Emotional Intelligence: Four ways to create a healthy emotional environment

November 6, 2016/#embracinghard


“When the doctor told me I had cancer, my whole world turned upside down. In my grief and feelings of overwhelm, I shut off everyone, even my mother. My husband became my voice to the outside world.” My friend shared this with a small group of us ladies the other day and a lot of us were nodding our heads in agreement.

Listening to her story, I couldn’t help remembering when they told me Ryan would die before he ever breathed his first breath. I immediately shut down and Henry became my ambassador to friends and family alike. I didn’t answer the phone or text messages for three straight days.

As my friend shared her experience it dawned on me that one of the reasons I isolate is because in those moments, I can hardly handle my own emotions, let alone having to worry about handling someone else’s emotions. We don’t want to bring them down, or have to be the one to comfort them. We are hurting, we are trying to wrap our minds around something so big that our brains are being stretched to capacity. Our energy is being used up on our own processing and we have nothing left to give to others.

So, we isolate. We hunker down and get through it ourselves.



I’ve been mulling this over for a couple days now, and I think there’s another reason too… and that’s the feeling of safety. I’ve been learning over the last few years what it means to be create an environment where my dear ones feel safe enough to speak their crazy out into the world, in the space between us, and not have me go crazy with solutions or a need to talk it away.

Not many of us know what this looks like. Or feels like. Many of us grew up in an environment where sad feelings weren’t an option. Or, we saw feelings get so out of control, we decided they weren’t for us.

So we hide. We hide from our family of origin. We hide from our friends. We hide from our spouses. And sometimes…. Sometimes we even hide from ourselves. We think that our thoughts and feelings are way crazier than anyone else we might know… that they’d never understand. That they’ll judge us. And possibly even decide we aren’t worth hanging out with.

I have a little secret for you. If you’re afraid you are crazy there is a very good chance you aren’t.

For most of us, no one took the time to tell us that everyone has anxious thoughts that swirl around in their heads sometimes. Everyone has moments where they wonder if they’re good enough, pretty enough, or fit in with the rest of the world.

Everyone has bad days – – really bad days – where their inner world is in turmoil and threatening to crash in on them.

So, the question becomes, how do we handle it? And, how do we handle when others come to us with their mixed bag of emotions?

emotional-intelligence-2Give feelings their proper weight.

Somewhere along the way, we got the message that feeling negatively – whether it be sad, crazy, distraught, or depressed – meant something was wrong with us. It is even possible that you were taught if you felt these things that you were bad.

I’m here to tell you that feelings are just feelings. They are physiological responses to outward stimuli, a trigger of past trauma, or a chemical reaction of what your hormones may be doing on a given day (men included!). The important thing to understand about feelings is that the only real significance they hold is a to make us aware something is going on inside us. Instead of running from them, it gives us an opportunity to be awakened to something in our inner life that’s trying to come out.  So instead of running from them, run toward them with curiosity.

When we understand that feelings don’t determine our reality, we can take a deep breath and relax. We can understand that emotions are our bodies way of detoxing. We come to realize that just because we think something doesn’t mean it’s true. Feelings fluctuate, just like the stock market, and thankfully, our worth isn’t tied to our feelings.

When we stop being afraid of our feelings, we see that they come and go, and allow ourselves the benefit of knowing that how I feel right now, may not be how I feel in five minutes.

Become comfortable being uncomfortable.

To approach negative emotions in a healthy way, we have to get super comfortable with being uncomfortable.

People who haven’t given proper weight to feelings are typically controlled by their emotions. They are super volatile or they control their emotions so much, you wonder if they have any. Either way you swing on the pendulum, you most likely aren’t comfortable with others’ having negative emotions. You either feel so much for them that you spiral into panic or depression, or you can’t stand being around someone who is in crisis and push them away. You feel they need to “get over it” so you either distance yourself or try to fix it.

Here’s one thing I know about feelings after doing it wrong for so many years – it is not my job to fix it.

Understanding our role.

I finally understand my role. I understood at an early age that is was no one else’s job to make me happy. That happiness is a choice despite my circumstances. Somehow though, I bought into the idea that I could make someone else happy by the way I behaved, performed, or served. I thought my actions could fix the world for someone else.

Guess what? This is a big, fat lie that is dangerous to everyone’s wellbeing.

Ok, so now what? If I’m not supposed to fix it, what am I supposed to do? As a doer – – a recovering production queen – – I always wanted to know what “to do” with my feelings or my loved one’s feelings. The funny thing is I intuitively knew the answer.

I never once asked myself what “to do” with happiness, joy, exhilaration, or any other positive feeling in the world. I simply allowed myself to feel them.

The same answer holds true for negative feelings. The way to “deal” with them, is to allow the feelings to come, be felt, and move on. The feeling is the doing. You feel them. You sit in them. You let them run their course. You accept them for what they are – a biological or visceral response. And pretty soon, you don’t feel so crazy anymore.

{You can also try tricks like picturing your feelings as air and blowing up a mental balloon then blowing it away… watching it float into the sky and then into oblivion while taking deep, healing breaths. Or thinking of them as water and picturing them flowing down a creek bed, away from you, as you breathe in and out rhythmically.)

Respond with empathy and compassion

When I understand these things about feelings, I suddenly become a harbor where others are free to feel. They no longer feel like they have to be responsible for my feelings in addition to theirs. And they no longer feel judged, because I’ll give the proper weight to their emotions.

I understand that emotions don’t determine our worth or our psychological status. They simply make us humans.

There’s safety in that. There’s acceptance and love for all that you are (and feel!).

There’s no more hiding…. There’s connection and togetherness and intimacy. There’s a depth of realness that makes you understand the divine.  Dulling our emotions by over-eating, shopping, binge watching TV, surfing social media, doing drugs, and having sex don’t hold a candle to being heard, known, and accepted in spite of your crazy, messed-up inner life. {tweet that}

And when that happens – when you have a place to take the crazy and process it – your inner life calms down. You stop running from bad feelings. You let them come, wash over you, then keep flowing on down the river of life. They leave you. They no longer are stuffed somewhere deep inside, festering in their hiding spot, waiting to sucker punch you when you least expect it.

Fundamental to being able to embrace hard things and use them to move forward is understanding that difficulty, frustration, or grief…. does NOT equal bad, they equal opportunity. If something isn’t harming us, it is most likely teaching us… about God, about us, about others.

If we can wrap our minds around that, we are less afraid of us or others “being emotional” We aren’t panicked, or worried, or stressed. We are curious to sit in the feelings and work through them in healthy ways.  And that’s something we can feel good about.


What thoughts does this article bring out in you?

Do you have a safe place to go when you are sad, frustrated, or upset?

Like this article, but need something more? Contact me for one-on-one personal coaching here.

Comments (1)

  • Linda Hogeland / November 6, 2016 / Reply

    Good morning Leighann,
    This was so good! I am always wanting to fix things for everyone…yet, I have to tell myself that I really can’t “fix” them, anymore than they can “fix” me! But I can love them, and just be there with them. And now, thanks to you and what you said in this post, I can help them to imagine being in that river, with their their troubles flowing past them!
    Being in the midst of them, but knowing our troubles are moving away from us! This is comforting to me!
    So thanks Leighann!
    Love you!

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(c) 2016 Leighann Marquiss