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Posts tagged ‘emotional intelligence’

Emotions: Four Ways to Defeat Hijacking

SOURCE:  Ken Sande

In last week’s blog, we considered a neurological/emotional process known as “hijacking.” This week we will look at four steps to defend yourself from this problem.

But first, let me illustrate the behavioral signs of hijacking with a short clip from the movie, Cinderella Man.

In this scene, Mae Braddock is struggling with a deep fear that her husband, James, is going to be killed in an upcoming boxing match with Max Baer, who has reportedly killed two men in the ring. Watch how Mae’s emotions overpower her in this scene (click here to view the clip).

Mae’s outburst at her children demonstrates the three classic signs of “amygdala hijacking”: (1) the sudden onset (2) of an intense emotional reaction (3) that is later regretted.

Part of this dynamic can be traced to tensions between different parts of the brain, which no longer function as seamlessly as God originally designed them.

Competition in the Brain

Last week we noted that because of the way the brain is wired, sensory impulses arrive at the limbic system, where emotions are centered, a few nanoseconds before they get to the neocortex, where rational thinking is located. This means that our emotions can get rolling before we are able to rationally process critical information.

Using functional neuroimaging, a team of neuroscientists led by Matthew Lieberman discovered another competing relationship between the amygdala (a central part of the limbic system) and the neocortex.

Picture1 - CopyThey found that when the amygdala is highly stimulated with intense emotions, it utilizes more blood and oxygen than normal, leaving less of both for the neocortex. This deficit causes a corresponding decrease in our capacity for reasoning, problem solving, and impulse control. This can lead to a temporary loss of 10 to 15 IQ points!

Yes, you really do get dumber when you’re highly emotional.

So when someone asks, “What were you thinking?” after an emotional outburst, part of your answer can be, “I was thinking with a lot less brain power than I normally have at my disposal.”

Practical Defenses Against Hijacking

Realizing that emotional hijacking makes it difficult to think clearly, our ministry has developed a few simple acrostics to make it easier for you to manage your words and actions wisely in stressful situations.

One of these acrostics is set forth in this principle: “To become more self-aware and self-engaging, READ yourself accurately.” This acrostic summarizes four key steps that can help you resist hijacking:

  • Recognize your emotions
  • Evaluate their source
  • Anticipate the consequences of following them
  • Direct them on a constructive course

Recognize – What am I feeling?

Neuroimaging, as well as practical experience, have shown that labeling emotions can help to reduce their intensity and shift more of their management back to the prefrontal cortex.

For example, in a study conducted by Dr. Lieberman, when people attached a word like “angry” to an angry-looking face, neuro-activity in the amygdala, which processes fear, panic and other strong emotions, decreased significantly. This dampening effect was accompanied by a corresponding increase of activity in the neocortex, which controls impulses.

Recognizing and labeling emotions also helps us to pull them out of the shadows and identify those that pose risks to our relationships. Just as pneumonia is a more dangerous illness than a common cold, bitterness is more dangerous than disappointment, self-pity can lead to more problems than sadness, and fear can be more crippling than concern.

So it is important to practice looking into our own hearts and accurately applying labels such as sad, discouraged, depressed, angry, lonely, embarrassed, rejected, bitter, jealous, and self-pity, to name a few.

If you’re not used to doing this, a way to practice identifying emotions is to read a novel or watch a movie and constantly ask yourself, “What is that character feeling?” As you get better at reading emotions in others, you’ll get better at reading them in yourself.

Evaluate – Why am I feeling this emotion?

The next step is to ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” Asking these kinds of questions helps to move your thought process from the amygdala to the neocortex.

When I’m attempting to override a hijacking, I actually visualize grabbing my thoughts with both hands and dragging them from the back of my brain to the front of my brain, where my prefrontal cortex (and reasoning capacity) is located.

That’s also where all my sermon applications, memorized Scriptures, and lessons learned the hard way are stored, which is exactly what I need to draw on in order to defeat emotional hijacking.

More importantly, asking yourself why you’re feeling certain emotions helps to identify the circumstances and desires that are driving them, which is a crucial step toward controlling them (see James 4:1-3; Matt. 15:18).

The process looks like this: “I’m feeling angry. Why? Because Corlette just questioned my judgment. Why does that bother me so much? Because I’m proud and want her unqualified trust, respect, and support. Why else? Because I’m busy and I’m lazy and don’t want to spend more time explaining myself to her.”

Or, “What am I feeling? Self-pity. Why? Because I work my tail off for my family and make all sorts of sacrifices for them. And here when I needed just a little bit of support from them, they say they’re too busy. It’s just not fair. Really? So why have you been serving them all along, to put them in your debt?” Ouch!

As we dig into the depths of our own hearts in the middle of intense emotional times, we will often find that God is using the situation to free us from the grip of sinful desires and passions that have become controlling “idols.” (For more guidance on overcoming desires and emotions that seek to rule your life, see Getting to the Heart of Conflict.)

Anticipate – What are the likely consequences if I give in to this emotion?

Here again we are making a conscious effort to move our brain activity from the emotional zone to the reasoning zone. We draw on memories, experience, and learning by asking, “What is likely to happen if I give in to these emotions?”

It looks like this: “If I give into my anger, I’ll become defensive and say harsh things to Corlette, which will make her feel guilty and disrespected, and reluctant to voice questions or concerns in the future, which would not only hurt her but also undermine our ability to work as a team.”

Or, “If I give into self-pity, I’ll withdraw from my family and give them the cold shoulder. I’d like to label that as a defense mechanism, but the hard truth is that it’s simply a way to punish and manipulate them for not treating me the way I want. That will only build walls and distrust between us.”

“But worst of all, these reactions will offend my loving God who sent his Son to free me from these very sins.”

You’ll find equally uncomfortable but course-changing mental conversations when the emotions in question are bitterness, envy, jealously, depression, or hopelessness.

Direct – How can I channel my emotions onto a constructive course?

Although emotional hijacking can be almost instantaneous, these defense mechanisms take time. So what do we do to gain this time?

Buy some time. As I mentioned last week, one of the simplest anti-hijacking techniques is to always have a bottle of water or cup of coffee in front of you in any meetings or conversations that could become emotionally volatile. Make a firm resolution that you will not respond to an irritating or offensive comment without first taking a sip of water or coffee. The six seconds it takes to do so will usually give your neocortex time to catch up with your amygdala.

Another way to buy some time is to simply ask for it. “You know, this is really important to both of us, so I’d like to take a few minutes to walk around the block and think about our options.” Or, more simply, “We’ve been talking quite a while, and I need to take a bathroom break.”

Oxygenate. Slow down the conversation and breathe deeply. In emotional situations your brain is working intensely and using up a lot of oxygen. Be deliberate in replacing it. Your mother probably never heard of neuroimaging, but somehow she knew that counting to ten was always a good thing.

Rejoice in the Lord … and remember that he is near. This is a discipline the apostle Paul urged the Philippians to practice when they were wresting with a conflict: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:4-5). It’s difficult to have two strong emotional experiences simultaneously, so rejoicing in God—remembering his character, works, and promises—is an excellent way to counteract strong negative feelings about another person.

Pray. Paul goes on in Philippians to teach, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). In addition to appropriating God’s grace, prayer moves your thoughts off of what is provoking you and centers them on God himself … which should put worldly issues in a clearer context.

Be thankful. Since it’s difficult to entertain competing emotional experiences at the same time, being thankful is another way to counter a hijack (see Phil. 4:6). While it’s especially effective to be thankful for the person you’re talking with, other kinds of thankfulness can be helpful … whether it’s thankfulness to God for his many kindnesses to you, or thankfulness for other people he’s placed in your life. As Paul told the Philippians:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things … and the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:8-9).

Do a 180. If you realize that our emotions are trying to lead you in a direction that is contrary to the love and character of Christ, ask him for grace to “do a 180,” that is, to do exactly the opposite of what you feel like doing (Luke 6:27-36; Rom. 12:20-21; see this blog for more specific guidance).

Learn from your mistakes. If you are hijacked, get a benefit from it. After your emotions cool, spend some time reflecting on what happened and why. Identifying the trigger for that event can help you be better prepared when you face a similar situation in the future.

There are no panaceas. Since we live in a fallen world, we will always be faced with the challenge of mastering our imperfect minds and emotions. But if you practice the spiritual principles that are summarized in the READ principle, you can steadily improve your ability to head hijacking off at the pass, and channel the power of your emotions into constructive words and actions.

This truth is beautifully illustrated in another clip from Cinderella Man, after Mae has spent time doing the kinds of things described above (in real life, Mae Braddock was a devout Christian). Watch what happens when she uses all of her mental and emotional gifts to bless her husband before he heads into the ring (click here  to view the clip).

What an excellent illustration of the simple but life-changing relational wisdom summarized in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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[Emotionally] Hijacked

SOURCE:  Ken Sande

Peter, James, and John were hijacked. So was Paul.

The same was true of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rachel … even David, the man after God’s own heart.

Chances are that you’ve been hijacked too. Probably within the last week.

It has nothing to do with being on an airplane. It has everything to do with having a marvelously complex and yet defective brain.

In simple terms, hijacking occurs when the emotional part of your brain (the limbic system) overpowers the rational part of your brain (the neocortex) … and gets control of your whole body along with it, including your mouth.

Think, for example, of a time when you hit your thumb with a hammer and blurted out an expletive … only to remember a moment too late that your five-year-old daughter was standing by your side.

Or a time when someone said something that offended you, so you threw a sarcastic comment back at him … only to wish later that those words had never left your mouth.

It’s bad enough when this happens in private; it’s so much worse when it’s done during a congregational meeting.

Hijacking Can Be Humorous

Sometimes hijacking is funny. Like the time my daughter wrote all over a wall and her own face with lipstick. Although the evidence against her was conclusive (and a quick confession would have been wise), when asked how the wall got all red, fear of admonishment led her to say, “I don’t know.”

We also smile when we read the account of a servant girl named Rhoda in the book of Acts. Peter had just been miraculously released from prison and was knocking on Rhoda’s door. Note how her emotions overpowered rational thinking: “Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate” (Acts 12:14). So Peter kept on knocking …

Hijacking Is Often Harmful

Unfortunately, hijacking is usually not funny. When we are overtaken by sinful emotions like anger, jealousy, lust, or fear, we often respond impulsively and say or do things that hurt other people, damage our relationships, trigger long-lasting shame, and weaken our witness as followers of Christ.

Like James and John when their anger flared and they sought to bring down fire on the Samaritans because they would not welcome Jesus (Luke 9:51-55).

Or Joseph’s brothers, when jealousy drove them to sell him into slavery (Gen. 37:11; 27-28).

Or David, when lust led to seduction, pregnancy, manipulation, and murder … and eventually to civil war (2 Sam. 11:1-17; 2Sam. 12:11-15).

Or Peter, when fear compelled him to deny Jesus three times … which he deeply regretted within moments as he wept outside the gate (Luke 22:54-62).

Sin-Damaged Brains

When we read these biblical narratives, we typically explain them by simply saying, “They sinned.”

That’s true, but painting with such a broad brush robs us of a full understanding of the problem and an effective plan of action.

Sin is definitely central to these harmful dynamics, but its impact is far more nuanced than most of us realize. Let’s look at this from both a theological and neurological perspective.

At creation, God made us in his image (Gen. 1:26). Among other things, this means he designed our minds to function perfectly in every situation, no matter what kind of stress we might be feeling. The limbic part of our brain, where emotions and motivations are centered, was designed to work in perfect harmony with our neocortex, where rational thinking and decision making takes place.

But sin threw this beautifully designed system out of whack. Instead of meshing smoothly, the various parts of our brain sometimes get out of synch. Emotions, desires and passions can get so intense that they compel us to do things we know are wrong and will soon be regretted (see Rom. 7:18-19; James 4:1-3).

A Matter of Nanoseconds

Part of what goes wrong in these situations (and this is only one part) has to do with the wiring of our brains, which no longer works as perfectly as God initially designed it. So here’s what happens …

Data from our senses enter the brain through the thalamus, which relays impulses to other parts of the brain. Due to small differences in the distances to be traveled, impulses arrive at the limbic system a few nanoseconds before they get to the neocortex. This means that our emotions can get rolling before we are able to rationally process the information.

Simple illustration. My wife is terrified of snakes. If we were walking along a high mountain cliff and she saw a small garter snake beside the trail, she would probably scream and leap ten feet out into thin air before her neocortex reminded her that she can’t fly. But by then it’s too late.

Saved by a Water Bottle

Next week we’ll look at several ways to use the READ principle to guard against hijacking. But let me leave you with a simple illustration today.

I once counseled a man who frequently got himself into trouble at work by speaking impulsively during business meetings. If he was irritated, surprised, or simply wanted attention, he would throw out little sarcastic comments that steadily eroded his credibility and relationships. He wanted to stop but the little jabs just kept on coming.

Although a thorough solution would require a prayerful examination of his heart (Matt. 15:19), I gave him some immediate help simply by advising him to always take a water bottle or cup of coffee into his meetings … and to never say a word until he had raised the bottle or cup to his lips and taken a sip.

The six seconds required to take a sip gave his brain time to work around his emotional impulses and get a message up to the neocortex, where his higher reasoning powers had time to evaluate the situation and send an overriding message to his mouth: “I really don’t need to say this.”

Not very fancy, but it worked. And that little bit of progress motivated him to pursue the more comprehensive solutions we’ll look at in next week’s blog: Four Ways to Defeat Hijacking.

11 Brutal Truths About Emotions That You Really Need to Hear

SOURCE:  Justin Bariso

Make emotions work for you. Instead of against you.

Since it was first introduced decades ago, the concept of emotional intelligence has been heralded by many as the secret, intangible key to success. But as this concept has increased in popularity, it’s also become widely misunderstood.

So, what is emotional intelligence exactly?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a person’s ability to identify emotions (in both themselves and others), to recognize the powerful effects of those emotions, and to use that information to inform and guide behavior. Practicing EI can help you reach your goals and make you more persuasive.

So, here are 11 tips brutal truths about emotions that will instantly increase your EQ:

1. Emotional intelligence begins when you ask the right questions.

Asking the right questions gives you valuable insight into the role emotions play in everyday life.

For example, if you’re frustrated at work, you might ask:

  • Where is the underlying problem? Is it an assignment, a colleague, a situation?
  • Do I have any control over this? What can I change, and what can’t I?

You can find a list of more thoughtful questions here. Get familiar with them, and you’ll start to be more proactive, and less reactive.

2. You can’t control your feelings. But you can control the reactions to your feelings.

Since emotions involve your natural, instinctive feelings and are influenced by brain chemistry, you can’t always control how you feel.

But you can control how you act upon those feelings.

For example, let’s say you have an anger management problem. The first step is to increase awareness of how anger affects you. Then, you need to develop an appropriate method for responding to that feeling–by focusing on your thoughts and actions.

All of this won’t take your anger away. But it can keep you from actions that will hurt yourself and others.

3. Others see you much differently than you see yourself.

This isn’t about right or wrong; it’s simply understanding how perceptions differ, and the consequences those differences create. But for many, all of this goes unnoticed.

By asking those close to us–like a significant other or close friend or workmate–about our interactions with them and others, we can learn from their perspective.

4. Empathy can greatly increase the value of your work.

The ability to relate to another person’s feelings goes a long way in building and fostering great relationships.

But learning to see things from another person’s perspective yields immediate, everyday benefits as well–like making you a better writer, presenter, trainer and manager. (More here on the practical benefits of empathy.)

5. It’s all about the long game.

Science has shown that changing deeply-ingrained behaviors and habits requires repeated effort and substantial commitment.

How can you do so? Here are seven methods that you can begin practicing today.

These methods aren’t easy to apply. But with dedication and hard work, they’ll help shape the way you experience even the most powerful emotions.

6. Criticism is a gift.

Nobody’s right all the time; that’s why criticism can help us to grow. Unfortunately, emotions often prevent us from taking advantage of negative feedback.

Instead of wasting time and energy rating how ideally criticism was delivered, ask yourself:

  • How can I use this feedback to help me or my team improve?
  • Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternate perspective?

Even if negative feedback is unfounded, it can still give you a valuable window into other perspectives.

Of course, not everyone has this ability. That’s why…

7. It’s vital to gain trust before delivering negative feedback.

Humans all share certain emotional needs, like a general craving for sincere acknowledgement and praise. Recognizing that, good leaders first focus on the positive (and potential) in his or her team. Additionally, by getting to know your team, their challenges, and their way of working, not only will you begin to see things from their perspective, you’ll begin to earn their trust.

Negative feedback can be difficult to swallow. But if your team is confident that you’ve got their backs, they’ll appreciate your efforts to make them better.

8. Remember that “negative” emotions can be just as beneficial as “positive” ones.

When we’re happy, the coffee tastes better, the birds sound sweeter…and there’s no challenge too great to handle.

But “negative” emotions (like anger, sadness, or fear) can give you the impetus to dig deep, learn more about yourself, and develop a strategy to make things better. (More on that here.)

9. Raising your EQ isn’t all fun and games. But it can be…sometimes.

Researchers have found that some of our favorite recreational activities can produce an increase in emotional intelligence. For example, watching films, listening to music and reading in the right way can actually help you understand and practice empathy for others.

10. EQ and EI aren’t the same thing.

Nowadays, many use EQ (Emotional Quotient) and EI (Emotional Intelligence) interchangeably. But that’s a mistake.

EQ is useful as shorthand to refer to a person’s knowledge of emotions and how they work. It can be adopted liberally: Just as we speak of athletes having a high basketball or football IQ, an allusion to one’s EQ is easily understood.

But by definition, emotional intelligence is a practical ability. And while a person may comprehend the principles of how emotions work in real life, application of that knowledge is another story. (This is the foundation of my forthcoming book, EQ, Applied, which explains how emotional intelligence works in the real world.)

11. Emotional Intelligence can be used for evil.

It’s important to know that, like any ability, emotional intelligence can be used both ethically and unethically. Every day, certain politicians, colleagues, and even supposed friends use emotions to manipulate others.

Of course, this is just one more reason why you should work at raising your own EI, to protect yourself.

Because in the end, that’s what emotional intelligence is all about: making emotions work for you, instead of against you.

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