When I first went back to graduate school to get my Ph.D., I worried about my ability to perform, and whether I was smart enough to take on that kind of education. I spent quite a bit of my young adult life feeling stupid, and conditioning myself into believing that I just wasn’t a smart person. As a result, my self-confidence suffered, and I just wasn’t sure if I had what it would take to get the degree I really wanted.
After one brief semester of graduate school, I learned that I had something very special that I had never acknowledged as being valuable or useful.
As I began learning about emotional life, and how affected we all are by our life experiences, I quickly realized that I was jam packed with a kind of knowledge that was much more powerful than anything I could ever learn in a book. I was storing a huge amount of untapped wisdom that I had been unknowingly collecting my entire life.
As I sifted through the mud that had been layered on top of my inner world, I began to uncover the valuable nuggets of emotional wisdom that had remained dormant for so long.
Like a tumbleweed gathering debris as it rolls, you have been collecting emotional experiences and pieces of wisdom throughout your life. Each experience you have fills you up in the same way your brain absorbs information from a book. Everything that happens to you provides the opportunity for wisdom, and a deeper understanding of the self. The effort and ability to understand your feelings and the impact of your life experiences increases your emotional intelligence, and ultimately makes you wiser.
In your daily life you probably ignore your feelings. Whether it’s due to a lack of awareness or a need to repress what you don’t want to feel, you’re missing out on some very important information that you need for success in your life.
What you feel is directly correlated with how you behave. If you’re not in tune with your emotional life, than you’re at risk of irrationally reacting to others and living only your partial truth. Your feelings offer an incredible amount of information.
If you feel unappreciated at work, this emotion might be sending you the data you need to set some firmer boundaries or that you need to re-evaluate where you are in your career. If you feel lonely or distant from your partner, then you may want to listen to your emotions and get under the hood of your relationship to figure out what’s going on.
In the same way your receive physical signs and symptoms from your physical body that alert you to something being off, your attunement to your emotional symptoms will help you take care of yourself and tend to issues before they become problematic. If you’re disconnected from your emotional life this doesn’t mean there’s a deficit in you; it’s a deficiency in your emotional development.
You first learned about your feelings when you were very small. If you were lucky enough to grow up with sensitive and emotionally aware parents, then you would have had the good fortune to have your feelings accurately reflected back to you. This would mean that when you felt angry and threw a toy, someone was on hand to label that emotion for you so you could learn to identify it in the future. Or when you felt sad, someone was available to hold you and affirm that the feeling was real and valid so that when it surfaced again you would know that it was a valuable communication from your own body.
Reversely, if you grew up in an environment where emotions were undervalued, then your fluidity in the language of feeling would have become limited. You were wired and born to feel, but the ability to make sense of those feelings depended on the skill of your teachers.
As you live in the world today you can become more intimately acquainted with your emotional life in many ways.
I encourage a three-step process that lays the foundation for tapping into your inner emotional wisdom.
1. Become Curious
The beginning of any learning has to start with an open mind, and a natural curiosity. Maintaining a childlike wonderment about your feelings will allow you to relate to your emotional life more compassionately. As you develop a greater interest in yourself, and what drives your experience of the world, you’ll increase your emotional intelligence and you’ll begin to feel more empowered to deal with life’s challenges.
2. Deep Dive
In the same way there is a whole world of life living under the ocean waters, your emotional life lurks beneath your consciousness. You’ll get bits and pieces of it as feelings get triggered and rise to the surface when activated, but the greater bounty will require you to dig and dive deeper into the unknown. This happens in therapy or through working with a guide who can safely take you where you need to go.
3. Add Vocals
Your emotions are a symphony and you have to put voice to the music. Labeling your feelings and expressing them verbally when they surface is an important part of this process. Even the most primitive and fundamental emotions like anger and joy are hard to express when they have never been verbally acknowledged. You were born crying because you are evolutionarily wired to verbally express yourself. As you become more comfortable with verbal expression you come to realize that it’s easier to get your needs met by others, and that you feel a deeper sense of intimacy in your life.
This kind of self-exploration isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes courage and strength to look inward with such intensity, but the payoff is a greater sense of wholeness and authenticity. Earning your degree in emotional intelligence will be the best investment you ever make.