Stop Blaming: Develop Emotional Literacy

In last week’s post, Taking Responsibility for My Emotions, I asked:

When blame is seen as the only way to deal with feelings, as teachers what can we do? What is our role? How can we help our students understand that they are responsible for their feelings?

Interesting comments ensued via Facebook and email. Within these comments, questions were raised. To recognize my readers’ willingness and interest in keeping the discussion going, I am dedicating this post to them and to their questions.

Two readers wondered how I would answer my own questions:

– What can we do to help students/participants not blame others?” Are there strategies teachers can take? I know you opened it up to the readers but… what do you do? What might you do? Are there specific things you have tried? Would like to try?

– so what was your answer to your own question: what is the teacher’s role and responsibility?

The third reader questions another facet of this concept of taking responsibility:

Thanks for posting this. It seems healthy to build a kind of immunity to memes which can otherwise disturb a peaceful emotional state. I like the comparison to people able to create a zen-like tattoo experience. Still, it seems a focus on the one with the disturbed peace of mind lets the one who “threw the rock” off the hook. It seems to me that the bullied need emotional armor while the bullies need….what? Besides, sometimes people just don’t have a strong immunity system against what are harmful memes to them–maybe because they have an immature ego–and the triggering of emotions can cut like a knife. Do we really want to blame the person who correspondingly cries in pain for not controlling his emotions?

I will attempt to address these questions.

Emotional Literacy

I think it is absolutely crucial for the student/participant to understand their feelings are valid. Taking responsibility is not about controlling our emotions. If someone says or does something that hurts, it is not healthy to ignore my feelings. Taking responsibility for our own feelings is not synonymous with the intention of common expressions such as:

“Suck it up.”

“Get a grip on yourself!”

Man up.

From my perspective, taking responsibility means owning my feelings. When I own my feelings, as being mine and not the projection of someone else’s behavior, it is at this point that a shift can happen. Unfortunately, the ability to own our feelings is a skill lost on so many of us.

I think that being able to realize we have this skill comes from being able to understand and feel empathy. In order to understand and feel empathy, I believe we need to develop emotional literacy. By clearly naming the feelings we are experiencing, we honor our feelings. By being able to honor our feelings, the stimulus, be it a bully or an irritating participant, loses their power over us. We begin owning our feelings, and as a result, we can start to feel empowered.

As teachers I think we can help our students/participants understand this by helping them develop their emotional literacy. This process might begin by first empathizing with the student/participant when they experience a situation that charges their emotions. This may involve guessing their feelings until they are able to come to a point of recognition.

Teachers may also have lessons where we overtly teach feeling words. From here we can explore times in the students’ lives when they felt these emotions, making a tangible connection between the feeling word and the experience.

But I think the most important thing that a teacher can do is to develop their own awareness of emotions. We cannot expect to help students identify/own their feelings if our own emotional literacy is stunted. I recommend practicing the process of Nonviolent Communication as a way of developing this awareness. Through this practice, not only have I developed my own emotional literacy, but I have also learned the power of owning my feelings.

Final Comments

Taking responsibility is not about controlling our feelings. It is also not about ignoring the stimulus, or about letting the stimulus go on its merry way. It is about standing from a place of empowerment. Both the bully and the bullied, the stimulated and the stimulator will benefit from knowing this. No matter on what end of the conflict you may be, you still have the ability to empathize. You may just need a little help realizing this.

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2 thoughts on “Stop Blaming: Develop Emotional Literacy

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