Monday, August 31, 2009

Nothing to do with Relaxation!

Contrary to popular beliefs, mastering emotions does not mean activating a state of relaxation or calm. Quite the opposite, it means creating a state – an internal locus of control - which channels the energy of the emotion in question into a perspective that can relate to and interact with whatever external stressors or circumstances that caused the emotion or stress in the first place.

Just as those moments that we have all experienced spontaneously, when life and our interactions seem to flow easily and effortlessly, this internal locus of control gives us the ability to deliberately respond harmoniously and with greater ease, to take charge of our emotions rather than being the victim of them. When life presents us with circumstances over which we have no control and which we normally would resist, creating stress and conflict, we can now decide to take charge of our emotions and our responses, consciously changing whatever doesn’t serve us to create an energized state from which to respond in an ‘emotionally intelligent’ manner.

This was simply but effectively demonstrated by Helen, a newly qualified temporary counselor at an inner city school. Although truly gifted in her work with children, she was insecure and easily stressed in her dealings with colleagues and administration. She had taken several initiatives to develop her ideas into programs to help the children with their emotions, with great success. However, she had many more ideas that she was not implementing because of her insecurities and lack of confidence.

These insecurities were exacerbated by several teachers at the school who believed that emotional support did not belong in an educational setting. They would drop negative remarks to her about the children she was trying to help such as, “Children who behave like that should be expelled!”, “The children you are trying to help are past praying for!” or, “They should re-instate corporal punishment in schools! That’s all that will work with those kids!” Helen would quietly seethe at these remarks, laughing nervously and turning away to avoid confrontation. She would then lie awake at night fretting because she didn’t have the confidence to stand up for what she believed was right, and wondering if she was undermining her own work. No matter how often the school’s principal or others pointed out her successes, her insecurities would ‘take over’ and she was, as she put it, ‘unable to think straight’.

After a few training sessions learning about and applying emotional mastery (AEM), achieving ‘internal coherence’ – that is her brain and heart being coherent or in harmony – her confidence started to build. She practiced the skills diligently and within a month had gained the clarity of mind and internal locus of control to stand up for her convictions, either by speaking her truth or by ignoring her critics completely and not allowing thoughts about them to take up her time or energy.

There is nothing complex about the skills Helen developed; each day she would practice the slow, rhythmic breathing, and various versions of “the three R’s” (see the next Blog outlining the 3 R’s), generating the sensation in her chest that facilitated the internal coherence. By doing this, she was constantly increasing the coherence of the messages sent from her heart to her brain rather than allowing her thinking brain to be ‘switched off’ by ‘chaotic’ messages. More and more she became ‘emotionally intelligent’. Eventually she not only implemented many more of her ideas with the children, but used the AEM concepts she practiced herself to support the children – with great success; boys that she would previously have had to pull away from fights in the playground on a daily basis, now came to her voluntarily, walking away from a potential fight before it began, they would come to her room, sit down in a corner and slow down their breathing until they had gained some internal coherence, and hence the clarity of mind needed to manage their own behavior.

Nothing to do with relaxation at all really!

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