Stephanie Noble, author of Tapping the Wisdom Within: A Guide to Joyous Living http://www.stephanienoble.com/book.html, describes emotions as “just a whirlwind of activity passing through your body-mind.” I love this definition although it’s hard to grasp the ethereal quality of an emotion when a strong one has you in its grip. It feels like a force of nature that has taken over your life. You don’t have that emotion, it seems to have you.
Yet Noble tells us that when we become aware of an emotion, we should treat it as an “honored guest,” one who is welcomed into our home for a visit but isn’t allowed to live there. She suggests that we refrain from giving our emotions added energy or denying them, but to approach each emotion with “loving curiosity.”
That’s because emotions, even negative ones, have something to give us and something to teach us. Emotions are a signal that something is going on that we need to pay attention to. Examining emotions helps us get a better grip on what we want and need and helps us separate the facts from our assumptions. Approaching our emotions with curiosity helps us act more masterfully. Noble suggests we ask our emotions:
- Where do you come from?
- What is your intention?
- What is it you require of me?
- How can I make you more comfortable?
- What information do you have to share with me?
Of course, it’s important to then listen to the answers. They may surprise you, but they will certainly inform you!
In addition to the immediate information we gain from our emotions, a healthy dose of each emotion has a gift for us. The EQ in Action Profile, developed by Jan Johnson, MA and David Erb, Ph.D http://learninginaction.com/eq_in_action_profile.php, identifies seven key emotions and the gift each emotion brings. Most people can readily identify the gifts of positive emotions, but negative emotions may not be so easy to recognize. So what are these gifts?
- Anger can bring us the gift of direction, motivation and boundary setting. It gives us energy for action.
- Anxiety can bring us the gift of clarity and the desire to seek clarity to alleviate the worry.
- Fear can bring us the gift of safety and protection as we seek to confront or avoid that which scares us.
- Sadness, which springs from a sense of pain and loss in ourselves, can teach us to empathize with the pain and loss others experience.
- Shame can bring us the gift of humility and a greater acceptance that we and everyone else are imperfect.
- Joy can bring us the gift of emotional vitality and resilience.
- Love can bring us the experience of warmth and caring for others.
So let me encourage you to invite your emotions in and have a chat. It doesn’t have to be lengthy. As Noble says, if the emotion makes you uncomfortable, make the conversation brief. Ask it what brings it today and what does it have to tell you. As Noble says, “(the emotion) will give its report, you will gain a little insight into its nature, and it will be satisfied and leave.”
If you treat them right, emotions will be your friends. Deny them or get caught up in their swirl, and they can become thieves and vandals.
Plum Cluverius, PCC is an executive coach with over 30 years experience in leadership development. She lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.