Infants are naturally reliant on others, completely depending on their parents for all their physical and emotional needs. This dependence continues into childhood where most needs continue to be met by parents, while significant others including adults and children begin to play an increasingly important role with regard to emotional needs such as the need for approval and belonging.
This dependency is an important part of development as it creates a space in which the child is open to learning the social norms and acceptable behaviors, adopting these in the search for attention and approval, behaving in a manner that is likely to result in their emotional needs being met.
Unfortunately as we grow older this need and dependence has an increasing likelihood of eliciting unwanted results ranging from fear and anxiety, to bullying and other mob induced behavior. This does not mean that we as human beings can function without others, or that we should even try, but rather that as we grow we need to become sufficiently self reliant as to be able to determine how to behave and take responsibility for our choices.
Responsibility may seem scary especially when applied as “a duty, obligation or liability for which someone is held accountable.”In fact it may even be the fear of responsibility that in some way holds us hostage.
However before we consider how we are responsible to others, let’s first look at how we are responsible to ourselves.
Consider this; your kids are fighting in the lounge, screaming and yelling at each other. You go in to separate them and ask who started. What you hear is a ‘barrage of blame’, which you may find yourself trying to untangle. Yet in this sibling language of dependence where “he hit me first” and “she took my iPod without asking” your children are not only justifying their behavior and looking to escape responsibility for the fight. What they are doing is justifying their emotionally driven response to which they merely “reacted”.
This may appear to be the immature response of a child, but don’t we all in some way or another account for our feelings and responses by referring to an event or people, or even our childhood. It is true that feelings of vulnerability can make us avoid situations; hold us back from taking risks. Anger can propel us to protect ourselves or to seek justice.
How we respond to a situation is often influenced, if not governed by our emotions. When our emotional response is seen to be the result of individual’s actions or events, we are essentially at the mercy of others, powerless. So, if “he hit me first”, he made me angry and I hit him back.
While it may appear as if we relieve ourselves of responsibility for our actions, no longer being held accountable, the price we pay is high.
When we attribute our emotional response to a situation or person we become powerless, completely dependent on the outside world for how we feel and act, or should I say re-act, because while we may act to avoid a negative feeling, or to retain or re-experience a positive one, we do this much like a drug addict with no consideration for the bigger picture.
Taking back your power means recognizing how your thoughts and attributions contribute to and even create your feelings. In my previous article EQ: Know yourself! I referred to these as emotional thoughts, thoughts which elicit emotion. Simply put if I think of something as being dangerous I am going to experience fear, and if I fear it I will avoid it. But why is it dangerous? Why do some people regard starting their own business as a challenge, while others see it as too risky to even try?
A part of this is the logical, cognitive evaluation of the environment and a healthy consideration for the potential risks involved. But a part of this evaluation has to include thoughts regarding one’s self including ones abilities and resources. The moment you go there in your head poor self esteem, self doubt and anxiety as well as fears regarding support structures and possible judgment of others all come crashing in.
It is the same with every single experience where our beliefs about ourselves and others, as well as our beliefs about the world that influences how we interpret them, and through this the meaning we attribute to them. It is this meaning that then influences how we feel, and ultimately react.
Emotional intelligence is not about ignoring your emotions or trying to act in spite of them. It comes from listening to the message our emotions are communicating to us, understanding that these are influenced by our emotional thoughts and redesigning them.
To achieve this we have to know ourselves and accept responsibility for how we feel, recognizing and acknowledging that our feelings are generally the consequence of our own thoughts about life events and interpersonal situations.