you are feeling emotionally!

Although I mentioned earlier that most of the emotions listed are negative, it's important to recognise that there is often a good reason for this:  in fact as humans we often benefit from negative emotions as they can motivate us to act, solve problems and also tune in to what others are feeling.  Emotions also help us to build and maintain social bonds.  Over the course of a day - let's say a working day for teachers - hundreds or even thousands of decisions are being made.  Every decision we make can either boost our resilience or deplete it.  Our resilience will determine whether we bounce back from adversity or not.  Therefore understanding our emotions will help us in deciding our options, to put our energies into what we can change and to accept what we can't change.

Photo credit:  Gino Crescoli on Pixabay

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