The first step is to allow myself to feel my emotions and examine them without judgment.
I must trust that, while behavior can be labeled good or bad — all feelings are valid and acceptable. This is crucial since most of us learn, at a very early age, to judge emotions as good or bad. Then we dissociate from the “bad” emotions. We push them out of our conscious awareness and lose sight of our emotional impact on others.
The next step is even more difficult — to determine if my emotional “data” reflects outer reality.
If I think my coworker, “Beth,” is sabotaging me at work, I will feel angry. Is Beth really undermining me? It may be clear that her actions are wrong and hurtful to me. In this case, my emotions have helped me recognize the situation. Then I need to determine my action.
Based on my needs and circumstances I can choose to do any of the following:
- talk to Beth,
- talk to my boss,
- look for a new job,
- or not take any large action but “simply” recognize the truth of the situation and adjust my expectations and future actions accordingly.
But, while emotions always provide important information, they don’t always give us accurate info about the outside world. What if I think that all my coworkers are seeking to undermine me? It may be true, but more likely it is my thinking that is distorted, not my workplace. Or, is it my own behavior that creates distrust in my coworkers?
Feelings provide initial information but interpreting this information is hard! I must be brave and honest with myself. The lessons I learn from my emotional data must (eventually) be consistent with feedback from the outer world.
If I find that Beth is truly undermining me, I will need to take action. If I discover that my own thoughts are distorted, I’ll need to adjust my inner dialogue (self-talk). There are wonderful tools to help us do this work.
It is emotionally intelligent to remember that we can take actions to change our circumstances, inside and out, but we cannot change another person. Still, since our actions affect others, when we change our actions, their reactions may change too. If I decide to talk to Beth, we might be able to communicate well and resolve a misunderstanding. Or, if I work to change a distorted thought pattern in myself, Beth may sense less hostility in my voice. She too will relax and use a friendlier tone. I’ll sense this change and act with more kindness. Our interactions may now build off each other in a positive cycle.