Emotional Intelligence Series: Understanding Emotions

Amygdala-hijack

Daniel Goleman first wrote about Emotional Intelligence (EI) in his 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ”. The two keys to EI are:
1) Understanding yourself, your goals, intentions, responses, and behaviour;
2) Understanding others, and their feelings.

So what are emotions?
All emotions are in essence impulses to act. Each emotion prepares the body for a different kind of response. For example, feeling angry demands that we sit up and pay attention to the triggering situation and perhaps address the issues at play. To read my early post on emotions as energies and the messages they send us, click here: https://psyched4success.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/emotions-energy-in-motion/

According to Daniel Goleman, “emotions make us pay attention right now– this is urgent – and give us an immediate action plan without having to think twice” and this emotional response “can take over the rest of the brain in a millisecond if threatened.” Goleman (1995) calls this eruption an “emotional hijack” or “amygdala hijack”. This occurs when we experience sudden, intense emotional reactions such as the anger felt when we ‘lose’ it’ with someone or react disproportionately to the issue at hand.

The amygdala is the centre of the brain that controls this response, and also controls empathy; when it feels threatened, it can respond not just irrationally, but destructively. For example, “when Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear, it was a very bad business decision – it cost him $3 million. It was an amygdala hijack.”

Here are three signs of an amygdala hijack:
1) strong emotional reaction,
2) sudden onset, and
3) “when you reflect later, you realise it was inappropriate”.

Just because I’m a psychologist doesn’t mean I respond appropriately in all circumstances. For example, I experienced an amygdala hijack the other day when I discovered my partner had placed the gelato in the fridge rather than the freezer! Rather than assertively expressing my disappointment, I had a mini hissy fit and spoke disrespectfully with him (sorry hun). I’m not proud, but it has provided me with lots of content for training programs I’ve been delivering in communication and emotional intelligence!

Applying Emotional Intelligence to Your Emotions
The opposite of an amygdala hijack is emotional intelligence. One of the strategies we can apply to increase our emotional intelligence and decrease the chance of our amygdala being hijacked is to be the interested yet unreactive witness. When you experience a strong or yucky emotion, ask yourself questions such as:
• “Hmmm, what is this emotion I am experiencing?”
• “I wonder why I am reacting so strongly to this situation?”
• “Am I feeling angry about this situation or am I responding to another issue here?”

Having awareness of your feelings as they occur and observing them impartially (as an interested yet unreactive witness) is also a key element of mindfulness based psychology. Once awareness is achieved, we can build emotional self-control (for example telling yourself “I am having angry thoughts towards my partner” or arranging to have a courageous conversation about an issue, or finding a more appropriate way to discharge the anger such as through exercise or meditation).

What are some of your favourite ways to build emotional intelligence?

If you would like some personalised assistance with developing your emotional intelligence, send me an email: psyched4success@hotmail.com

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About psyched4success

"Psyched4Success" encapsulates the 4 foundations for Successful living: Heart - Emotions and Relationships Mind - Psychology and Thinking Body - Physical Health, Movement and Nutrition Spirit - Personal Essence, Values, Goals and Motivation I am a Psychologist with a passion for Holistic Health and Wellness, determined to inspire personal transformation in these foundational areas for success. When i am not working as a Psychologist, Corporate Trainer, and University Tutor, i love spending countless hours in the kitchen creating nutritious organic meals, inspired by a whole foods philosophy, free of gluten, sugar and dairy. I intend to share my creations with you here, as well as my journey from adrenal fatigue to health through my own personal, health, nutrition and lifestyle transformations. I am based in Sydney, Australia, but am an intrepid soul who sets an intention to visit a new destination each year.
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3 Responses to Emotional Intelligence Series: Understanding Emotions

  1. The more I learn about gut health and its effect on the brain, the more I suspect we are driven by physiological reactions to our lifestyle choices as much as we are by EI… Interested in your take on that, P4S!

  2. Pingback: Emotional Intelligence Series: Owning your Feelings | Psyched4Success

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