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A trusted non-profit guide to mental health and well-being

Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. – Helpguide Co-Founder

Emotional Intelligence Toolkit

Step 3: What We Need for Social Connection

Learn How to Build and Wisely Use Emotional Muscle

Our ability to create nurturing and meaningful connections with others is dependent on our ability to understand and connect with our own emotions. When we can tolerate and constructively manage any emotion—including feelings of sadness, anger, or fear—we are said to be emotionally intelligent. The challenge for many of us is that some emotions can be threatening to the degree that we become overwhelmed by stress. When this happens, we go into a reflexive fight, flight, or freeze mode and lose control of our behavior.

Emotions are messages

We need to understand that our emotions are messages. Though not always messages that we like, our feelings tell us a lot about what matters to us: what we like and dislike, what we care about or fear, what makes us happy and what makes us sad. In this way, our emotions inform our decision-making processes. If we don’t disable or push our emotions away, they can also alert us to the fact that the emotion we’re feeling has more to do with the past and old habits of thought than what is going on in the present. Feelings based on past experiences rather than those in the present can be inappropriate, foolish, or unnecessary. What we do with the messages that these emotions send us is independent of the emotional experience—provided that we remain in our stress comfort zone.

Watch the video: Developing emotional awareness

Social connection depends on emotional acceptance

Stress, emotional awareness, and social connection are interrelated

  • Emotions that threaten you can trigger overwhelming stress.
  • Nurturing social connection can override limiting and inappropriate fight, flight, or freeze responses—keeping stress within your comfort zone.
  • The Ride the Wild Horse meditation can help you avoid becoming overwhelmed by the stress of avoiding emotions you fear. In addition, by fostering an emotional connection to yourself through emotional awareness, you’ll enhance your ability to connect to others in nurturing, meaningful, and productive ways.

Ride the Wild Horse: More than a mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness practices that foster relaxation, spirituality, and mind-body connection have been around for centuries. But many people either discontinue their meditation practice or are unable to remain mindful in a world that has grown increasingly complex, confusing, and often threatening for reasons that have more to do with social and emotional issues than truly life-threatening incidents.

The goal of the Ride the Wild Horse meditation is not simply to help you relax and stay focused, but to carry these feelings through into your daily life, even in situations that feel threatening, stressful, or uncomfortable.

The Ride the Wild Horse meditations focus on breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, but also take into consideration barriers to practicing the meditation. When you begin to feel strong emotions, they can become so uncomfortable that they interrupt the meditation process. By integrating quick stress relief into the meditation process, Ride the Wild Horse teaches you how to remain focused and tolerate strong emotions.

Learning to remain mindful under stress also opens the door to positive social connection with others. This, in turn, helps you to reduce stress further, enabling you to be more mindful.

If you fear the outcome of intense emotions, understand that learning to mindfully experience strong feelings like anger can give you the ability to contain your emotions and control your behavior.

Emotional awareness is a skill you can learn now

Emotional awareness is a skill that can be learned at any time of life by practicing the Ride the Wild Horse meditation.

Emotions quickly come and go, if you let them

You may be worried that once you reconnect to the emotions you’ve been avoiding, you’ll be stuck with them forever, but that’s not so. When we don’t obsess about our emotions, even the most painful and difficult feelings subside and lose their power to control our attention. When our feelings are freed, the core emotions of anger, sadness, fear, and joy quickly come and go. Throughout the day, you’ll see, read, or hear something that momentarily triggers a strong feeling of some sort. But if you don’t focus on the feeling, it won’t last, and a different emotion will soon take its place.