If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me talk rather excitedly about emotional intelligence. It’s one of my favorite subjects to talk about, and practically something I preach on because I value it so much. To define emotional intelligence, I would say it is the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions as well as the ability to identify the emotions of others. However, in a great twist of irony, it turns out I’m a lot better at talking about emotional intelligence than actually doing it.
This past month has been rife with experiences that have shown me where some of those gaps are.
The first came at the beginning of the month when I finally began to realize that there were some painful things that had hurt me in a friendship that I had refused to acknowledge as such for months on end. I had suppressed the feelings under a nice religious glaze of “I shouldn’t be hurt by that” often quoting to myself the infamous passage in 1 Corinthians 14 where it says “love takes no account of a suffered wrong”. Accordingly, I then thought that if I’m walking in love, then I have no reason to be hurt.
The great irony in this though, is that what I basically ended up doing is invalidating my own emotions around the hurt I was feeling. This is the exact opposite of emotional intelligence because I wasn’t acknowledging what my emotions were & dealing with them, but rather, I was keeping them suppressed.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is super unhealthy.
Once I started to realize what I had been doing, I called up a close friend who is very emotionally intelligent and talked through all of my feelings of hurt. Something incredibly valuable I had learned from this friend is not to judge the emotions at the outset – the hurt is still real and still needs to be addressed. Not to say that you don’t evaluate the emotions and what they’re based on, or look at things like your expectations or the other person’s context, but, if you immediately jump to “I shouldn’t be feeling this” then you’ve already invalidated your emotion without ever giving yourself a chance to understand why you’re feeling it.
Also, it’s really important to understand what it is you’re seeking when you share an emotion with someone else. In this case, I was seeking someone who would have understanding and empathy for the hurt I felt. Given that, I did not go to the person who hurt me with this because that’s a lot to ask of someone – to confront them about something you perceive they have done wrong and to try to get understanding & empathy out of them at the same time. Not to say that confrontation isn’t an important piece that needs to be done at certain times, but wisdom and discernment are required for when and how to do that well. In this case, I knew that I just needed to be heard by someone who would understand – and that’s exactly what my friend gave me.
Simply expressing all of this and getting it out felt like expelling the puss out of a blister – it opened the path for real healing to occur now. In addition, it struck me that acknowledging the hurt someone has caused you is a vital step in the forgiveness process. This is because if you never acknowledge someone having done something wrong to you, then there’s nothing to forgive. The act of forgiving in and of itself implies that a wrong was done. Given that, by suppressing all the hurt and not acknowledging it, I was actually blocking myself from being able to forgive.
However, now that I had acknowledged the hurt, I could finally forgive and move forward.
The other thing that came up this month is that I found myself dreading a recurring commitment I had made around something. What happened here is that when the “need” arose, I just jumped in and said yes without really evaluating whether it’s something I’m passionate about doing. What I then found was that I did not find myself excited about this commitment, but rather, I kept doing it because I was motivated by guilt.
I’ve found that if guilt is the motivating factor to do something, then eventually the quality suffers, you get burnt out or frustrated, and oftentimes will eventually end up feeling resentful.
This of course is (surprise!) not emotionally healthy.
What I once again found myself in was a position where I needed to be emotionally honest. I needed to tell the person I had made this commitment to where I was at and not be afraid of disappointing them.
So that’s what I did. While it was hard, it was also very good as I immediately felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. There is tremendous freedom to simply being emotionally honest.
What else I find interesting is that David did this in the Psalms with incredible frequency. Just as one example, look at Psalm 13:1-2 which says:
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?”
What I find so fascinating is that after David writes this, God doesn’t respond to David by saying “Now David, you know I don’t forget people as that’s impossible for me since I’m God and all knowing. Make sure you write theologically accurate statements.”
Why doesn’t God do that? Because David is being emotionally honest. David’s Psalm is not a theological treatise, but rather, a vulnerable, honest expression of how he feels in the moment. You don’t ever see God punishing David for his emotional honesty throughout the Psalms, even though he says many things that could be considered very “theologically questionable”.
Rather, God seems perfectly content to hear David out in all his expressions of emotion no matter how intense they may be. In so doing, David not only modeled emotional honesty to us, but also showed that emotional honesty with God is in fact a powerful form of prayer.
Think about that for a second, David wrote most of the Psalms as communication to God, thus making them prayer. Yet he displays just about every emotion imaginable in these from anger, rage, sorrow, betrayal, abandonment, sadness, depression, etc. What’s so great about this though is that by being honest with God, it opens up the possibility for real relationship to happen. How many of you have experienced this with a person? Perhaps it was a friend, a spouse, a child or whomever, but they just wouldn’t open up to you and tell you what’s really going on and because of that the relationship was stifled. Yet once they were finally opened up and were honest about what was happening with them, even if difficult to hear, it allowed the relationship to really move forward again.
Maybe you too find that you’ve been suppressing a lot of pain from your past or from a wrong that someone did to you. Or perhaps you find yourself doing a lot of things out of guilt or having over committed yourself. Or maybe your just find that you don’t ever give your emotions a voice because you think they’re unimportant or wrong. I don’t think anything could be further from the truth. I would highly encourage you to be emotionally honest with yourself, with God and with at least one trusted person.
Though it can be difficult at the outset, I think you’ll find that emotional honesty is incredibly freeing.