General disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist. I just like studying self-knowledge and becoming self-aware. While I am going to school for this stuff, I’m not an expert.
What is emotional literacy anyways?
To summarize the key points of emotional literacy, it is a form of self-awareness that allows us to communicate and take responsibility for our emotions and feel secure doing so.
I like Claude Steiner’s (1997) breakdown of the parts of emotional literacy.
- Knowing your feelings.
- Having a sense of empathy.
- Learning to manage your emotions.
- Repairing emotional problems.
- Putting it all together or emotional interactivity.
Because I appreciate the structure of this breakdown this post will follow its example for this discussion.
Knowing your feelings means you understand that there is an entire language to describe the sense of experience or relation to the chemical reactions from a stimulus that is usually but not always outside of yourself. Our language for emotions is very diverse. There is an entire spectrum of emotions and the lack of knowledge of these emotions unintentionally forces us to be dishonest with ourselves. What most of us fail to realize is that this spectrum is umbrella-ed to further explain the root emotion we are feeling, but there are degrees that we don’t necessarily understand and thus incorrectly express or communicate our emotions.
Below are two charts I absolutely adore in the context of relationships and emotional literacy.
The first is the feelings wheel which shows you the many emotions you can experience that are rooted in six base emotions.
The second chart is one that helps to give you a view that our emotions have various intensities which produce similar, yet different emotional responses.
I feel like the charts are great visual aids in assisting with Emotions 101 of developing your emotional intelligence.
For example, according to the feelings wheel jealousy is actually in selfishness which is an extension just being mad about something. Do you realize how differently many people would handle their jealousy if they understood that their jealousy is a valid yet negative emotion that stems from their anger over a situation? And we also know that there are fear and sadness involved from further discussion and study of this, but finding your roots of your reactions is profoundly useful when relating to other.s
There are many other types of emotion breakdowns including the Plutchik model, so study up.
Having a sense of empathy in relationships, in general, is a useful tool. Or at least being able to acknowledge and communicate your lack of empathy is. When your partner is upset if you lack empathy you may not be able to understand what they are feeling or communicate effectively with them.
We should also be aware that there are factors that impact empathy levels like mental health and experience, as well as different types of empathy. Like I don’t really experience emotional empathy and I experience limited compassionate empathy. That make my relationships super hard and requires far more emotional processing to make sure that I am understanding what my partners are communicating to me. It is exhausting. I’m more of a cognitive empathetic person. This is partially to do with my mental disorders which is why I have to do so much work on mindfulness and self-awareness in relationships. I am aware of how badly I can ruin someone, just from the fact that I only have certain empathetic responses.
Learning to manage your emotions is hell in a hand basket y’all. Well, at least it is for me. I have baggage, but my baggage is in the form of PTSD from abuse and assault and just general mental health disorder related issues. See, knowing your feelings is only part of the battle because once you know what is up, you have to figure out how to not project your feelings onto another person. Your emotions are your own reaction to a stimulus and sometimes we end up projecting because in reality we were not wronged, we just were not fond of what was said or done personally.
Now, this isn’t a blanket claim, however, that all emotions are not impacted by others. People can literally wrong you or hurt you. Managing your emotions comes in part from being able to separate whether or not what you think actually happened, happened and to communicate your consent to the situation.
- Choosing the situations in which you put yourself. This one I personally do myself. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and some days the world scares me so much that I can not leave my house aside from work. I will cancel plans if I have to. I will tell friends and partners I can’t go certain places because I am not sure what the emotional response I will have to the environment will be. Some people who don’t get it assume that I just let my fear overtake me, but in reality, I am managing situation that could go bad and make everyone unhappy, uncomfortable, or endangered. I go out, I have fun, I live, on my terms because I know what I can handle.
- Changing your perception or expectations of the situation. I personally still struggle with the ability to adjust my expectations when things start going wrong in some situations. This is greatly rooted in your ability to adjust to change or go with the flow. I personally can only do so much of that at a time.
- Change your focus. I also have OCD. I literally have to force myself to find a new focus so I don’t obsess and spiral into an overemotional ball of panic. My SO also has a tendency to hyper focus and that exacerbates his anxiety response to the point of physical illness that has resulted in a tendency to try to avoid dealing with anything that he feels will trigger that — so heavy emotions in a relationship where he feels he has caused anger or disappointment. I use these as an example to understand why the focus may need to be shifted. It is not to avoid the situation, but to allow you time to get your initial response under control so that you may address it.
- This, in the end, allows you to change your thoughts about the situations which involve our ability to be mindful of the situation and move forward from that
- so that your responses will be adapted. Adjusting the first four help to manage things highly associated with anxiety-like symptoms or anger or even your sadness response. Yea, this reads easy, but it takes a lot of time, effort and support to change these.
Above I mentioned that I have baggage. Baggage in this discussion is a reference to unresolved emotional issues and trauma that affect your interaction in and outside the relationship. Part of becoming emotionally literate is being able to identify your baggage so that you can begin to deconstruct it. One thing that people often forget is that this is an incredibly uncomfortable experience and that is normal for this kind of self-discovery and rewiring.
Once you have learned how to do these things you will be engaging in emotional interactivity for yourself and it will greatly help you in your relationships, to communicate, to relate, and to respect your partner(s) reactions and deal with them. It is also really helpful in identifying when your partner is projecting or just not able to communicate a problem to you. It improves your ability to read a situation
In polyamory, this can be our greatest help or hindrance. You have to be able to see where your partner is coming from no matter where you are on your journey and learn how to healthily compromise. You have to be able to negotiate your boundaries and discuss protocols for handling situations in healthier ways. All of this is unique to the individuals involved.
I notice that a lot of times in subcultures that emphasize DIY and designer relationships we forget that any self-help that is available is a template. You have to change it up and make it unique to you. This is why people often advise others to visit therapist whether alone or in a group to find ways to address issues unique to their situation.
I’m urging everyone to start working on their emotional literacy to help improve their quality of life and quality of interaction. It can only benefit you in the end and improve your journey of self-authenticity and awareness.