Being intelligent about emotions requires presence.
Being intelligent about emotions requires presence.

Emotional Intelligence 101

A guide to use your emotions to your benefit

When I first encountered the term emotional intelligence, I associated it with the more adult adults among us. Those handful of people who can control their reactions in difficult situations and always seem to be able to diffuse a difficult situation. As I learned more about my own emotions, however, I realized that it doesn’t have anything to do with controlling. In fact, controlling your emotions are the opposite of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is rather freeing the emotion causing you to react the way you do.

A dummies definition of Emotional Intelligence

From my personal experience, emotional intelligence is the ability to diffuse any emotional charge to a situation or event. The feeling stays, the charge that makes you react goes away. To diffuse it, you have to invite the emotion to express itself and then meet the unmet need that caused it to be there in the first place. By doing so, you set it free, removing any reason to react the same way in the future.

The practice of emotional intelligence is a life long practice. It’s a commitment to listen to your emotions as guide, getting to know them intimately. It’s a willingness to understand them and listen to what they are trying to tell you. Fear might mean danger, or it might be an unwillingness to feeling a bad emotion. Anger might mean that it’s time to take action, or it might be a cover to hide your pain. Only by spending time with each emotion as it comes up can you become intelligent about your emotions.

A process to increase your Emotional Intelligence

If you want to be happy, you need to be willing to feel the emotions that keep you from being happy now. Emotional intelligence is the process of expressing these hidden emotions and doing something with it. It’s a process of self-discovery, which in turn leads to self-mastery. Here is the process I follow and I invite you to try it yourself:

Step 1. Become aware of the trigger

Our emotions, especially the not-so-good ones, are like an iceberg, hidden unseen under the icy waters. We react without realizing, like being on auto-pilot and without any control. It’s these unknown parts of us that usually cause us to blame the outside world.

“He provoked me”, or But she treated me with disrespect”, or If it wasn’t for the train that was late and the long queue, I wouldn’t be so agitated in the first place.”

Emotional intelligence is when you arrive at a point where you realize that these reactions are as a result of something within you. The person or event that triggered you was an opportunity to resolve this hidden emotion. Blaming someone or something else denies the emotion and it will soon come knocking on your door again for attention.

When you can say thank you for someone triggering you, you are well on your way to emotional intelligence. But it doesn’t start off that way and it’s far from easy. In fact, saying thank you seems absurd and insane when you are triggered. It seems impossible that there might be a blessing in the unwanted circumstance. But all these strong reactions, or triggers, are yours, no-one else’s. And you are the only one that can change it. Blaming someone else is postponing having to look at the emotion.

Step one is to become aware of what triggers you. For that to happen, give yourself permission to express your emotions — good and bad. You can only get to know your emotions after they’ve manifested in a real-world situation. It’s the iceberg that no-one can see, including you, so don’t try to push it away. Trying to control or suppress your emotions denies you access to these hidden emotions that is asking for resolution.

Step 2. Stay a while

Once you’ve become aware of an automatic or strong reaction, the next step is to spend time with the feeling to get to know it better. This is the hardest part, especially for strong painful emotions. But by staying with the emotion and allowing it to be there, you are allowing it to dissolve by accepting it as part of you, rather than trying to push it away the moment it gets uncomfortable. When the need is met, there is no need for it to resurface again.

It’s easy to ignore or push away uncomfortable emotions. It takes courage to stay with it. But acceptance is accepting the good and the bad.

Try to get clarity on the exact emotion you are feeling. How did the event or person make you feel? Were you hurt or angry or afraid? As opposed to focusing your attention on how the other person or thing was wrong, turn your attention inward and focus on how you are feeling.

Initially, all bad emotions feel like anger or hurt but as you get to know them better, the distinctness of each can more easily be identified. If you are unclear, look for patterns. When last did you feel the same way? When was the first time you felt this way? What are the similarities between these events? When did you learn to behave this way?

Allow the emotion to be there and simply sit with it for as long as it takes to subside.

Step 3. Find the meaning

Once the emotion is not so strong anymore, start looking for the lesson. What benefit does this situation or reaction have? What are you getting out of it by reacting this way? What does it mean?

The difference between a feeling and an emotion is the meaning. By removing the meaning behind an emotion, you are removing the charge that causes you to react. When you remove the charge, all that’s left is the feeling, and all feelings pass. Emotions, however, will stay as long as it takes for you to listen to the message it has. Like a baby that only screams louder until its needs are met, so too emotions start screaming louder when ignored.

As a personal example, I used to believe that in order to get attention from my parents I had to create a crisis. Otherwise, they would simply ignore me. Asking for something, whether attention or anything material, never resulted in much response. It was only when there was drama involved that they reacted. So for me, it meant that I can’t get my needs met without creating a drama. It meant that my needs didn’t matter and that I wasn’t important.

Obviously, this is not very beneficial now but as a child I was dependent on my parents to meet my needs and this behavior helped me to survive. It had meaning then, now it only hurts me. But because it is unconscious, I am unable to control my reactions.

Step 4. Integrate the emotion

To free yourself from this automatic responses, you have to integrate the emotion. Integration might be a once-off process, or it may be a deeper issue that needs more than one look at. The example mentioned is one of my deeper issues that keep coming back, always with a different perspective and a new lesson.

The process of integration is the same as forgiveness. It is finding the benefit and how this helped you to be who you are now. Only once you’ve found the meaning and see how this helped you can you let go.

The meaning I found in the example above was the desire to listen and meet other’s needs, which is why I love coaching. It also gave me a deep desire to speak and be heard without any drama. More than anything, I constantly search for bringing harmony around me. My greatest pain is now my greatest joy, as my ultimate passion is to create happier, healthier and more human work spaces.

Seeing it as very necessary learning to enable me to live my ideal life, the curse suddenly turns into a treasure.

It also taught me compassion. Previously when people reacted emotionally I would judge them as unreasonable, childish, or selfish and meet them with anger or resentment. Now when I see the same behavior, I see an unmet need or hidden hurt and I meet them with love and compassion.

Step 5. Move on

Once you can see the blessing, and only then, can you move on. It is not possible for anyone to decide to move on. It’s not a logical decision. It’s a heart based willingness to let go. It’s a process that simply can not be forced and can not be logically reasoned with. You have to work through all the different layers until you can find the meaning. It might take a few minutes, it might take years. It might be easy, it might be excruciating.

When you are ready to let go, start looking for how the opposite of what caused your pain is now true in your life. In my example, it is recognizing every time someone responds to me when I tweet or post a blog. In my personal relationships it’s looking for examples where people react and respond when I softly ask, or don’t ask at all.

The most recent example happened only a few weeks ago when I needed help and sent a message to a friend. Within split seconds there was a response and the issue was sorted out.

Another example happened as I was writing this article, when a friend offered to take me home in order for me to go to an event without me having to ask. This is the evidence I look for that I have shifted the emotion.

I deliberately look for examples of how the opposite of my childhood experience is true now and gradually overwrite the past hurts with a happy future.


In order to be happy, you have to be willing to experience the past hurts that are hidden below the surface. Emotional intelligence is a process of self-discovery and ultimately self-mastery.

To process your emotions you need to be willing to express them, which means you have to be vulnerable in front of others. You have to find the meaning, integrate the lesson and finally let go.

Only then can you free yourself from the emotional charges that trigger you and only then can you find true happiness.

If you’re looking for someone to help you process your emotions, visit my website and book a coaching session.

Originally published on Medium: