According to Brené Brown, from her online class The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting, when asked, people on average are only able to name 3 emotions: happy, sad, or angry. However, in order to correctly identify our own emotions, as well as be able to successfully read others, takes knowing around 30. This first video in her blog post is a great explanation of this. Why is this so important? Because "if you can't articulate, identify, and name an emotion, you can't move through it," says Brené Brown. And only by moving through it can we process and possibly learn from it.
Even though I've known about the importance of emotional literacy for a while, it's taken till now to truly realize the significance of actually teaching my Courageous Girls all these 30 emotions. It really hit me when asking my 5 year-old a few times over last week, when she happened to look frustrated or when something unjust happened to her, what she was feeling. And she always would just say: I feel sad.
Or ask many adults coming home from work in the evening who say: "I am stressed." Well, are you stressed because you feel overwhelmed with work, or are you stressed because you are not doing the type of work you thought you should be doing by now, or are you stressed because you feel like you are not being treated fairly at work? (Here I'm paraphrasing Susan David talk about this issue while discussing her book, Emotional Agility in this Robcast.)
Here is a poignant explanation by Brené Brown, once again from her online class, The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting:
"Imagine you have an excruciating pain in your right shoulder. You get to the doctor's office, and you are ready to tell her what's wrong. But your mouth is taped shut, and your arm is tied behind your back. So she looks at you and says "tell me what's going on." And she can see that you are crying, and she can see that you are suffering, and she can see that you are struggling. But you cannot articulate, name or point to what's happening. How frustrating, frightening, and scary that is. Plus, the bottom line is, we can't fix it. We can't help. And the same thing is true with emotions... Because if you can't name it, then you can't find the right intervention to move through it to heal it and change it."
Learning about emotions is just like learning another language. You have to define each one, and help them identify with our help the correct one that happens to match their emotion in each event... over and over again.
From all I've seen and read, this seems to be the foundational skill that underscores assertiveness and confidence for girls (and boys.) Just having finished Peggy Orenstein's book, Girls & Sex, it is mind-boggling what an important skill it is to know what one is feeling at a given moment, be able to interpret it, and assert oneself based on that emotion. The younger a girl starts to assert herself with friends, the more successful she will be asserting herself in relationships. If you think about it, the younger you start being able to say "no" to things that you don't want to do, the easier it is to do that later on in life, especially during the peer-pressure filled adolescence.
So let's begin!
(This lesson is between 25-60 minutes long, depending on the discussion.)
1. Why do we have emotions and feelings, and why are they important to us?
KEY POINTS: Emotions guide us, and color our lives. Without emotions, we wouldn't be passionate about anything, and life would be fairly bland. Plus, we would probably die young, as emotions also help us survive. Every emotion focuses our attention and motivates us, and there is usually a MESSAGE in there somewhere. Also it's E-MOTION, meaning it moves through you, and doesn't last forever. Your thoughts then turn it into feelings, which can last much much longer.
(If your Courageous Girls are old enough and want to know the difference between emotions and feelings, show this to them.)
2. Show me how you look when...
You are angry, surprised, disappointed, jealous, proud, excited, regretful, disgusted, etc. (Here are a list of feelings to choose from. Or in this first video, you'll also be introduced to Brené Brown's top 30 emotions/feelings.)
Show me how your face looks, tell me how your body feels (energy, no energy, butterflies), and tell me what you do in that mood (curl up on your bed, want to hit someone, tell a friend, etc.)
PROCESSING: Even when we don't quite know what we are feeling, clues from our bodies can help us figure it out. Our feelings and emotions affect our whole body. In addition, each of us may show different feelings and emotions in different ways. I may act out in anger and attack, while others may start blaming or just shutdown, and curl up in a ball. It's important to realize that we may have our own unique ways of showing our emotions, so let's explore what that is!
After a rough phone call with a friend the other day, after hanging up I realized all of a sudden I had no energy, and thought about getting coffee. But then I realized, wow, actually I'm just really sad. Sadness zaps your energy, so that you would sit down, and have time to reflect on what just happened. (Hence the reason we learn more from failure than from success. Failure leads to sadness, which in turn leads to introspection.) Pride, on the other hand is a social emotion, and urges you to tell someone what made you proud. Anger gives you energy to fight off injustice. Excitement gives you energy as well, but in a different way. Disgust, on the other hand, scrunches up your nose, so that you would not smell that pungent smell. Happiness is also a feeling that makes one reach out to others, be more creative, and gives off more energy.
The point is, that each emotion/feeling tells your body something about yourself, so encourage your Courageous Girls to start looking for that MESSAGE, as the message is there to get to know ourselves better - what we like, don't like, what we fear, what our values are, what we perceive as injustice, what our reactions are when we feel powerless, etc. Because only once you understand what you are feeling, can you then correctly choose your action in return.
3. You are in control...
DISCUSSION: The idea is that once there is an EVENT (which could be a fight with your sibling, or a mean word from a friend, etc.), to create space between our EVENT and our REACTION. So instead of being on automatic pilot, and reacting to something without even thinking about it (think: event - scream at sister, event - hit brother), to try and pause and put some space in between and think about what we are feeling and why, and what our choices are in order to figure out how best to react. We were introduced to this EVENT - THOUGHT - RESPONSE model at GoStrengths!, and here is a great quick explanation of why thoughts matter so much.
While other organizations have different models that deal with this idea, my family put together our own model that works for us, and helps us better deal with big emotions. So you are welcome to use the GoSrenghts! model, the 6Seconds model of FEELINGS + OPTIONS + GOALS, or this model below, or make one of your own! The key is to somehow put space between the EVENT and the REACTION, and consciously choose the best choice possible.
So let me go through our model for you: