By Gill Seaton-Jardine, Counsellor/Psychotherapist
In order to understand a concept, we first need to break it down.
According to the Cambridge dictionary ’emotional ‘ means relating to your feelings and ‘literacy’ means the ability to read and write.
So, do these two definitions tell us what we mean by the term ’emotional literacy’?
Well, perhaps they do in part, in that we now know that it concerns feelings and an ability to read and write,so how do these two work together and what is the product of that work?
In terms of managing our emotions, it an be very helpful to write down what we are feeling and how we are feeling. It can be a relief to offload onto a piece of paper but we do need to decide what to do with that piece of paper. Worries about someone else finding our private thoughts may stop us finding the freedom to write exactly what we would like to write. So, do we tuck it away at the back of the drawer, rip it up, set fire to it or perhaps carefully place it at the bottom of the bin? This is, of course, our own decision. Clearly this is using the writing part of our definition of literacy.
We can use the reading part to try to learn more about feelings. There is an endless number of books out there purporting to help us with our anger, our depression, our grief and so on thereby using the second part of the definition of literacy.
So, have we got to the bottom of emotional literacy? I don’t think so because we haven’t taken into account other people, how we feel about them and how they feel about us. The world of feelings is endlessly complex in that we share our feelings either by language or behaviours. In order for these two to have any value, someone else needs to gain some understanding of our experience, and any impact and/or effect it may have had. The only case I can think of where this is not relevant is the chosen lifestyle of a hermit whereby he does not relate to any other human being.
Back to the expression ’emotional literacy’. Perhaps a useful way of explaining this concept is being aware of our own feelings and how they affect us as well as being aware of the feelings of others and how they affect them. In between these two comes the connection. If I am angry, how will it affect you? If you are sad, can I help you, if you are worried, is there anything I can do to ease those worries and, if so what?
Now we are getting into deeper waters because each person feels differently about just about everything. The strength of a feeling, the depth of a feeling, the individual effect of a feeling are all different and we only have language, both words and body language, to try to explain how it is. Language of course is phenomenal and we can explain many things using it but can we really explain exactly how another is feeling? Can we really understand what emotions another may be experiencing ? If each person feels and responds differently – help!!
Let’s go back to ’emotional literacy’ and how we can use it. Perhaps we first need to look at ourself and recognise who we are and how we are behaving. The next thing is to listen to others, and I mean really listen to give us the best chance of understanding another’s experience. Put these two together and we have the best chance of enjoying our lives and helping others to enjoy theirs.
The Business of Emotional Literacy with Gill Seaton-Jardine from GSJ Counselling
Gill Seaton-Jardine is a Counsellor/Psychotherapist with over 20 years’ experience working with all ages, including young children.
During these years she wrote and presented a ten-week course on emotional literacy to pre school age children to help them understand theirs, and others, feelings and is here with Louisa “Wizzi” Magnussen to discuss the Business of Emotional Literacy.