The term emotional intelligence has been around since 1990, although the concept has always been with us. In the Judeo/Christian/Muslim tradition of Adam and Eve biting the apple, taking a bite was an emotional decision, although it may not have been the most intelligent thing for them to do. Yet, the bites were taken and the history of acting from our emotions has been with us ever since. This is also likely an early attempt to look at how our emotions often overrule what is considered more rational decision-making. Philosophers, artists, writers, lawyers and every day people through the millennia spend time asking these questions. Are there reasons, an emotional logic, to how and why we act the way we do?
Good question! There are biological reasons, learned/social reasons and often times, it seems, no reasons at all.
Psychotherapy! Self-help books! Detective novels! They all look into why people do what they do. A good detective novel, or for that matter, any story, has value if it appears to accurately portray the human moods and motivations that we tend to express. A good story needs a good plot, but it has to be within the realm of belief – why characters act certain ways at certain moments has to be believable. While we don’t necessarily read or watch stories in order to understand ourselves better, this is a side benefit – whether we are paying attention to it or not.
We begin to learn the logic of our emotions at quite an early age. A child who knows he has done something wrong will brace himself for the anger he expects from his caretaker. The child may initially be confused if he is responded to with tenderness instead of anger, such as when the response is based more on the child being safe rather than the anger at what he did. The response is added to the database/back of the brain, and the child uses this experience – hopefully in a positive way – for future reference.
This is a simple enough process of learning that repeats itself many times a day throughout our lives. In developing our emotions, we model those we tend to like and reject others we don’t (learned behavior). Yet, there is so much more involved in trying to figure out why we feel and act how we do.
Why can the same situation create different reactions in us at different times? Sometimes it is how well we slept or ate (biological causes); sometimes it is the time of the year (think Seasonal Affective Disorder). Perhaps experiencing the same event a second time has made it boring.
As I like to tell my “left-brained” clients, there is a logic to our emotions. However, there are so many variables out there, it is difficult to know how we – or others – will act or react to specific situations and events. We use our experience to help us understand as many of the variables as we can. From here, we are able to create generalities for understanding our own human nature and of those in our lives.
Reggie E, MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.