Leading with Emotional Intelligence

Tools and strategies to put you and your team in the top 10 percent.

Mass Murders: A Mountain of Mixed Emotions

Feelings aren’t Biodegradable: What to do with Feelings of Overflowing Overwhelm

Mass murders in Isla Vista (IV), six killed, thirteen injured: shock, anger, and confusion.

We live five minutes from IV, my 20 year old is there many weekends: Fear, helplessness, and vulnerability.

Fifteen teenagers camp out at our house for my daughter’s birthday as the videos and stories explode on TV and the internet the next day: They feel disgust, shock, fear and bewilderment. One says “he doesn’t look ugly” as stories of his rejection from women surface.

My wife and I ride through IV and pass 8 TV trucks reporting from around the world: We feel out of place, embarrassed and disrespectful to be voyeurs. Students there feel angry and resentful that their beachside community has turned into a circus. One sign they hold up says “we want healing not ratings.”

Elliot Rodger’s writes in his manifesto he felt envy and jealousy since he was nine. Compassion and wishes he was less tormented.

20,000 attend a memorial at UCSB: Mourning, grief, empathy and compassion for the victim’s family, anger that the perpetrator is getting so much attention, resilience, strengths and hope.

A victim’s father tells a story to crowd about his son, which ends with

 “We’ve been knocked down, but we need to get up and walk forward." The crowd gives him a standing ovation.

Our emotions are overflowing, we can be on overwhelm and feel out of control, not only did Elliot Rodgers but for all us hearing about this tragedy. Each of us deal with our emotions and reactions differently, whether we are a student, parent, community member or global witness to the massacre and videos on TV over and over.

What do we do with all the mixed feelings about our latest mass murders?

I am too close to deny, externalize or minimize this event as I and we often do with tragedies.

Emotional Self-Awareness:

Emotional self-awareness is one of the foundational Emotional Intelligence competencies to understand what the feelings are and their implications.

"An emotion is a complex psychological state that involves three distinct components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response."
(Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2007)

Should we hold it in or let it out? How do we let it out and for how long?

What to do with feelings

We think if we deny or stuff our feelings they will biodegrade and eventually dissipate. Instead of biodegrading they rot and come out sideways often in inappropriate ways.

My wife and I process the murders by talking about it and both our kids’ say they don’t want to hear it anymore, is it denial, fear, anxiety, avoidance, repression or relief to not feel their vulnerability? For all of us, we accept they we are dealing with these emotions in our own way.

Many of us have learned to "HIDE" our deeper feelings. We haven't learned how to constructively deal with and manage feelings. A beneficial change would be to allow feelings that have been HID to surface.

To do this, we can change HID to the acronym IHD. This stands for (1) Identify and acknowledge feelings, (2) Honor and accept the feelings, and (3) Deliver, experience, or communicate the feelings to yourself, another, or the source. The following is a more of an explanation of each of these steps:

1. Identify and acknowledge feelings: Feelings are a significant part of the human experience. Feelings aren't right or wrong; they are part of life and exist in their own right. Experiencing our feelings helps get through them, rather than avoid them.

We ride out storms at home and work at getting comfortable in those uncomfortable situations. Feelings come in waves of intensity followed by the quiet peacefulness when they subside.

Identifying your feelings helps by giving them a name. What are you feeling now as that feeling moves through you quickly. In Alcoholics Anonymous they say you have to “name it to tame it or name it to claim it”.

 Now we know from brain neuroscientists that “affect labeling” as it is called can help lessen emotional arousal as identifying the emotion is a prefrontal cortex function.

2. Honor and accept the feelings: After we have identified the feeling, we want to honor and accept it. Here you are encouraged to accept and own your feelings as being valuable components in the human system. At this step of the process the message of "It's okay to feel" takes the place of our conditioned "Don't feel" messages. Honoring your feelings is a means of owning or being responsible for your emotional domain. It is a way to be true to yourself. At times it may be appropriate to surrender to the feeling rather than to fight it. 

As a psychologist and executive coach I often help people normalize their feelings that anyone in their situation would be experiencing those feelings.

People feel all the time, in differing intensity levels. Every feeling brings information about who we really are at that moment. Try your best to experience them, feel them fully and ride them out like a wave. In an effort to honor and accept your feelings don’t spend alot of  time doing any of the following:

a)   Being with people who try to deny or fix your feelings

b)   Stuffing, changing or avoiding your feelings

c)   Explaining your feelings or find a reason for them.

d)   Searching for their source or unearthing their cause.

e)   "Doing something" about them or "getting something done" about them.

f)    Enduring them as a kind of martyrdom.

So, once our feelings are identified, then we honor their existence or become honest with ourselves by admitting that we have them, in spite of the fact that they may not feel good.

To feel is natural; to avoid feelings is unnatural and presents a dam in the natural flow of emotions.

3. Deliver experience or communicate the feelings to yourself; another or the source: In this step, our feelings are retrieved, experienced, and carried out. There are times when you are truly experiencing your deep affects and no words need to be expressed. A shift has occurred. The emotion is felt and thus delivered between two individuals. It can be a look, shared sentiment, hand on the shoulder, or other nonverbal communication.This is what the memorial at UCSB served for the thousands in attendance.

Make sure the person you want to deliver the feelings to can actually receive them and is ready to take them. You don’t want to deliver your precious feelings to someone who denies them or doesn’t accept them as appropriate or worse judges them and you.

Many times, though, more of an effort is needed to deliver these emotions. This may entail communication of these feelings to others or the source with whom the feelings were experienced. Expressing feelings in a responsible manner with I-statements is appropriate. Defensiveness or blaming doesn't allow the deeper affect to be delivered. Ideally, you can teach and role model how to express deeper feelings, while creating a safe environment for others to make this possible

If a person whom you feel comfortable with or the source of these feelings is unavailable, expressing them to yourself via journal writing can be very effective. 

The act of experiencing and communicating deep feelings using any available mode can be very healing in itself. This provides an opportunity to let go, which in turn can create more energy for dealing with here and now relationships. 

One of the fears commonly experienced by individuals in regard to dealing with their feelings is that if they really sample this forbidden feeling, it will overwhelm them and never stop. This is untrue.

Feelings are like waves that have moments of intensity, then dissipate and come back in a wave. People close to you need to understand this in order to give themselves permission to feel. In most cases, a person will remain at a heightened emotional state for less than ten minutes, and there will always be intermissions. 

When feelings are truly felt accepted it and experienced, there is a change or shift. Our storehouse of difficult deep emotions is FINITE. That is, people who persist in facing their difficult deep emotions will, within a period of months, finish the job.  

If you don't have the necessary skills or training, don't try to deal with issues that you are uncomfortable with. However, the IHD process of identifying and acknowledging feelings, honoring and accepting the feelings, and then delivering the feelings appropriately can be a resource that everyone can utilize to deal with your feelings of the mass murders in IV and other troubling emotions that occur in your life.

In summary, most of us have never learned how to deal with feelings constructively. We think these unresolved feelings are biodegradable, when in reality they are contaminating us like a toxin. What we have learned to do with feelings is: 

Hold it in       Hold Others Off          Hold On

This is how the contaminate spreads. Now we can assist individuals in navigating these negative emotions, by learning how to

Let it out           Let Others In            Let Go

 Visit Relly at www.truenorthleadership.com for free tools and resources to enhance your emotional intelligence.

Relly Nadler, M.C.C., is a licensed psychologist, author and Master Certified Coach (MCC) for executives and executive teams.

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