Shame is a complex and powerful (“contracting” and belittling) emotion that can have a significant impact on our mental health and how we navigate the world and interact with people. It often stems from feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, or embarrassment about certain aspects of ourselves or our actions. This may not mean much to you right now … but that is all bullshit. I have worked with many people experiencing extreme toxic shame, and they are intrinsically beautiful people. Understanding the root causes of toxic shame is an essential first step in creating a healthy relationship with it. It’s crucial to recognize that experiencing shame is a universal human experience, and it does not define your worth as a person. Oftentimes, our shame is a projection of what we believe other people think about us, or it is an internalised belief (script, attitude etc.) that we learned from painful and scary life experiences. I want to preface the following by acknowledging that shame can be healthy. Without shame, we may develop unhealthy levels of egotism, narcissism, arrogance, and superiority.
The following are evidence-based, albeit typical, and clichéd approaches to building a healthy relationship with our toxic shame:
Challenge Negative Thoughts
One effective way to overcome shame is to challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to feelings of shame. This can feel exhausting! To be constantly vigilantly of our thinking, hence, noticing and letting thoughts stream through the mind will be necessary here. In 12-step fellowships, they would suggest to “let the go” and “hand them over”. For example, saying to yourself “This is not for me right now and I’ll hand it over to the universe just for now”. We do not always have the energy to challenge our negative thoughts. You can ‘compartmentalise them’, or say, “not right now”, or even say “thank you for making me aware of this and I may reflect on this when I have more time”. Challenging negative thoughts involves identifying and questioning the critical inner voice that fuels self-criticism and self-doubt. By practicing self-compassion and cultivating a more positive self-image, you can begin to counteract the destructive effects of shame. If you want someone to talk to about these issues, please call me: 0488 555 731.
Self-compassion (and kindness) is a key component of overcoming shame. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend facing similar struggles. Underpinning our shame is a profound fear that we will be rejected i.e., lose a job, be ignored by friends, lack confidence to make meaningful connections and intimacy. Acknowledge your imperfections without harsh judgment and remind yourself that it’s okay to be imperfect. We don’t often see others’ imperfections, and when we do, we think theirs are tolerable or not that bad compared to ours. Developing self-compassion can help us build resilience in the face of shame and cultivate a healthier relationship with yourself. I say again, every client I have worked with has shown me their absolute beautifulness by talking about their imperfections and showing me their self.
It’s essential to reach out for support when dealing with shame. This can be terrifying – paralysing even – and many people have reached out in the past and the outcome has made us feel even worse. Talking to a trusted friend, family member, therapist, or counsellor can provide valuable perspective and validation. Sharing your feelings of shame with others can help you feel less isolated and alone in your struggles. Additionally, professional help can offer guidance and strategies for coping with shame in a healthy way.
Practicing self-acceptance involves embracing all aspects of yourself, including those that may trigger feelings of shame. Recognize that nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. By accepting your vulnerabilities and imperfections, you can reduce the power that shame holds over you. Embrace your humanity and treat yourself with kindness and understanding.
Engage in Positive Activities
Engaging in activities that bring you joy, fulfillment, and a sense of accomplishment can help counteract feelings of shame. Pursue hobbies, interests, or goals that boost your self-esteem and remind you of your strengths and capabilities. Surround yourself with supportive people who uplift you and encourage your personal growth.
Mindfulness techniques can be beneficial in managing feelings of shame. By staying present in the moment without judgment, you can observe your thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them. Mindfulness practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga can help you develop greater self-awareness and emotional resilience.
Top 3 Authoritative Sources Used:
These strategies, actions, and ways of thinking will take practice, practice, and more practice. It is not easy. Based on my own experience, I needed a group of people on my path who I could rely on and practice with many times over, and then I started practising on my own. I still connect with the people living my recovery. I take breaks from them when I need to, but I always reconnect because loneliness will breed more shame. Please call 0488 555 731 if you need my support.
I want to preface this post by stating that the concepts and suggestions I’ve made below are my own thoughts, opinions, and suggestions based on my own experience working in the mental health sector and lived experience. There may also be numerous grammatical and logical errors. I know that you’re intuitive enough to understand what I’m attempting to describe and explain. Therefore, there will be no references section at the end. This is merely an expression of thoughts, a stream of consciousness (William James coined the term Stream of Consciousness).
Episodic, acute, and chronic anxiety can be miserable and debilitating. Individuals living with anxiety have generally experimented with many techniques to cope with anxiety symptoms, and they have often been practicing these techniques for months, years, or decades. Anxiety is life changing. Current treatment can be efficacious at reducing the intensity or frequency of symptoms for the vast majority of people living with anxiety, but only at best. I, myself, have tried the deep breathing technique commonly advised by mental health professionals, and it can be about as useful as taking a sugar pill. There is credible science that supports deep breathing exercises can improve symptoms and recovery rates for stress, anxiety and depression levels – but what about for an anxiety attack or a panic attack or intense chronic symptoms of anxiety?
Sometimes nothing is effective enough for immediate relief. It is my contention that building a relationship with a trained psychiatrist, specialised in this domain, is an essential first step. Your treating specialist(s) will need to have extensive experience and a comprehensive understanding of the debilitating impacts of anxiety, anxiety attacks, and/or panic attacks. I recommend psychiatry because you will need someone who can prescribe short-term medication, schedule 4 or greater, to alleviate the pain rapidly. All symptoms a person may experience from any condition in the anxiety family present a risk for searching for any immediate relief. This is true for you or me or anyone. Without prompt and effective medical care readily available, many people who do not have a plan for managing anxiety will potentially search for an unhealthy substitute to acquire relief.
These substitutes are often unhelpful long term but effective short term. We all know what they are: alcohol and other drugs, sexual promiscuity or sex addiction, love addiction, gambling, excessive or unhealthy eating habits, self-injury, addictive forms of gaming, impulse spending, co-dependent or dependent behaviours on people, people pleasing, running away (avoiding reality), raging, reckless driving and other criminal behaviour, and relying on pharmaceuticals (legally prescribes or otherwise) that will have long-term unhealthy side effects. People know how to “doctor shop”, and although this area of medicine is becoming much more regulated, it still occurs. Unfortunately, there are people who do require certain types of legal drugs, in a timely manner, to find relief as a means of not engaging in any of the previously mentioned behaviours.
Some people may not have much faith in the field of psychiatry or psychology – HOWEVER – you may find yourself in a situation one day where you will need a doctor who knows your history to increase the likelihood of prescribing medication to treat anxiety when you need it most. This medication usually has addictive properties. An ethical psychiatrist will usually be unwilling to prescribe more than a single repeat of potentially addictive medication to treat their patients. This is standard, regulated medical practice in Australia.
Anyone working in the drug and alcohol sector or has regular contact with a person living with anxiety, or any form of addiction, will know that patients – people – are not being seen in a timely manner top treat anxiety before the patient starts looking elsewhere. Even once the patient has accessed some type of medical care, the length of care is not long enough for the patient to be “well enough” after discharge or ending their hourly session, to be on their own in the community safely without becoming vulnerable to their condition in a short time and looking for more relief to ease their pain and improve their well-being.
If a person or a patient cannot depend on the medical system in the way they need to feel safe and well, they will almost certainly begin to lose faith and trust in health professionals, and ‘the system’. This perpetuates their internalised stigma being reinforced, yet again.
I am not saying the patient doesn’t have a significant responsibly of their own to make valuable choices outside of medical treatment. I quote what someone once said to me, “You may not have asked for this disease, but it becomes our responsibility to stay well”. That is our duty as the person living with a health issue of any kind. There are things we certainly must do (or not do) to stay as healthy as possible. The help make not be there in a timely manner the next time we need immediate help.
It can take weeks or more to enter a detox facility. It can take months to enter a rehabilitation facility. It can take months for an available appointment to open with a psychiatrist. It becomes our responsibility to know that even when we’re feeling well and back to “normal”, we must continue those relationships with medication professionals. It becomes our responsibility to try alternative medicines if that’s something you’re interested in. Let’s face it, psychiatrists cease their practice, our professional relationship has reached it’s potential for adequate, loving care, or we want to try something new.
Start the process of finding a reliable, qualified, and credible psychiatrist today. I would recommend finding a counselling psychologist or other mental health professional that you have a productive and friendly working relationship with – and if you want to practice Buddhism, or acupuncture, or hypnotherapy, or any other complementary and alternative medicine – do it. If you want to connect with God – do it. If you want to see a naturopath – do it. Whatever it is, this may very well be a lifelong journey for you. Based on my own experience, don’t stop because you think you’re “all better now”. The previously mentioned professions or treatment options or lifestyle choices can be extremely expensive, but I would encourage you to save for it, find less expensive options. Sitting in church is free, or listening to an online guru can be the price or maintaining your mobile service bill.
I once knew of a fellow peer in treatment alongside me who said he saved money for years to travel overseas to have a procedure not available in Australia at the time for this purpose. He wanted blood transfusions and heat therapy for chronic pain that didn’t doctors could not determine had physiological origins. The peer was sure it had to, and medical investigations in Australia come up negative. The peer explained the theory behind blood transfusions and heat therapy – he believed – were supposed to improve his blood circulation and blood flow to treat the chronic pain he’d been living with for years after a workplace accident. Even this procedure overseas proved ineffective in mitigating his chronic pain. So, next he tried the wim hof method. He changed is diet. He exercised differently. He tried hypnotherapy. Finally, he turned psychology to treat stress and process childhood trauma. He was being treated for this a private facility where I was a patient at that time. I lost contact with him after I ended my own treatment episode. I don’t know if he’s still living with chronic pain or not.
The following are some very basic and well-known strategies in the Western world of psychology that you can begin to practice today, and then practice every day after that too – even for 5-20 minutes:
– learning about anxiety – your specific “causes” and the conditions more generally
– relaxation techniques
– correct breathing techniques
– dietary adjustments
– learning to be assertive
– building self-esteem
– cognitive therapy
– exposure therapy
– structured problem solving
– support groups
My firm believe is this:
Strong, healthy, quality relationships are essential to treating anxiety and other psychological illnesses. This about your life today: are you lonely (romantically or otherwise), are you a stressed individual, do you regularly feel like you job is stressful or unfulfilling, do you feel sad a lot, are you feeling pointless a lot, or feeling helpless a lot, feeling shame a lot, getting angry a lot over considerably minor things? etc. etc. etc. I would strongly encourage talking to a professional and begin exploring what options you have available to you.
Try, explore, play with a few methods of treatment. However, this must take a priority in your life. It must balance will all the many other obligations and responsibilities people encounter daily.
Type alternative medications or approaches to psychology. There are so many. It can be fun to try out a few when your finances permit. Even planning a holiday every 3-6 months is taking care of your well-being.
Many blessings friends.
Projection: Attributing one’s unacceptable feelings or desires to someone else. For example, if a bully constantly ridicules a peer about insecurities, the bully might be projecting his own struggle with self-esteem onto the other person.
Denial: Refusing to recognize or acknowledge real facts or experiences that would lead to anxiety. For instance, someone with substance use disorder might not be able to clearly see his problem.
Regression: Reverting to the behaviour or emotions of an earlier developmental stage.
Rationalization: Justifying a mistake or problematic feeling with seemingly logical reasons or explanations.
Displacement: Redirecting an emotional reaction from the rightful recipient to another person altogether. For example, if a manager screams at an employee, the employee doesn’t scream back—but the employee may yell at her partner later that night.
Reaction Formation: Behaving or expressing the opposite of one’s true feelings. For instance, a man who feels insecure about his masculinity might act overly aggressive.
Sublimation: Channelling sexual or unacceptable urges into a productive outlet, such as work or a hobby.
Intellectualization: Focusing on the intellectual rather than emotional consequences of a situation. For example, if a roommate unexpectedly moved out, the other person might conduct a detailed financial analysis rather than discussing their hurt feelings.
Compartmentalization: Separating components of one’s life into different categories to prevent conflicting emotions.
Multiple theorists and researchers since Freud have independently converged on the same concept of psychological defences because of the potential utility of the concept.
Alfred Adler, known for emphasising the importance of overcoming feelings of inferiority and gaining a sense of belonging in order to achieve success and happiness, developed a similar idea which he called psychological “safeguarding strategies.”
Karen Horney, who believed that environment and social upbringing, rather than intrinsic factors, largely lead to neurosis, described “protective strategies” used by children of abusive or neglectful parents.
Leon Festinger developed the well-known concept of “cognitive dissonance,” proposing that inconsistency among beliefs or behaviours causes an uncomfortable psychological tension leading people to change one of the inconsistent elements to reduce the dissonance (or to add consonant elements to restore consonance).
Carl Rogers, who was one of the founders of humanistic psychology, known especially for his person-centred psychotherapy, discussed the process of defence as “denial and perceptual distortion”.
Albert Bandura, known for ground-breaking research on learning via observation and social modelling, and the development of social learning theory, conceptualized defences as “self-exoneration mechanisms.”
The influential psychiatrist George Vaillant organized defences on a scale of immature to mature, defining them as “unconscious homeostatic mechanisms that reduce the disorganizing effects of sudden stress.”
Current discussions of coping mechanisms and emotion regulation embody the idea of defences as well. Is a defence mechanism merely a learned internal process manifested in our behaviour to protect us – or our ego – from pain? Is a defence mechanism a merely a coping mechanism to resolve internal stress?
Whatever you believe the answers to be, we can cultivate, learn, and practice adaptive, context-specific and generalised coping strategies that will aid self-development that can improve our health, relationships, self-esteem, workplace performance, and stress management skills.
Gossiping is a universal social behaviour that involves the giving and receiving of information about others, generally perceived as having a negative effect on social groups and it is commonly sensationalistic in manner. The psychology of gossiping encompasses various aspects of human behaviour, including social interaction, communication, and interpersonal relationships.
Gossiping serves several psychological functions, such as forming and maintaining social bonds, establishing group norms, and conveying social information. Understanding the psychology of gossiping requires an examination of the underlying motivations, cognitive processes, and social dynamics involved in this behaviour.
One of the primary psychological functions of gossiping is its role in social bonding. According to evolutionary psychologists, gossiping may have evolved as a mechanism for monitoring and regulating social relationships within groups. By sharing information about others, individuals can establish and reinforce alliances, as well as identify potential threats or allies within their social networks. Gossiping also serves as a form of social currency, allowing individuals to exchange information and build rapport with others.
Furthermore, gossiping can be driven by intrinsic motivations related to curiosity and entertainment. People are naturally drawn to stories about others, particularly those involving conflict, romance, or scandal. This inclination toward sensationalistic narratives reflects the human tendency to seek novelty and emotional arousal through storytelling. From a psychological perspective, gossiping can be seen as a means of satisfying these innate cognitive and emotional needs.
In addition to its role in social bonding and entertainment, gossiping serves as a mechanism for transmitting social information and enforcing group norms. Through gossip, individuals communicate expectations and judgements regarding behaviour, values, and social roles within their communities. Gossip can function as a form of informal social control by publicly sanctioning or condemning certain behaviours, thereby influencing the conduct of group members.
The psychology of gossiping involves considerations of ethical and moral implications. While gossip can facilitate social cohesion and information sharing, it can also lead to negative consequences such as reputational damage, interpersonal conflict, disharmony, and breaches of privacy. Understanding the psychological mechanisms underlying gossiping can shed light on the ethical dilemmas associated with this behaviour and inform strategies for promoting responsible communication within social contexts.
Gossiping can indeed be malicious, as it involves spreading rumors or information about others that may be harmful, untrue, or damaging to their reputation. Malicious gossip can have serious consequences for the individuals involved, leading to damaged relationships, loss of trust, and even psychological harm. It is important to understand the impact of malicious gossip and the ethical considerations surrounding the spread of such information.
Malicious gossip is often driven by negative intentions, such as jealousy, resentment, or a desire to harm someone’s reputation. It can take various forms, including spreading false information about an individual’s personal life, career, or character. In some cases, malicious gossip may be used as a tool for bullying or manipulation, with the intent to undermine someone’s social standing or credibility.
The effects of malicious gossip can be far-reaching. It can lead to strained relationships, social ostracism, and damage to one’s professional reputation. In extreme cases, it can even result in legal action if the spread of false information causes tangible harm to an individual’s livelihood or well-being.
In summary, the psychology of gossiping encompasses various psychological functions, including its role in social bonding, entertainment, information transmission, and norm enforcement. By examining the underlying motivations, cognitive processes, and social dynamics involved in gossiping, researchers can gain insights into the complexities of human social behavior and interpersonal communication.
Adler, R., & Proctor II, R. F. (2014). Looking out/looking in (14th ed.). Cengage Learning. (Print)
Dunbar, R.I.M. “Gossip in Evolutionary Perspective.” Review of General Psychology (Print)
Foster E.K., & Campbell W.K. “The Psychology of Gossip: A Review.” Social Psychological Review (Print)
Kniffin K.M., & Wilson D.S. “Evolutionary Perspectives on Gossip.” Social Psychology Quarterly (Print)
Kowalski, R. M., Limber, S. P., & Agatston, P. W. (2012). Cyberbullying: Bullying in the digital age (2nd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. (Print)
Manning, J., & Levine, L. J. (2016). The psychology of social media: Why we like, share, comment and keep coming back. Routledge. (Print)
Robbins M.L., & Karan A. “Gossip: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology (Print)
Salmivalli, C., & Graham-Kevan, N. (Eds.). (2019). Intimate partner violence: New perspectives in research and practice. Routledge. (Print)
Smith, P., & Steffgen, G. (Eds.). (2013). Cyberbullying through the new media: Findings from an international network. Psychology Press. (Print)
Sommerfeld R.D., & Jordan J.J. “The Evolutionary Foundations of Gossip.” Biological Theory (Print)
‘The stages of change model’ was developed by Prochaska and DiClemente. Heard of them? It informs the development of brief and ongoing intervention strategies by providing a framework for what interventions/strategies are useful for particular individuals. Practitioners need an understanding of which ‘stage of change’ a person is in so that the most appropriate strategy for the individual client is selected.
1. In the precontemplation stage, the person is either unaware of a problem that needs to be addressed OR aware of it but unwilling to change the problematic behaviour [or a behaviour they want to change. It does not always have to be labelled as “problematic”].
2. This is followed by a contemplation stage, characterized by ambivalence regarding the problem behaviour and in which the advantages and disadvantages of the behaviour, and of changing it, are evaluated, leading in many cases to decision-making.
3. In the preparation stage, a resolution to change is made, accompanied by a commitment to a plan of action. It is not uncommon for an individual to return to the contemplation stage or stay in the preparation stage for a while, for many reasons.
4. This plan is executed in the action stage, in which the individual engages in activities designed to bring change about and in coping with difficulties that arise.
5. If successful action is sustained, the person moves to the maintenance stage, in which an effort is made to consolidate the changes that have been made. Once these changes have been integrated into the lifestyle, the individual exits from the stages of change.
6. Relapse, however, is common, and it may take several journeys around the cycle of change, known as “recycling”, before change becomes permanent i.e., a lifestyle change; a sustainable change.
(Adapted from Heather & Honekopp, 2017)
Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand and regulate your own emotions, as well as identify and influence the emotions of others’. The term was first coined in 1990 by researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey and was later popularised by psychologist Daniel Goleman.
Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability perceive, control, and evaluate your emotions. Some people can do this with ease while others require practice in this area. This ability is necessary for anyone who wants to function effectively in a society – it pertains directly to our ability to interact well with others and respond effectively when situations are outside our control.
EI is best described as a way of thinking that enables people to perceive their own emotions, understand the emotional states of others, and behave appropriately in response (Cherry, 2022). People with high EI can feel empathy for others, determine their own emotional responses (including the process of suppressing an emotion as a defence mechanism), and think through situations before responding emotionally. Emotional intelligence is strongly linked to many positive outcomes. Those with high EI are likely to become financially stable, have meaningful and healthy relationships, respond effectively to stress, and maintain desirable physical and mental health (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). They are also likely to avoid dangerous situations (such as driving under the influence), interrupt negative thinking patterns, and use healthy coping skills rather than self-destructive or maladaptive coping mechanisms.
Here are some key features of a person with high emotional intelligence (Drigas & Papoutsi 2018):
– An ability to identify how they are feeling (i.e., the can name what they’re feeling)
– An ability to identify how others are feeling
– An awareness of strengths and weaknesses
– The ability to let go of mistakes and forgive others
– The ability to accept change
– Curiosity about oneself and others
– The capacity for empathy and compassion
– The ability to regulate emotions in the moment
The ability to regulate emotions is a skill that anybody can learn with practice.
The following tips may be helpful if you’re interested in developing or improving your emotional intelligence. Pioneers in the field Salovey and Mayer (1990) have identified four levels of emotional intelligence that are person should aim to move through in order – these are:
1. Perceiving emotions: The first step is to be able to acknowledge that emotions are occurring in the first place. This might involve understanding nonverbal signals from other people or associating internal bodily states with certain emotions. Some clients, especially those who have suffered from trauma, may have a sense of detachment from their bodies, making it difficult to discern emotional states. As such, this lack of internal data will make it harder to recognize emotional states in others. Practicing mindfulness and other self-awareness exercises can help clients to perceive their emotions more effectively.
2. Reasoning with emotions: Once an emotion has been identified, the second step is to learn how to think about emotions appropriately. Many people will shut down in the presence of strong emotions, but emotions can be used to promote thinking and cognitive activity. Developing a sense of curiosity and openness toward emotions can help to facilitate this process, and result in less aversion towards certain experiences.
3. Understanding emotions: The third step is understanding the meaning of emotions in more detail and recognising complex relationships between different emotions. Once emotions are perceived and reasoned with, a person can evaluate them and find the underlying causes of them. This is where emotional intelligence really starts to develop, as it fosters the ability to become less reactive to emotional content and learn to listen deeply to emotions and discern their origins.
4. Managing emotions: Finally, in the fourth step we learn to regulate emotions effectively. This involves a person developing their ability to problem-solve and identify healthy coping strategies for dealing with an emotion. It also involves being able to use the skills learnt in previous steps – perceiving, reasoning, and understanding – to resolve emotional conflicts peacefully. This is the highest level of emotional intelligence.
Generally, building emotional awareness through mindfulness helps to propagate EI within oneself, and learning to perceive nonverbal cues helps to attend to others; outlines of these two angles are as follows:
Perceiving emotions is the foundational skill of emotional intelligence, and mindfulness has been identified by research as being one of the most efficacious ways of developing this capacity. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgement or interference. Mindfulness is correlated with greater clarity of feelings and thoughts, and less reactivity and distraction, making it the perfect catalyst for emotional intelligence (Feldman et al., 2007).
Mindfulness generally involves meditative exercises; you sit or lay down, and use the breath and other sensations (i.e., the feeling of feet on the floor, or sounds in the room) to anchor into the experience. As you enter an observational state, encourage yourself to simply notice how your experiences arise, change, and pass away. When using mindfulness to develop emotional awareness, specifically connect to your emotional state. The key focus here is not necessarily on the breath or on acceptance, as per common mindfulness strategies; rather, simply become familiar with the process of having and noticing feelings. If you have difficulty identifying your emotions, try to explore the characteristics of your emotions such as where it is located in the body, how it feels (e.g., warm, cold), how big or small it feels, or perhaps what colour they associate with it.
Regularly performing this exercise will habituate the brain to approach emotions with curiosity rather than avoiding or repressing them. As such, the processes of emotional functioning will become more familiar, resulting in greater emotional intelligence.
Created by Hugo Alberts, this exercise helps people to accurately identify and understand the emotions of other people through ‘reading’ their body language and other nonverbal cues. This is a very valuable skill, as research has shown that cultures all around the world express emotions through similar facial expressions (Friesen, 1972). Similarly, it has been found that deciphering body language can accurately provide insight into emotional states such as anger, fear, pride, joy, and more (Gelder & van der Stock, 2011). Speech patterns are a more nuanced area than body language and facial expressions, but valuable nonetheless; people use thousands of micro semantic terms to express their emotions beyond the words themselves (Sabini & Silver, 2005). By learning to attune to these three aspects of communication (i.e., face, body, speech), a person will be able to exercise enhanced emotional intelligence with the people in their life.
One activity to develop this skill is to use videos that you are familiar with (e.g., films or tv shows) and to spend time evaluating how the actors use speech, body, and face to communicate their emotions. Depending on your current level of EI, you might be able to identify the emotions being expressed but not understand the role of nonverbal cues to communicate this. Another strategy would be to become more self-aware of your own nonverbal conduct during different emotional experiences. Notice your posture, get a sense of your facial expression, notice your stance, hands, chest etc. You could keep a journal of what your speech, face, and body language is like during various experiences throughout the day. Over time, you will come to understand how to decipher these elements and associate them with emotional states. Please be patient with yourself. It is challenging to mindfully pause and think about your nonverbal language when you’re caught in an emotional experience. You may like to ask others whom you trust to give you feedback.
Having covered the internal (emotional awareness through mindfulness) and the external (nonverbal cues), you can then use these new understandings to develop further practical skills. A person can embody emotional intelligence by practicing empathy, active listening, and assertiveness.
Empathy is the capacity to understand another person’s experience through their frame of reference (Cuff et al., 2014). Whilst an aspect of empathy is being able to relate other people’s experiences to your own, it is further positioning yourself within the other person’s perspective and relating to them from that place. This is what is meant by “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.” Empathy is a useful skill to practice because it both requires and fosters emotional intelligence; EI is required to relate fully to another person and is developed further through this process. It is recommended to cultivate compassion for others when developing empathy. It can be an uncomfortable experience, one which people may resist or tense up against.
Activate listening can help conversational partners interact in more meaningful ways. It offers people space to explore their feelings, disclose important information, and feel like they are heard, validated, and cared for. Joseph Topornycky has identified some fundamental attributes of active listening (2016). These include:
Assertiveness is often be perceived as rudeness, however, if the person communicating in an assertive way maintains a compassionate undertone, it is very effective for improving EI and self-esteem. Many people lack EI because they were never taught or encouraged to explore their emotions and express their feelings. By learning to express ourselves truthfully and appropriately, a person can validate themselves, protect themselves and set boundaries with others (Makino, 2010).
One way to practice this is through role playing with a counsellor or someone you trust. You can also practice by yourself, playing the role of both parties in an interaction. Practice expressing what is most important for you in a conversation and express the emotion e.g., “I feel worthless, like nobody cares about my opinion” and then offer yourself assurance as if you are the other person e.g., “I really value your opinion, and I am interested in hearing it.”).
If you’re someone who hasn’t been able to assert your needs, wants or feelings in the past, you may feel rude initially. Like I always tell my clients,
Cherry, K. (2022, August 3). How emotionally intelligent are you? Verywell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-emotional-intelligence-2795423#citation-5
Cuff, B. M. P., Brown, S. J., Taylor, L., & Howat, D. J. (2014). Empathy: A review of the concept. Emotion Review, 8(2), 144–153. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073914558466
De Gelder, B., van den Stock, J., Meeren, H. K. M., Sinke, C. B. A., Kret, M. E., & Tamietto, M. (2010). Standing up for the body: Recent progress in uncovering the networks involved in the perception of bodies and bodily expressions. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 513–527.
Drigas AS, Papoutsi C. A new layered model on emotional intelligence. Behav Sci (Basel). 2018;8(5):45. doi:10.3390/bs8050045
Feldman, G., Hayes, A., Kumar, S., Greeson, J., & Laurenceau, J.-P. (2007). Mindfulness and emotion regulation: The development and initial validation of the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revised (CAMSR). Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 29, 177–190.
Friesen, W. V. (1972). Cultural differences in facial expression in a social situation: An experimental test of the concept of display rules. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of California San Francisco
Gosling, M. (n.d.). MSCEIT 1 Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from https://www.mikegosling.com/pdf/MSCEITDescription.pdf
Makino, H. (2010). Humility-empathy-assertiveness-respect test. PsycTESTS Dataset. https://doi.org/10.1037/t06420-000
Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2012). Mayer-Salovey-Caruso emotional intelligence test. PsycTESTS Dataset. https://doi.org/10.1037/t05047-000
Sabini, J., & Silver, M. (2005). Why emotion names and experiences don’t neatly pair. Psychological Inquiry, 16, 1-10.
Salovey P, Mayer J. Emotional Intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality. 1990;9(3):185-211.
Topornycky, J. (2016, June). Balancing openness and interpretation in active listening – researchgate. Retrieved October 23, 2022, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315974687_Balancing_Openness_and_Interpretation_in_Active_Listening