Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Emotional Capacity

The term emotional intelligence (EI)  has become a buzz word to address the role of emotion in relationships, work, organization, and family environments.  But most of what we hear on this topic has very little to do with emotions.  EI seems to have more to do with cognitive awareness and attempts to avoid or subdue emotions.    
I think Emotional Capacity (EC) is a better way to consider the emotional aspects of the human creature.  Intellect draws on the memory bank of the mind, but the capacity of emotional experience goes deeper to the heart of a person.  Unwanted feelings may produce unpleasant emotions, but the capacity to change these to pleasant emotions requires more than a mere decision to change.  Deeper qualities of love, joy, peace,  temperance, gratitude, contentment, kindness, and faithfulness must go beyond the imagination to provide meaning for ourselves and others around us.  
EI focuses on controlling behaviors. EC focuses on positively influencing behaviors by expanding core belief systems to engage and enrich a person . Mere cognitive awareness of emotion does not produce transformation.   Inside out change is much more rewarding, productive, and longer lasting.  
Emotions carry messages.  The messages they report are gathered from thoughts and feelings about the environment.  Who we are as a person is based on our constant evaluation of our value and worth in our environment.  Therefore, our identity directly relates to our EC.  
EC can be defined as the ability to interpret and express inner emotional messages with unshaken assurance of personal worth and identity.  
I discovered valuable insights on EC by reading things by Dr. Richard Ecker.  We learn how to navigate our environment by developing coping skills.  Ecker points to Webster’s definition of coping as “successful striving.”  In the Emotional Survival Training Manual, he writes that coping, “is the ability to stand and endure in the face of difficult circumstances— or maneuver to avoid them. But we do not cope when we merely stand and endure or run and hide. We cope when we strive actively against the realities we face— and succeed.”  
  Ecker also says, “Typically, coping success is believed to be tied to the ultimate outcome of the situation that has made the coping necessary. If the outcome is good from the standpoint of the individual who is trying to cope, then that person is generally considered to have coped successfully. If the outcome is undesirable, then most people tend to feel that they coped badly. The fact is, outcomes have nothing at all to do with whether or not an individual coped successfully with the situation. The only real measure of coping success is whether or not that person emerged from the encounter with a positive feeling of personal value— that is, has successfully striven.”  
Cope-ability is based on increasing a sense of God-given personal value and worthfulness.  Let me distinguish between self-worth and self-esteem. Value and worth is an attribute given by God inherent in the existence of every human life.  Nothing a person does (or doesn’t do) can add or detract from the image of God in personhood.  Esteeming self by ex halting one’s human ability to create or maintain superior value, is not the kind of striving discussed here.  Selfish satisfaction of personal desire works against the created order of God.  Self-worth is selflessly accepting and  loving the person who God made you to be.  
Ecker says,  “if you learn how to confront the realities of life in such a way that you can emerge from each experience with a positive sense of personal worth, then you can gain from each experience valuable equipment that will make you even more successful in succeeding confrontations.”   Increasing emotional capacity is the goal.  Accepting your unconditional personal worth is the means to that goal.  
In order to obtain the full message from emotion, one must be able to identify specific thoughts and feelings and determine the reality of their impact.  EC allows a person to feel.  Fear of feeling, shuts a person down so that the true messages being sent by emotions are not received.  If a person denies or minimizes the feeling of sad, they will also not be able to feel glad.  Pushing away the feeling of alone, will also prohibit a feeling of belonging.  Refusing to feel wherein one’s discontent lies, will also limit the capacity to feel true contentment.  Whatever negative feeling is avoided will inevitably cut off the ability to feel the positive counterpart.   
Anger management, for example, without anger engagement, may actually diminish one’s EC.  (see article  Anger is a surface emotion in that a deeper message is always behind the anger.  If feelings like rejection, guilt, or shame are the source of the anger, a cause nor solution have no chance of being discovered if the anger is merely “controlled” and not also engaged at a deeper level. EI may offer a solution to anger that would include withdrawing from situations that make you angry.  EC would build the ability to cope with the inner source of anger so that tougher and tougher situations can be endured without triggering the anger.   
At one time or another, we all face overwhelming emotional circumstances in life.  Our coping skills have limitations based on our perceptions of our personal worth.  Our capacity to overcome (or lack thereof), is most significantly influenced by our parents and the people in our background who shaped core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.  
Another thing to realize is that negative feelings are the default mode of our human condition. From birth we feel things like the following without having to take lessons: rejected, deserted, left out, ashamed, trashy, unfit, unworthy, anxious, desperate, fearful, powerless, helpless, oppressed, weak, damaged, flawed, inferior, insignificant, unappreciated, unloved, defeated, hopeless, disoriented, and depressed.  From a very young age we assimilate these into our concept of self-worth and unconsciously create conditions for accepting love and affirmation from other people.  We form habits of interpreting and expressing inner emotional messages that condemn rather than build up.  When this negativity is reinforced or aggravated by those around us, developing a positive sense of self-worth is all the more difficult.  
It takes some effort to increase the capacity of the emotional part of our being, but it is worth every bit of effort.  Building resilience  is like filling a reservoir with clean water in preparation for an unknown drought season.  We may not know when the next crisis or conflict tests our stamina or stability, but we know our personal worth is not based on how the situation turns out.  We fill our soul with “clean water” by uncovering and healing the source of damaged self-concept, learning and developing new coping skills, and replacing bad habits with good habits.   
In the next article I will address more of the how to’s for increasing emotional capacity.  

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry