Sunday, November 20, 2011

Developing Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman’s bestseller ‘Emotional Intelligence’ was published over 15 years ago. Since then everyone has been talking a lot about Emotional Quotient, EQ. But, no one has as yet shown us the precise way to develop our Emotional Intelligence or EQ. Actually developing EQ, in simple words, means developing our ability to handle our emotions. And unfortunately no one seems to know the way to teach children the way to handle their emotions. This is the main reason why mental health problems in children are increasing day by day.

The World Health Organization defines mental health as "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community." Whenever we cannot handle our emotions and our feelings get enraged, which happens quite often, we lose our state of well-being, i.e. we lose our mental health, according to the WHO definition, and are mentally ill. So, a low EQ, or the inability to handle our emotions often, is a symptom of an emotional sickness or a mental sickness.

But the trouble is that most of us are unable to admit that we are mentally sick. Lord Bernard Shaw had once said that “The earth is the mental asylum of the universe.” So there is noting wrong in being mentally sick or admitting it. And if we want to help our children to develop their EQ, it is necessary that parents be honest with their children, and admit it to them. If they cannot admit it, it leads to the famous ‘double blind,’ where parents ask children to do one thing, but themselves do just the opposite. This is what confuses children and they grow up with all sorts of mental conflicts.

For instance, parents get angry and scold, shout and hit children when children get angry and shout, cuss or beat others. The only way children know of expression their negative feelings (such as anger and fear) is to throw tantrums or shout, sometimes even by using profanity (bad words). If the child is stronger than the other person, like parents are stronger than children, he might even beat the other person.

When parents punish or shout at children for expressing their negative feelings as above (or even for making or admitting their mistakes), what children learn is that they should never express their negative feelings (or even be dishonest and not admit mistakes), lest they be reprimanded or punished. This bottling up of their negative feelings is probably the thing that is most responsible for anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD and other problems in children. And when children experience these problems later on, they find it difficult to admit it to their parents, for the fear of getting scolded, which their parents have instilled in them. So you can see, I hope that it is self-defeating when parents scold or punish children for throwing tantrums, and even for using profanity.

The only way to help children to develop their EQ is to teach parents and teachers some simple way to handle their emotions, so that they can teach it to their children. Attitude is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘the settled way of thinking and feeling.’ Our thinking and feeling always depends on what we have learnt – or on the information that is stored in our memory. When the information we’ve learnt is inappropriate or wrong, like the negative things children learn from their parents as mentioned above, it leads to a lot of anger and fear and all sorts of behavioral problems. So in order to develop the ability to handle and manage our emotions and develop EQ we ought to have the technique to check our past experiences, understand what all wrong things we had learned in the past, and then to make corrections to them. 

At present most therapists use cognitive therapies for dealing with emotions. But in cognitive therapies only the present thought leading to the emotions are corrected. They do not address the root cause of the problem – all the wrong information that had been stored in our memory in the past. So a different approach to handling our emotions and developing EQ is called for. Also, it takes weeks and months of weekly sessions for a person to learn the way to handle his feelings when using these cognitive therapies. And, nobody likes to sacrifice so much of his time just for learning to handle his emotions.

In ‘Emotional Intelligence’ Goleman says, “Though the predisposition to substance abuse may, in many cases, be brain-based, the feelings that drive people to “self-medicate” themselves through drink or drugs can be handled without recourse to medication, as Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery programs have demonstrated for decades. Acquiring the ability to handle those feelings—soothing anxiety, lifting depression, calming rage—removes the impetus to use drugs in the first place. These basic emotional skills are taught remedially in treatment programs for drug and alcohol abuse. It would be far better, of course, if they were learned early in life, well before the habit became established.”

I have been fortunate to have been an addict and an alcoholic. In searching for a way out of my problem, I found a simple way for quickly overcoming resentments and personality conflicts from the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous.’ By adding a relaxation therapy of Vipassana meditation to it, I found it to be the best way for handling our emotions. I worked a couple of years as a counselor at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Seva Mandir Hospital in Bandra, helping addicts, alcoholics and their family members. In that period I was able to see that the simple psychoanalysis therapy could be completed in just a single session of three or four hours.

While the psychoanalysis can correct the wrong information stored in our declarative or ‘explicit memory’, the simple Vipassana meditation, which I use in my therapy, helps us to correct the wrong information stored in our ‘implicit memory’ system or the ‘body memory,’ which I had talked about in my previous blog, as it makes us aware of our body sensations and helps us to learn from them. It is so simple that even children can learn it. It is the best way to inculcate values in children, and for them to develop their EQ. At present Vipassana is being taught only to children of all schools of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation. If any school wishes to teach this meditative technique to their student, it will be my pleasure to teach it to them.

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