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  • Dan Connors

How to not be an emotional moron. What quadrant are you in right now?

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive

Mark Brackett 2019

Are emotions good for us, or would we be better off without them? Many of us, especially males, had childhoods where emotions were almost taboo- especially sadness and fear. The subject of emotions is often ignored until things blow up or become unbearable. As human beings, our emotions are always there- reacting and prodding our behaviors, whether we like it or not.

Permission to Feel takes a look at the science of emotions, and encourages readers to look at their feelings from a wider perspective. Dr. Marc Brackett is the founder and director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a recognized expert in the field of emotions. Dr. Brackett sees emotions as essential to our survival in that they command attention to important stimuli, burning important experiences into our memories so that we learn from our mistakes. He preaches the benefits of being an "emotion scientist", able to survey our environment both inside and out for emotions like anger, fear, and joy while figuring out how to deal with them.

He sees five key areas in which emotions make our lives better (or worse if not regulated correctly)

- Emotions help us with learning and figuring out what to pay attention to.

- They help with decision-making skills, as strong emotions provoke decisive actions.

- Emotions have a profound health effect on the human body, especially if they are chronic and stress-related.

- They are key in strengthening social relations between humans. Emotions make us more willing to work together and cooperate.

- Most surprisingly, emotions help us with creativity, efficiency, and performance.

The two biggest prizes in this book are things Dr. Brackett invented- the RULER framework and the Mood Meter.

The Mood Meter is a helpful model that divides all emotions into four quadrants distinguished by color. One axis is the pleasantness of an emotion, while the other is the energy involved. See the chart below.

If you are in the green zone, you're feeling good, but a more restful and peaceful good, while if you're in the yellow zone, you also feel energized. In the blue zone are the bad emotions that come with a low-energy state, while the red zone contains the most dangerous emotions- the ones that come with high energy and ability to hurt others or ourselves.

The book uses the Mood Meter as a tool to help identify and categorize emotions so that they can be dealt with better. When we don't understand what the emotions are, or where they are coming from, it can scare us into confusion, inaction, and escalation. Some 50% of the emotions that we feel in a day are negative, another 20% are neutral, and only 30% are positive. Sometimes we may be in denial of our emotional state, if only because we want to appear strong and in control to the outside world- concealing our true emotions as much as possible.

Dr. Brackett's second contribution in this book is the RULER framework of dealing with emotions. RULER is an acronym that stands for the five steps of dealing with emotional content.

R stands for recognize. You can't deal with emotions without being able to recognize them, in both yourself and in others. The skill of emotional intelligence is a key asset that allows us to go beyond other's defenses and protests to realize when they are feeling strong emotions. Since there's so much denial and shame in emotional expression, we need to become expert in hearing emotional tones of voice, recognizing non-verbal cues, and asking the right questions to uncover possible problems.

U stands for Understanding. Once you recognize that emotions are present in a situation, you need to ask the question "Why?" What is the underlying cause of the emotion? Is your spouse appearing sullen and upset because they're mad at you, at someone else, or just having a bad day? Only by understanding what's behind the emotion can we effectively deal with them.

L stands for Labeling. Brackett introduces the concept of emotional granularity, which is a more detailed way to describe and label emotions precisely. Saying someone is "sad", is a general emotion, but saying they are "a little bummed", "distraught", or "devastated" gives more information that helps label the emotion and increase the understanding. If you can catch emotions at a lower energy level, you can help avoid major blowups later.

E stands for Expressing. This is the scary part. Honestly expressing emotions is one of the hardest things we ever do, because it makes us vulnerable and possibly opens a door of even more emotion coming right back at us. We need to be aware of cultural norms on expressing emotions, power inequalities, gender differences, and any unwritten rules. But we have to at some time be able to express our feelings in order to keep them from boiling over and hurting our very health.

R stands for Regulating. This is the top of the emotional pyramid, where you learn how and when to express emotions while keeping yourself from losing control. Dr. Brackett has many helpful techniques for regulating emotional situations to make the best of them.

1- Mindful breathing for a few minutes helps to calm emotions at any difficult time.

2- Forward-looking strategies give us an opportunity to avoid unpleasant situations before they even happen.

3- Attention-shifting strategies help us to look away from upsetting things.

4- Reframing strategies help us look at triggering stimuli differently and turn a strong negative into something else.

5- The meta moment gives the person permission to stop and pause a few seconds when they're particularly triggered and about to lose control. Use the pause to de-activate and ask your best self how they would respond to this situation. Often during an argument things escalate until someone says something they later regret. The goal with regulation is to catch yourself before you go too far. Arguments are good when they bring out issues that need to be dealt with, but they become destructive quickly when permanent damage is done to a relationship.

Permission to Feel ends with three excellent chapters on how to use these tools in the real world- at home, in schools, and at work. The RULER approach has been used in many schools with success. The author would like to see it expanded to homes and workplaces, where toxic situations can easily arise involving emotions and parents or bosses. As with anything else that people don't understand very well or feel comfortable with, emotions and emotional health are not stressed by many employers, and the result is unhappy employees and high turnover rates.

Parents are the number one influence on how their children end up dealing with emotions. Most of them don't do a very good job. This book is a helpful guide for those who grew up in emotionally stilted families and want to do better. Emotional intelligence can be learned according to this book, and the more in-tune we all are with our emotional states, the better for all of us.

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