Literacy, as in the ability to read and write, is taught to most of us from a young age, but how many of you are aware of your emotional literacy? This has nothing to do with knowing your ABCs and everything to do with knowing your ‘how I feels’. (That worked in my head.)
‘Emotional literacy’ is a phrase attributed to psychotherapist Claude Steiner who described it as ‘the ability to understand your emotions, the ability to listen to others and empathise with their emotions, and the ability to express emotions productively.’
This is a fancy way of saying that you’re able to know what you’re feeling, and you can tell what others are feeling too.
Basically, an empath.
Being literate means you can read a book, and being emotionally literate means you can read a room. Unfortunately, emotional literacy is nowhere near as valued by society as logical literacy is. Society encourages and rewards the use of the logical part of your brain. It starts early at school. Besides all the tests kids study for every day, there are spelling bees, science fairs, ‘math Olympics’ in the States, and tons of other competitions where kids are rewarded with ribbons and trophies for using the logical part of their brains.
This is all well and good, but where’s the trophy for being able to tell when someone is upset and needs support? Where’s the blue ribbon for knowing when you’ve hurt someone’s feelings and apologising to them? How about an award for knowing when someone is having a rough time and baking them cookies?! Or gluten-free muffins, in my case – and you’ll find a delicious recipe in my book HumanFood 101! Seriously though, the fact is, most people are unaware of the existence of such a concept as emotional literacy, let alone place any value on it. But just imagine what the world would look like if emotional literacy was encouraged and rewarded as much as logical abilities.
If empaths were the norm, and people were open and sincere with each other – and themselves.
If everyone were present in each moment and in right relationship with themselves, with each other, and with the world around them.
If each person behaved in a way that was in the best interests of everyone involved.
Can you imagine how the results of this emotional literacy would ripple out through the world?
That sounds like a pretty freakin’ amazing world to live in if you ask me. But where do you start? Should we be going around giving out gold stars and prizes to people who can tell when they need to apologise for being an asshole?(Actually, that would be kind of awesome. I like that idea. Note to self: order gold star stickers later.)
But seriously – how do you begin to flex your emotional literacy muscles?
According to Steiner, there are five parts to emotional literacy:
1. Knowing your own feelings.
This is a pretty straightforward one, or it should be. Are you able to identify what you’re feeling at any given moment?
Do you ask yourself daily and regularly how you feel? About both good things or things that irritate you? Are you honest with yourself? Start keeping a ‘fuck it’ journal where you write your feelings in full, however they come out of you. Say ‘fuck it’ to worrying about spelling or making it sound grammatically correct – just let the words flow out of you.
2. Having a heartfelt sense of empathy.
If you’re here reading or watching this blog, then chances are you’re a fellow empath. So I’m assuming you’re aware of the feelings of those around you – you can read the emotions in a room and intuitively know how people are feeling.
Being an empath makes you a natural and un-manipulative leader, and you sincerely desire the best outcome for all in the situation. Ask yourself how you can support others to meet the best version of themselves, where they find themselves and in a way where they are doing it.
Learn to ask good questions. We all know there are no dumb questions, only dumb people. KIDDING!!!! Joking aside, though, some questions go a bit deeper than others.
3. Learning to manage your emotions
This is a big one. It’s one thing to be able to recognise if you’re angry, and it’s quite another to know how to manage said anger properly. Rather than just witnessing yourself throwing furniture out the window in a rage and thinking, ‘Huh, I must be angry!’ you need to learn how to manage that anger.
Big emotions are juice. They are like fuel you can utilise towards whatever you choose to create – the trick is you need to be able to direct them rather than projectile-vomit them out at people. (You’re welcome for that lovely visual.) Icky emotions are particularly potent. The ickier, the better, I say. Learn to tolerate and hang out in them rather than trying to get rid of them. Wriggle around in them like a pig rolling in the mud. (Another lovely visual, I know.) Once you are at peace with how they feel in you, you can direct them better. I love using dance for this. Shake it out, or as Taylor Swift says, ‘Shake it off!’
This is obviously simplistic, but the more you practise, the easier it becomes.
4. Repairing emotional problems
Are you responsible for your actions? Are you able to admit you’ve messed up and do something to make amends or fix it?
Acknowledging where you have missed the mark is magical. It repairs the foundation of anything you’re building. Missing the mark and just carrying on is like a sieve under whatever you build. Claiming a mistake has power. Be brave and claim it.
5. Emotional interactivity
This is where it all sort of comes together. ‘Emotional interactivity’ means sensing what those around you are feeling and knowing what to do about it. Sort of like a Jedi Master – you’ll sense when there’s a disturbance in the Force and be able to act appropriately, hopefully without having to grab a lightsabre and go on a quest across a galaxy far, far away.
This takes practice but start with the small stuff and trust your intuition over what your head is telling you.