Mad, Sad, Glad, or Scared?

It takes a lot to be a fully developed and realized human; living with style and grace and having love in one’s life. To acquire and maintain these qualities we must develop essential skills with which to navigate. Cultivating the language of emotions, which promotes emotional intelligence, is one of these skills that has the power to profoundly influence our relationships with the people around us.

Mistakenly, we often put the responsibility of connection onto the ears and hearts of others. “Do you understand me?” “Am I making sense?” “I just need you to listen to me!”

What many fail to realize is that what is actually getting in the way of connecting isn’t the lack of understanding from another person, but our own inability to identify and name our feelings. How can we communicate effectively with others if we ourselves are unable to recognize and connect with our own feelings? This is when I think it is helpful to keep it simple and distill our feelings into four basic feeling experiences: Mad, sad, glad and scared.

When learning to color as young children, we are started with the most basic colors: Red, Blue, Yellow, Green. The crayons were often made large for our unskilled hands to easily manage. When we learned to use these four colors well, we graduated to the box of 24 crayons. More colors offered more ways to add depth and dimension to our masterpieces. The crayons were smaller as we were more nimble and adept. Overtime, 24 colors weren’t enough to express all of the nuance we wanted to portray. With practice, we progressed to the pack of 48 with the sharpener in the back of the box. We didn’t have just blue, but we had cerulean and cyan. Instead of being left with nothing but red, we learned to use scarlet and crimson.

Similarly, once we have mastered the four basic feelings of mad, sad, glad and scared, we can graduate to more nuanced feelings like frustration, anger, rage, grief, despair, heartbroken, happy, excited, contented, fearful, anxious or dread.

Once we are able to identify a feeling with detail and color, we then have the ability to communicate more vividly and accurately. We are more nimble in our ability to communicate. Having developed the ability to communicate more truthfully, we are able to advance to identifying the difference between what we feel and what we think. Without this ability, we are in a constant state of reaction. We are not free to decide what to do or not do with our frustration, despair, anxiety or delight. Our lives are not our own as we live in a chronic state of reaction. Ultimately, it is a painful way to live.

Emotional intelligence teaches us that there really is a difference between what we think and feel. Without the ability to recognize this difference and respond to them in a skillful manner, we are destined to be at the mercy of what I call the “coat hanger mess“ of feelings when we attempt to unravel them. (Have you ever tried to pull out just one empty hanger, and then three or four others fall out with it? It’s like that, but for emotions.)

So where to begin in the development of an emotional intelligence?
Start with Mad- Sad- Glad -Scared.
Take your feeling temperature several times a day just for practice.
What am I feeling right now? Mad? Sad? Glad? Scared?
Confused, bored or worried? Not feelings.
Get it close to the bone.
Notice without judgment what it “means “ that I am so fearful, so angry or so happy. Just identify it. Notice it. Breathe into it. Watch it.

Once you have developed the initial language of emotional color you can begin to work with a larger box of emotional colors. Once you have mastered this you are now ready to risk being penetrated by the experience of that feeling. Only then are you free to choose how you are going to act.

You are on your way to developing the next skill of emotional intelligence: response.