“I’m sorry… I never cry at work like this. I’m so embarrassed.” I had just gotten out of an emotionally draining meeting where the stress from my personal and professional life had culminated and finally resulted in a humiliating emotional outburst.
“Stop.” My former HR manager replied, “You don’t have to apologize for your emotions.”
She was right. I suddenly wondered: why am I apologizing for my emotions?
Why does society view emotion as a weakness, and why does lack of emotion equate to strength?
Emotion as a Type of Intelligence
Many individuals who are highly intelligent in mathematics, music, linguistics, and athletics are regarded as geniuses, whereas intrapersonal and emotional intelligence are thought of as “soft skills.”
According to the theory of multiple intelligences by psychologist Howard Gardener, each of these types of intelligences are of equal value, even if that’s not what is reflected in society. Emotional Intelligence, or EI, is beginning to be recognized as an essential skill as more resources become available aimed at training people to improve their EI for better success in the workplace, as parents, and in romantic relationships.
Emotional Intelligence 2.0, a business book by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, concludes that only 36 percent of people are able to accurately identify their emotions as they happen. This is likely due to the mass suppression of emotion that’s occurred for centuries, which has stunted emotional growth in humans as a species. Doesn’t it seem weird that we live in an era where space travel, hoverboards, and virtual reality are a thing, but we’re still pretty crappy when it comes to dealing with basic feelings?
Imagine where we would be if the same amount of time, support and funding had been put into studying and improving emotional intelligence. Maybe we would know how to cure mental illnesses that result in mass shootings, addiction, and terrorism. Maybe we would know how to end religious conflict and war. At the very least, maybe we’d be a little kinder, more compassionate and understanding toward one another.
Why Does Emotion Matter?
Emotion matters because it is one of our most basic human instincts. Think of another instinct, like hunger. You can choose to ignore hunger by distracting yourself and not eating, but ultimately that is going to negatively affect your health. The same thing happens when you suppress your emotions, which can affect you both mentally and physically.
Emotionally intelligence matters because it can lead not only to better relationships, but improve self-esteem and mental health while also reducing dependence on drugs, alcohol and other addictions. Without EI, people are more likely to be manipulated and confuse emotion with logic. Many wars could have easily been avoided and millions of lives saved if people were just a little better at dealing with feelings like anger or sadness.
Why has it taken so long for humans to realize the value of understanding emotion? One reason could be that women are known to be more in touch with their emotions, and until recently, the civilized world hasn’t exactly welcomed contributions from women. Being emotional was linked to being feminine, and therefore a “weak” personality trait. Fortunately, this mindset is starting to change and we are starting to see more people and cultures accept EI as a valuable skill.
The Emotional Revolution
Society is beginning to welcome and encourage contributions from emotionally intelligent men and women, and not just in the arts, a genre born out of the need to creatively express emotion. However, as with any sort of progress, the emotional revolution doesn’t exist without naysayers and conflict.
There are still plenty of people who view emotion as weak, and refuse to see sensitivity towards others’ emotions as anything other than being “too politically correct.” But this is still a relatively new concept and considering how long we’ve been suppressing emotion it’s not a surprise that it’s taking awhile for everyone to come around.
One thing we can agree on is that having feelings is a normal part of being human. The “correct” way to react to our feelings may be up for debate for awhile. Regardless, one step that I hope more people begin to take is the lesson I learned after that crappy work meeting: stop apologizing for your emotions.
Does emotional intelligence matter to you? What are some steps you’ve taken to improve your EI?