Emotional Intelligence Vs. Common Sense

Have you ever thought you had something figured out, only to later learn you had it ass-backwards?

File this story under Common Sense Isn’t Common . . .

I used to think that emotional intelligence is the ability to control myself regardless of how I felt. I classified myself as extremely emotional intelligent because:

  • I’m very nice even when I’m very angry.
  • I’ve mastered the pretending-to-be-fine skill set.
  • I’m a passive aggressive communication specialist.
  • I know what the term gaslighting means.

Turns out, there’s a difference between controlling your behavior and actually dealing with your emotions in a healthy way.

Turns out, my version of “emotional intelligence” (ignoring and suppressing my feelings) causes eating disorders, drinking problems, anxiety/depression and all the other issues.

Who knew?

The first rule of emotional intelligence is: Understand there is a difference between what’s happening in the world and what you tell yourself is happening in the world.

I think. Therefore I am (my own biggest problem).

As kids (and adults), we’re taught to believe that our emotions are caused by outside forces. OTHER PEOPLE hurt our feelings. Stressful situations make us upset. The lack of time, money or energy is maddening.

And then we’re TRAINED in social niceties. People who can put up with the most shit without over-reacting win. Congratulations. You may have ulcers and autoimmune disease and chronic pain, but gosh darn it, people like you. Well done.

Here’s the thing: We’ve got it backwards. Emotions are NOT the result of what is happening in the outside world. The call is coming from inside the house. Emotions are literally the sensations of thought.

For example, as I write this, my dog is whining anxiously at the cat. Under my desk. They are competing to be close to me. My first thought is that my dog is making me mad. But in reality, my dog is just making a sound. And sounds are neutral.

It’s my thoughts about the sound that are pissing me off.

“Why do I have to listen to this?”
“I shouldn’t have to put up with this while I work.”
“I’m never going to get this done.”
“No one ever walks the dog but me.”
“I hate cats. Why do we have a cat?”
“And THIS is why I can’t get shit done.”

Sound familiar?

In order to deal with this, I am applying the second rule of emotional intelligence: Take 100 percent responsibility for everything you think and feel.

I realize that the whining dog is not what’s making me mad. I am disturbing myself with my thoughts about the dog-whining-at-the-cat situation.

It may sound insane to say that I am disturbing myself. But it’s actually brilliant. Ownership is the only way to avoid being a victim of circumstance. Taking full responsibility is the only way to separate what you can control from what you can’t. It’s the only way to see you have a choice.

It’s the only way to emotional freedom.

I cannot control the sound my dog is making. However, I can put my dog outside or in her kennel. Or put the cat in the utility room. Or let them continue to roam and just stop paying attention to the drama.

I can also continue feel anger and use that as an excuse for my lack of productivity. That is a choice, too.

I’ve got a lot of options!

What are emotions and why do we feel them?

When I think the thought: “I’ve got options,” I feel better. Motivated. Powerful.

Notice that I went from pissed-off to powerful by changing my thoughts. The dog had nothing to do with it!

Hello emotional intelligence. Where have you been all my life?

When I was drinking, I dismissed the notion that my bad habit had anything to do with feeling my emotions. Because I was feeling my feelings all day every day. I usually woke up feeling shame (hangover), then guilt. Then anxiety. Then anger at the bullshit of the day. Then self-pity. Then relief (happy hour).

I felt all of those nasty emotions while teaching yoga. Volunteering at my kids’ schools. Working with clients. Being a good friend. Running errands. Being helpful and nice and super cool.

I did feel all of the feelings. I also hid them. From myself and everyone else. Because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do.

And that’s why I drank.

Two years sober, I can now see that alcohol was not the problem. A lack of emotional intelligence was my problem. I had to learn to handle my thoughts and feeling so I could start living a life I no longer needed to escape.

Most sobriety programs focus on changing our behavior. They talk about triggers and cravings and habit formation and personal care routines. And all of that is important. But trying to control our behavior with the same thoughts and feelings that drive that behavior is hard. Joyless. And most likely short-lived.

It’s so much simpler to learn how to use our emotions as the information they were designed to be. Emotions aren’t mysterious phenomenon. They are simply the sensations of thought.

Just as you hear what you say, you feel what you think.

You feel because you think.

And you feel a lot because you think a lot.

Over 60,000 thoughts move through your brain per day. Nobody has the bandwidth to process all of that information. You can only pay attention to a small fraction (about 5 percent) of your thoughts. So your nervous system (responsible for keeping us safe) picks up the slack, monitoring your subconscious for conflicting beliefs. You’re alerted of problems via painful feelings.

Conflicting beliefs feel bad. But pain is how the body gets our attention. Our emotions serve a purpose. They are an invitation to make things right.

It was pretty easy to quit drinking. I felt so much better. But the reason I was able to stay sober after sobriety lost the new-car smell is that I OWN my experience of life. The best part of knowing I am my own problem is that I also know that I’m my own solution.

I’ve got options.

I’ve also got a cat for sale. Includes a whiny German Shepherd. . .

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Do you wish you drank less but find it difficult to stop once you start? Are the legal experts in your head constantly debating the problem—and what you should do? That's alcohol use disorder.
You’re not alone. Many of us have been duped into using alcohol as a consolation prize for neglecting our needs--and then criticized for becoming dependent on it. I was able to quit drinking after 30 years without AA, rehab or willpower. My energy, vitality and joy have returned. I help high-functioning drinkers experience sobriety as a superpower, not a disease. 

How to Overcome Alcohol Use Disorder

To overcome alcohol use disorder you must admit that alcohol is causing more stress than it's worth. It's not fun anymore. Drinking too much is a form of self-neglect, not self-care.

Becoming a Non-Drinker

What's the difference between "recovering alcoholic" and a non-drinker? The words you chose have a big impact on your experience of sobriety. If you don't like what you feel, change what you think.