We live in a society that encourages emotion suppression. Emotional reactions are oftentimes seen as a sign of “losing control” or even “girly.” Have you ever had someone say to you, “don’t be so sensitive?” It probably seems innocent enough, but what this phrase (and others in the same vein) essentially tells us is that there’s no reason for us to feel the way that we are feeling. Being told not to feel a certain way negates our right to feel.
In Eastern Body, Western Mind, Anodea Judith talks about how senses are a gateway between the internal and external world. Our senses receive data from the outside world “and allow us to connect and give meaning to our experience. Through our senses, we differentiate between pleasure and pain, we expand or contract, move forward or backward, react or enact.” Our emotions are the reactions to the input received from our senses. Our emotions organize our feelings. Therefore, if our right to feel has been stripped, we may feel guilty when we actually do have feelings and try to suppress them. If we suppress our feelings often enough, we may not recognize our feelings or even understand them.
Undeveloped feeling functionality may come across as in one of two types (or sometimes both) of behavioral patterns: withdrawn and sullen (“moody”) or emotionally over-the-top (as my dad would say, “blow a gasket”). The individual a) doesn’t know how to express their feelings and/or b) doesn’t know how to articulate what they’re feeling. If that individual has a challenging time reading and understanding their own feelings, how deft do you think that individual is at “reading the room?” If an individual is out of touch with their own feelings, how well do you think they’re able to demonstrate empathy and compassion for others?
The dictionary tells us that emotional intelligence is “the capacity to be aware of, control of, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” Emotional intelligence is recognized as a trait important enough to rate on most employment surveys in order to ensure effective staff functionality. In a quick Amazon search for emotional intelligence, there are twenty-one different books on the subject appearing on just the first page. Many of them cover emotional intelligence in the workplace and/or in leadership. It’s clear that we’ve acknowledged how important having emotional intelligence is in order to be successful in today’s society or else there wouldn’t be such a high demand for self-help books covering this topic. Therefore why do we continue to encourage the suppression of feelings and emotions?