The Art of Living Well Column – EU Jacksonville Magazine
By Kristi Lee Schatz, M.A.
published June 4, 2014 | View original publication (pg 16)
What’s important to you these days? What gets you excited, motivated, and ready to take action? For me, it’s a rather odd passion. I am consumed, to the point of obsession, with curiosity about how our learned social behaviors perpetuate inauthentic connection and emotional suppression. We hide behind our socially acceptable masks, hold in our emotions for fear of being vulnerable, and then wonder why we are unhappy and sick.
This Art of Living Well column is about providing readers with inspiration, hope, and practical tools for living peacefully. It’s also about addressing the psychological aspects of the system as a whole and exploring the underlying issues that keep us from truly living well. We all want to live in a thriving community and it starts with each of us taking control over our health and happiness. Unfortunately, there is a pattern in the social system that keeps some people shut down and disconnected, limiting their ability to fully reach their true potential.
As a child, did you learn about emotional intelligence or authentic relating? Were you taught creative ways to release your emotions? Did you learn how to calm your mind with mindfulness practices, relax your body through breathing techniques, or differentiate between an automatic reaction and a conscious response? Were you encouraged to take responsibility for your feelings and share them openly as they arose? Probably not.
We do not teach our children how to process their feelings because we were never taught. Instead of learning the basic tools for effective and authentic communication, we learn how to react, project, and disconnect. Our minds race out of control and our peace easily disturbed. Our only coping mechanism is to try to suppress our emotions, attempting to numb ourselves from having to feel. These unprocessed emotions become bottled up and eventually lead to physical, mental, and/or emotional distress. This has become the normal cycle we operate from.
Intense reactive outburst, depression from lack self-love, and anxiety from an overactive mind are just a few symptoms manifested from this maladaptive societal pattern. Too often we focus our efforts on treating the symptom, while ignoring the root cause. The western health care system is notorious for this behavior. Efforts are focused on managing the symptom, without fully acknowledging the needs of the whole person. This tendency is also true in our social system. We focus our attention on treating the unwanted behavioral symptoms that manifest in our communities, without acknowledging the systemic issues that perpetuate their existence.
Emotional Intelligence, as defined by Daniel Goleman in the Harvard Business Review, includes “self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.” These qualities are what contribute to highly effective leaders and to a sense of personal empowerment. Authentic relating is the social skill of openly and vulnerably sharing your true feelings as they arise in the moment from a place of personal ownership rather than blame. For instance, have you ever wanted to tell someone how their behavior was impacting you in the moment but you didn’t for fear of their reaction? Or perhaps you can recall a time when you reacted because someone made a statement that triggered you? Either way, your emotions and projections are yours to own. These are examples of learned social behaviors that perpetuate disconnection and a perceived unsafe environment for vulnerable sharing.
Authentic relating techniques increase emotional intelligence because they teach us how take ownership over our feelings as they arise and how to become self-aware of our responses. Rather than hiding, repressing, or reacting, we learn to observe from a place of curiosity instead of judgment.
While the cultural climate I grew up in did not foster theses adaptive social skills, I did eventually acquire them through specialized training. My life changed when I learned how to 1) consciously observe my thoughts and automatic reactions, 2) authentically express my true feelings from a place of personal ownership, 3) let go of judgment towards myself and others, and 4) stop trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations and instead follow my hearts desire. I often wonder what the community would be like if we integrated these skill sets as part of our normal social behavior.
As adults, we have a responsibility to break this cycle for the next generation. We live in a connected era where the access to empowering resources is greater than it has ever been. We have the proven tools and techniques to help us take our community to the next level. It’s time we weave a new conversation and skill set into the fabric of the social consciousness here in Jacksonville so we can create the thriving climate we all seek to live in.