Emotional illiteracy is the evil of our age. The figures show it.
In the world there are more than 450 million people afflicted by different mental disorders.
About one million people commit suicide every year.
Every 100 people, 20 suffer from depression.
Disorders such as anorexia and addictions appear at younger ages.
The incapacity to understand our emotions and express them assertively could be at the base of this growing psychological malaise. We must be aware that technological development and access to education and information do not make us happier, free or mentally balanced because we have a pending issue that is not taught in schools: emotional learning.
What is Emotional Illiteracy?
Emotional illiteracy is the inability to understand, catalog and manage our emotions and, therefore, understand and accept the emotions of the others. It is a disconnection with emotions and feelings, which not only prevents us from specifying what we are feeling, but also limits our scope of action, turning us into reactive and impulsive people who remain imprisoned in their emotions.
This term is inextricably linked to emotional literacy, a concept proposed by the psychotherapist Claude Steiner in the 1970s that refers to the ability to understand emotions, listen to others and empathize with their emotional states, as well as express emotions in a productive way.
An emotionally educated person will be able to manage his emotions to empower and motivate himself, improve his quality of life and interpersonal relationships. A person victim of emotional illiteracy, on the contrary, will be a victim of his emotions, which will probably cause more than one problem, either on a personal or interpersonal level.
While the emotionally educated person uses emotions and feelings in his favor, the emotional illiterate falls victim to his networks and, therefore, can only see the darkest or most negative aspect of emotions.
The signs of emotional illiteracy
– Not having emotional granularity; that is, not being able to accurately identify the emotions or feelings that you’re experiencing
– Not knowing how to measure the range of the words, so they can hurt others because of the lack of tact
– React impulsively, especially when you are prey to emotions such as anger, hatred, resentment or fear
– Do not take into account the emotions of the people with whom you relate
– Do not reflect on your emotional states to find their cause
– Make decisions by letting yourself be carried only by emotions, without analyzing the consequences of your actions
– Extreme susceptibility to the events of life, so that many things affect you more than they should, disproportionately
– You easily collapse before obstacles and immediately think that you are worthless
– You feel that you are a victim of your emotions, that they take control of your life and lead you to make decisions that you later regret
– You can not turn the page and move on, you are tied to past events through emotions such as guilt trip and anguish
The origin of emotional illiteracy
When we are small, we are all emotional illiterates. Our emotional repertoire is very limited. Babies experience happiness, distress and disgust since they are born and are able to express those emotions through their facial expressions and body posture. As they grow their emotional world expands.
Between 2 and 6 months they may already experience anger, sadness, surprise and fear. Around 4 months they are able to distinguish different emotional expressions in the people around them and at 6 months they imitate the emotions they see in others.
However, parents or caregivers play an essential role in this process of emotional literacy. Children need emotional validation, a process by which they seek acceptance of the emotional experience in other significant people. If this validation process takes place properly, the child learns to identify and manage his emotions.
If on the contrary, there is a process of emotional invalidation, in which the emotional experiences of that child are rejected, ignored or judged continuously, he will assume that emotions are his enemies and that he must repress or hide them. As a result, he will not have the opportunity to become familiar with them and learn to manage them assertively.
For this reason, emotional illiteracy usually comes from homes where emotions are repressed and classified as negative and undesirable. The responsible are adults who, as children, did not have the opportunity to learn to manage their emotional states and were not given the necessary tools of emotional self-control to deal with their feelings assertively.
The 6 keys of emotional literacy
Just as there is an optimal period for learning to read and write, there is also a suitable stage for learning to assertively manage emotions. It is about the initial stages of life: childhood and adolescence, although this does not mean that we can not start emotional learning in later stages of life. In fact, by developing these six spheres of your inner life, you can enrich your emotional sphere:
- Emotional self-awareness. It’s about knowing your feelings, labeling your emotions knowing that sadness is not the same as apathy or depression and that anxiety is not the same as overwhelm or worry. This ability not only involves recognizing the emotions but being able to explain their origin, find their cause to understand them and recognize their triggers.
- Emotional self-control. It is about learning to manage emotions assertively, so that they do not harm us or others. To do this, we must get psychological tools that allow us to control anger, irritability and free ourselves from stress … It is not about repressing, denying or hiding those emotions but channeling them so they fulfill their role in the best possible way.
- Empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s condition from his perspective, involves putting yourself in his skin and feeling what that person is experiencing. It is an affective participation in someone’s reality, making ours his emotional world. It is not just about understanding his reasons, but capturing his emotions, accepting and giving them the emotional validation they need.
- Emotional resilience. Resilience is the ability to emerge strengthened from adversity, face the bad moments without breaking down and take advantage of these. Emotional literacy involves the ability to heal emotional wounds, turn the page and move on, so that the past does not become a burden that binds us to states such as depression or anxiety.
- Emotional interactivity. It is the ability to manage emotions positively, so that the best version of the people can be brought to light. An emotionally skilled person will know how to mediate interpersonal conflicts and provide emotional support when necessary.
- Self-motivation. It refers to the ability to set goals that motivate us along the way and generate positive emotions that facilitate the achievement of these goals, so as not to throw in the towel or demoralize us with obstacles.
“Emotional literacy involves factors such as people understanding their own and others’ emotional states; learning to manage their emotions and to empathize with others. […]emotional literacy is both an individual development and a collective activity and is both about self-development and the building of community so that ones own sense of emotional well-being grows along with that of others, and not at their expense. Emotional literacy involves connections between people and working with their differences and similarities while being able to handle ambiguity and contradiction. It is a dynamic process through which the individual develops emotionally and involves culture and empowerment”, wrote psychologist Brian Matthews.
Matthews, B. (2006) Engaging Education. Developing Emotional Literacy, Equity and Co-education. Buckingham: McGraw-Hill/Open University Press.
Matthews, B. (2004) Promoting emotional literacy, equity and interest in KS3 science lessons for 11- to 14-year-olds; the ‘Improving Science and Emotional Development’ Project. International Journal of Science Education; 26(3): 281-308.