Striving for Emotional Intelligence

Throughout my life, I have sought to gain a bit of emotional intelligence. I did quite a bit of study towards becoming a pastoral counselor during my seminary years and I learned about human emotions and their expression. I completed an internship as a pastoral counselor serving the Wholistic Health Care Center in Hinsdale, Illinois during my seminary experience. For a time, I sought certification with the American Association of Marriage and Family Counselors before deciding to focus my ministry on leading congregations rather than on becoming a pastoral counselor.

That experience has been helpful to me in my own life. Often I need to be aware of and sort out my feelings. Emotional intelligence, however, is more than the ability to name one’s emotions. It also involves being able to communicate emotions clearly to others. That process has been a challenge for me all of my life. I think that part of the challenge has to do with gender norms of the time and place where I grew up.

Many of the adults around me when I was growing up were rather stoic in their approach to emotional expression. I didn’t see much emotional expression from many of the adults I loved and admired. Like other boys my age, crying was discouraged. I learned to keep my emotions to myself. The one emotion that seemed to be socially acceptable to express is anger. I saw adult males who expressed their anger by shouting, though I don’t remember any of the men in my family ever having their anger get out of control. There might be an occasional raised voice, but I never suffered any abuse or trauma from the adults in my life.

Later, when I was becoming an adult, I learned a bit about how to recognize my own emotions but I continued to keep them to myself for the most part. I learned that it was difficult for me to show others when my feelings were hurt. Often, when I tried, others’ impression was that I was angry. In my own mind, I saw a distinct difference between having my feelings hurt and being angry, but apparently I wasn’t very good at expressing pain. I learned to keep my pain to myself for the most part.

People expect pastors, especially male pastors, to be strong. Over the span of my career I often was present in situations when those around me were experiencing loss or trauma. I needed to remain calm and provide perspective when expressions of grief and loss threatened to overwhelm those whom I served. There were times when I needed to receive others’ anger. I’ve been yelled at when I did no harm. I’ve understood that anger is a normal part of grief and that sometimes it is helpful to accept another’s anger without getting defensive.

For the most part, I have been served well by my emotions and I have learned to express compassion and empathy with others who are undergoing intense emotional experiences. I have been surrounded by loving and compassionate people who have accepted me as I am and who have provided support to me.

Still, there are times when I get my feelings hurt and I realize that I have failed to communicate that pain effectively. Sometimes those closest to me have to endure my expressions of pain because I am unable to go directly to the person who has hurt me. I have assumed that part of being an effective pastor is to be able to endure and move beyond pain inflicted by others.

Yesterday my feelings were hurt. It was the result of several small things that had occurred. I’m certain that there was no intention to hurt me and I think that the person who is responsible for my pain is unaware of my feelings. I simply cannot figure out a way to tell that person without making it seem like I am attacking. I fear that any expression of my pain to that person will be interpreted as anger in a situation where anger is not warranted. It seems like trying to talk to that person will only bring out defensiveness that will not help our relationship.

As a result, I stewed privately for a while before I finally came to my senses and found a trusted confidant to whom I could express my pain without having to create a scene with another or simply sit on my feelings without expressing them. As usual, that trusted confidant was my wife. For the past 5 decades she has lovingly listened when I expressed my frustrations and fears over pain inflicted by others.

I suppose that it might be said that I have not yet achieved emotional intelligence. I have a level of awareness, but am still not the best at expressing my emotions. There are plenty of people who have never seen me cry, and it is unlikely that I will change that part of my life, though I am open to growing and not beyond practicing new behaviors until I have reshaped my habits. What is clear to me is that I am still struggling with how to appropriately express my emotions. I’ve written this entire journal entry as a way of sorting out my feelings and exploring how to express them.

What I do know is that I am unlikely to stay hurt. There are many ways to move beyond pain. My life has not been a painful experience. I’ve learned that I can heal quickly from most things that cause me pain. It is likely that the act of writing this essay has eased my situation to the point where I will be able to put it behind me and resume a balanced relationship with the one whose behaviors and words put me out of sorts yesterday.

As has been the case in the past, having this journal has proven to be therapeutic for me - and far less expensive than consuming a lot of mental health care. If you’ve read this far, you’ve become my therapist. Thanks for reading. I feel better already.

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