By Dan Newby
Most of us complain about how complicated and difficult relationships are. It isn’t unusual to blame someone; the other person or ourselves. But, if we take a step back and look at what it is that makes a relationship possible in the first place, we may find a surprising solution. I did, and it changed my life.
Evolutionary biologists speculate that the reason we developed emotions was to make relationships possible. They allowed a mother and baby to bond, helping ensure the baby’s survival. From there, emotions expanded to being the connecting fiber of every relationship. There is something wonderful about realizing that.
Fast forward to today. We are all in relationships but haven’t learned very much about emotions and how they work. That is called emotional literacy, and it is just now being seen as worthy of study.
So how can emotional literacy enhance your relationship through emotional literacy? Here are a few ways:
1. Notice your emotions: Emotions are “the energy that moves us.” No thought is turned into action without an emotion being involved; however, we often ignore or deny them. Sometimes we try to override them with logic of how things ‘should be.‘ Take time to reflect on the pattern of emotions you experience in your relationship? Journal and reflect on them without trying to do anything about them. Simply observe. Take time to notice and articulate your emotions as best you can. Quiet time and reflection are essential to building your awareness of all the emotions you experience
2. Name your emotions: Studies show that most people verbally express only 15 to 20 emotions. There are more than 200. Naming emotions precisely expands your emotional range and choice and your ability to regulate them. Stop several times a day and ask yourself, “what emotion am I experiencing at this moment?” Write it down. If you aren’t sure, name it as closely as you can. If there is more than one emotion, write that down. Don’t try to explain it; just name it as precisely as you can. After two weeks, look back and notice what has happened. Did your range of emotions grow? Did you repeat certain emotions often? Are there some missing that you thought would be there? You are beginning to articulate your emotional palette.
3.Understand your emotions: Every emotion has a story, an impulse, and purpose. Learning these allows you to see the logic of your emotions and make sense of them. When you understand that anger tells us we are experiencing injustice and helps us create a just world, it takes on a new significance. It enables you to understand the energy that is moving you and your partner.
4. Navigate your emotions: Many people try to control their emotions and find it doesn’t work. Another possibility is rethinking your relationship with your emotions. Learning to anticipate, select, and shift emotions brings a sense of peace. This is key to building a connected and inspired relationship. Ironically, we gain more control by giving up the attempt to control.
Through studies of neuroscience, psychology, biology, learning theory, and other disciplines, we are discovering the amazing role emotions play in every moment of our lives. Beyond relationships, they are essential in decision making, generating our values, and our personal identity. Building your emotional literacy is one of the most direct and empowering ways to create the relationships and life you want.
Dan Newby is the founder of schoolofemotions.world and author of several well-received books on Emotional Literacy. He works with individuals and organizations globally to elevate their emotional awareness and competence. He is a global champion for emotional learning and literacy. Dan leads online courses and workshops throughout the world, helping people build their comfort and understanding of emotions. His book, The Unopened Gift: A Primer in Emotional Literacy and other works, can be found at www.schoolofemotions.world Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.