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Children learn to perceive and interact with the world in a number of ways; one of the major channels through which children receive knowledge and experience are parents. By observing parents’ emotional reactions, facial expressions, by obeying or disobeying their verbal and non-verbal prescriptions, children adopt a complex of social norms and behaviors, which they will use to interact with the world around them. At the same time, based on parents’ reactions to their needs, actions, and feelings, children also learn to express themselves, to understand themselves, and form their self-esteem. And, probably, the most valuable skill a person can obtain in early childhood is being able to feel and express emotions freely.

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Parenthood is not the only factor defining the character and temperament of each particular individual, but it is definitely among the most influential ones. Unfortunately, not all parents realize the importance of teaching children to stay in touch with their emotions—understand and embrace them, express them in socially acceptable ways, listen to the needs these emotions point at, and so on. This is especially important in the case of negative emotions: anger, rage, sadness, envy, and so on. Many parents directly or indirectly forbid their children to express them, causing a great deal of harm to children without often realizing it. Nowadays, when western society is living in a state of constant frustration, when depression is the second major cause of disability around the world, restoring the connection to emotions and developing emotional intelligence becomes a top priority task for every living person.

But what is this emotional intelligence? One of the numerous definitions (and perhaps one of the most exact) states that emotional intelligence “refers to an ability to recognize the meanings of emotions and their relationships, and to reason and problem-solve on the basis of them. Emotional intelligence is involved in the capacity to perceive emotions, assimilate emotion-related feelings, understand the information of those emotions, and manage them” (UNH). Unfortunately, developed emotional intelligence still remains the privilege of a relative minority of people; for many of them, the capacity to even recognize their own emotions is disrupted, due to various reasons. When feeling angry, depressed, outrageous, detached, or negative in some other way, people usually prefer to avoid direct contact with their sensations and suppress what they feel. This is probably why alcohol and entertainment industries are so popular and developed around the world.

At the same time, as we can see from the definition above, emotions—even negative ones—play an extremely important role in our daily lives. One of the primary functions of negative emotions is to point at our needs that have been ignored or remained unsatisfied in some other way. For example, many people feel envious when their friends, colleagues, or other people achieve something they do not have yet, or will not have in the future. Envy—although often being labeled as an unworthy emotion or even as a sin—in fact tells us what we want or need, even if you do not realize it yet (IFR). If you are indifferent to automobiles and your friend buys a new car, most likely you will not feel envious—a car is not among your needs or wants, so you remain calm; you might even feel sincerely happy for your friend. However, if you desperately wanted a car but could not afford one, and your friend keeps posting happy photos of himself in a new car, you will probably feel this heavy, sometimes painful sensation in your chest: the want, the chagrin that someone has what you cannot afford (and want for yourself, deep inside).

Having one or several of negative emotions can be confusing and frustrating—usually because of social and religious norms.
Many of us have this stereotype that “feeling envious/angry/sad makes you a bad/weak/sinful person.” As a result, in addition to the unpleasant sensation of envy, a person gets the feeling of guilt for feeling something “unacceptable.” Such a person will probably try to somehow hide this emotion, suppress it, try to distract themselves from it; however, unless the unsatisfied need is there, this will not help. The same refers to anger, sadness, and other “negatives.”

At the same time, those people who possess developed emotional intelligence or at least those who are capable of recognizing their own emotions, will not feel bad about the negative emotions they have. Instead, they will try to figure out (and most likely they will) what stands behind a certain emotion: who or what caused it, what its meaning is, what need or situation it points at, and what can be done to let this emotion go. Envy can become a motivator for you to make more effort towards achieving something you want—or it can at least show your true needs. Anger, being pure energy, can give you strength to overcome obstacles and move towards your goal; it can also help you defend yourself (physically or psychologically). Fear is a perfect alarm system, preserving you from getting in trouble. Sadness slows you down, giving your nervous system time to heal, making you revise your values, needs, sensations, letting you store energy to become able to move on. And of course, the same refers to positive emotions. Happiness and joy make you feel better, gives you energy, and helps you perpetuate behaviors that turned out to be effective in achieving a goal or satisfying a need; curiosity motivates you to learn something new; and so on (IFR).

Emotions are key to understanding yourself. They are a shortcut to the depths of your personality, helping you navigate through reality, filling the cognitive gap that rational and logical thinking cannot cover. Emotions can define your behaviors entirely if you succumb to them, but the good news is that it is possible to manage emotions—not by suppressing or ignoring them, but by giving them a constructive direction instead, clothing them in socially-acceptable forms, and letting them flow freely. To do so, one must be able to face their emotions directly, accept all of them even if they seem inappropriate, understand what they mean, and act based on this understanding. This is basically what emotional intelligence is, and this is why it is so important to develop it.

Works Cited

  1. “What is Emotional Intelligence (EI)?” UNH. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016. .
  2. Lake, Jane. “Why are Emotions Important?” IFR. N.p., 12 July 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2016. .
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