Thursday, 4 February 2010

More on Emotional Literacy

Emotional literacy is definitely something we would never have had on the timetable in the 70s and there are still those that scathingly label it 'navel gazing'. Those people also make remarks about kids just needing to toughen up but then go on to recount the single bullying incident that has stayed with and haunted them for their entire life! No kidding...this happens a lot!

No, back in the seventies the biggest fear for our guiding adults appeared to be the slim chance that we might just get a little 'too big for our boots' and therefore a general breaking of the spirit was seen as the most effective means of child control. When I was a child, adults didn't tend to listen to me describe anything much, let alone indulging me telling them how I felt! Clearly I am making up for all that enforced bottling up now.

There are still a few teachers that have yet to be convinced about emotional literacy. As always, the first part of 'change management' is the 'selling', the persuading people why it's a good idea and helping people to buy into it. I have several methods of doing this but one is to ask people if they can think of a negative school memory. It is nearly always the result of a teacher (or another child) abusing their power. We call that bullying now. I ask them to think how they felt and what they would have liked to happen. Often people express a want to have been heard, an opportunity to 'fight' back, to explain how they felt or what they wish had happened instead. Those that can talk about it do anyway! Some people are so emotionally 'blocked' and such a conversation is clearly beyond them - so I only draw on the examples people volunteer. This highlights how things were done in the past, and how we have moved on. The fact the memory has stayed with them says a lot in itself.

I, of course, have completely bought into the idea. Emotional literacy is needed to learn from our experiences, develop resilience, build and maintain healthy relationships with others and help ourselves and other people.


The most significant things that I have learned about emotional literacy

1) Emotions are emotions and we should never deny how we feel. All emotions are legitimate and if someone says, 'I feel angry' you cannot tell them that they don't. In fact it's best you don't! However, we do have a choice about how we behave as a result of what we are feeling. So for example a person could feel angry but they do have a choice about how they express that anger. They can be taught 'cool off time', re-framing (she snapped at me she hates me changes to she snapped at me, she must be in grumpy or tired), to become aware of flash points etc etc (there is a lot more) so that they do not react in the heat of the moment and cause the situation to escalate.

Kids are also taught 'I' statements to describe how they feel because
*nobody can challenge the statement 'I feel...'
*YOU made me angry is more confrontational and stops the person speaking from owning their emotion as the thing they need to sort out
* The complete statement is: when you....I felt angry.....I would like...
e.g. When you laughed at me, I felt angry, I would like you to stop laughing at me. It appears to work for kids.

2) We are all 'wired up' differently and in some of us emotions are triggered more readily than others. This is not really a surprise is it. Look at:
•Neuroticism - high neuroticism means a greater tendency to experience negative emotions
•Extraversion - extraverts pump everything straight out so are more likely to make situations escalate and be less in control of their output!
•Introversion - can lead to 'bottling up' possibly followed by an explosion.
•Agreeableness - low agreeableness can make us suspicious of others' intentions and make us less able to empathise
•Feelers and thinkers - clashes between these two can lead to terrible anger inducing misunderstandings!

So some children (and adults) need more help with managing emotions than others.

3) Anger can be expressed in four different ways:
• Aggressively - usually makes situations escalate. This is seen as more socially acceptable in males. Probably very appropriate in life or death situations!
• Passively - no external response, anger turns inward as self hatred (e.g. common in self-harmers). More commonly a female response.
•Indirectly - complaining about whatever induced the anger 'behind its back.' Because the 'moaning' never actually addresses the situation, it is perpetuated and often the person moaning starts to feel more and more negative. This a more typically female response to anger.
•Assertively (like the 'I' messages above). Does not always work but has much more chance of addressing whatever induced the anger without causing the situation to escalate.

4) When another person irritates us, it is usually an indication of something we have suppressed in ourselves.
I could write heaps about the subconscious because it's fascinating (and probably will at some point). This is best illustrated by example:
If you find yourself really irritated by someone being a show-off/dominating the conversation/being overtly flirtatious/being chaotic/being a control freak/being sloppy/being judgemental/etc etc, chances are, it is something you have suppressed into your subconscious. The danger of the just that, we are not aware of it, and we might well do many of the things that irritates us about others, but we are unaware of it in ourselves. I often hear people accuse others of things they themselves are prime perpetrators of! So now, if I do accuse someone of something (in my head usually), I ask what my relationship to that 'something' is!

5) There are many more emotions that are worse to feel than anger. If a child expresses anger, chances are they are less 'damaged' than one that expresses nothing at all. In the hierarchy of feelings, anger is certainly not at the bottom!

And here's a self reflection that is still in draft form. The more of the following statements that you agree with, the more emotionally literate you probably are.

1) I can find adequate words to describe how I feel.
2) I have plenty of confidants to talk things through with.
3) I can ask for help when I feel worried, upset or angry.
4) I can recognise the physical sensations experienced when I am angry e.g. heart bests faster, grit your teeth etc
5) I do not bottle things up.
6) I understand that whatever emotion I am experiencing (anger, upset, fear) I have a choice about how to behave as a result of that feeling.
7) I accept that all feelings are valid and do not try to suppress them i.e. I believe you have the right to feel what you feel.
8) I can ‘read’ other people’s emotions readily.
9) I can easily pinpoint the cause of any emotion I feel.
10) I can take some responsibility for when I am upset or angry – if relevant e.g. I might be tired, there might be another underlying cause.
11) I am able to control my behaviour when someone has upset or angered me e.g. I do not instantly ‘hit’ back.
12) I never moan about someone behind his or her back (indirect anger) – I talk directly to him/her to sort out any problems.
13) I take the initiative to ‘sort situations out’ rather than letting things fester.
14) I am good at resolving situations in a way that leaves everyone feeling better.
15) I understand that everyone has different ‘buttons’ and what might not upset one person will upset another.
16) I am aware of my own ‘buttons’ e.g. believing someone is implying I am not intelligent/too lazy etc.
17) If I cause upset or anger in another unintentionally, I readily apologise for their upset (rather than teasing them for being sensitive for example).


  1. Hi Molls, I buy into the idea of emotional literacy too. I am sure that everyone has their own take on it.

    I'll make two observations: Even in the time where "getting too big for their boots" was most feared, I reckon my parents were spectacularly bad at emotional literacy. I did not have good rôle models. Second, personally, I have an issue with being told "you made me angry". Sure, there are times when anger is perhaps the most appropriate response to a stimulus, but the angry person owns it, not the person stimulating the response.

  2. This is really part of my Uni course I have just done a self audit (really interesting and showed that I have two dominating, and conflicting, learning styles which explains why sometimes I am great at decision making and other times I dither) then followed it up by looking into behavioural theory to solve a real life issue I was having. Actually, rather than fill your comment box I might blog about it....

    C x

  3. Norwich Art College put on a whole day training for the staff on Emotional Intelligence. It was brilliant but when you looked around to see who was taking part they were all the people that 'got it' and the ones missing were the ones you wanted to coax into the room. (I cleaned that up, I originally wrote 'drag in by the scruff of their necks'!)

  4. Emotional literacy: As children we are shaped by our parents/guardians and by our reactive responces. When 40 I had the opportunity of reading a letter written by my Grandfather to my Father, it was an eye opener! Because it was so very formal, containing no warmth or affection. GF was on holiday with GM & younger son. The letter was an instruction to pick,store & bottle fruit. From reading that letter I was then able to deduce the upbringing of my own father, plus his reactive relationship in my own upbringing, this it enabled me to reflect, understand, forgive and make internal changes to express clearly, honestly and lovingly my feelings.

  5. Ooo yes Heron - they did the best with what they knew at the time. It's not about accusations or blame...but learning.

  6. Codgi - yes, emotional literacy is on the up. The other part of 'I' messages is about being prepared to be sorry for any upset you might have caused, intentionally or unintentionally...actually being sorry for the upset.

    Carol - I will very much look forward to that blog. I have an unpredictable relationship with decision making too!

    Sandra - a lot of training is preaching to the converted...same old faces...but at least the converted do exist. Slowly and steadily moving in the right direction!

  7. Oh good, another thing to read, self-assess and then ponder on my results compared to everyone else.

    I answered yes to all of them except for No. 11, because I am a shouter and if someone makes me upset I will either shout or be very very terse with them. They are left in no doubt whatsoever that I am annoyed.

    Btw I'm still adding to your AR post - I've listed my choices because I am still quite amazed that others have scored so low. Does nobody put their salad in the bottom of the fridge, take off muddy shoes when they come in etc etc.

  8. Yes, yes it's not about blaming I absolutely agree. Not at all if we are able to get a glimpse of past and reach and understanding, then it can assist us with what is going on in the present. Sorry for not making myself clearer :)

  9. FF - Oh no....was never meant to give people complexes! You do realise it's envy on my part. I would love for those things to come naturally to me. Off to look at your other comment..

    Hi Heron...I was just agreeing with made yourself perfectly clear.
    That's the problem with electronic communication, had you seen my head, you'd have see it nodding and smilling

  10. I came to the conclusion I was one of those "Scruff of the neck people".


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