DEVELOPING EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE WITH
by Kathlyn McHugh
This paper outlines the research and rationale supporting the use of feeling cards when working with children, youth, and their families. It includes background information about the feeling cards and the process of experimentation that took place with the author’s clients. Emotional intelligence (EQ) and the research regarding the value of developing EQ will be discussed as well. Most importantly, a list of games and exercises, and how each contributes to the development of EQ, will be provided.
I work with youth in an alternate education program. These young people have been referred to this program due to severe behaviour difficulties in the school, home, and community. One might label them with a “Conduct Disorder,” considering most of them would fit the DSM IVR description. Interestingly, even the youth that I work with that are not in the alternate program have been referred to me because they are not “conducting” themselves according to the expectations of the adult world.
Indeed, Richard Gardner confirms my statistics, a child psychiatrist that specializes in conduct disorders, who says this is the most common diagnosis amongst youth (www.apa.org/videos/4310410.html).
According to Dr. Gardner, youth experiencing the symptoms related to this DSM IVR diagnosis have minimal capacity for insight into problems and low motivation to work on them. They need structure, limits, and the opportunity to learn psychological skills. He believes it is important for to youth develop awareness and appropriate expression of feelings, especially sadness and anger. Furthermore, these skills are best taught symbolically and allegorically through stories, metaphors, parables, and discussions of third parties. The use of concrete examples and self-disclosure relating to the youth’s experience builds the therapeutic relationship. Direct, structured, and honest interactions build a safe context to tolerate the pain and anxiety likely to surface while working on core issues such as abandonment, loss, and abuse, for example.
I found Dr. Gardner’s work on the internet while surfing for research to support my way of working with youth. Ironically, I could have written the preceding paragraph without ever coming across his work. Over the last 13 years of working with youth I have learned these things intuitively and through trial and error. In fact, it was precisely Dr. Gardner’s approaches (my experiments and discoveries) that I have tried over the years that led a conversation with an artist who had recently created feeling cards. As I described my dabbling in art, storytelling, metaphor, sand tray, visualization, drama, movement, and sculpting he excitedly interrupted and said he had something he wanted to show me.
John Beder returned with a deck of vividly coloured, cartoon-like (“humorously animated”) feeling faces. The fourty two feeling cards depict twenty one familiar emotions that can be loosely organized under the themes glad, sad, mad, bad, and scared: happy, content, smug, surprise, sad, sorry, bored, mean, angry, rage, frustrated, guilty, jealous, disgust, scared, shy, suspicious, anxious, tired, confused, and worry. The pamphlet read: “…They facilitate the exploration and discussion of emotions. The cards encourage children and adults to recognize and articulate intense emotions openly…[they] appeal to the imagination and lend themselves to a more creative practice.”
Imagination and creativity is the basis of my work with all my clients, so I eagerly agreed to use the unpublished feeling faces and give him feedback about their usefulness so that he could make improvements before placing them on the market. I asked him about the research supporting the use of feeling cards. John said that he had only found generic “smiley faces” and simple characters portraying feelings that weren’t very dynamic or inspiring. He used Paul Ekman’s life work regarding universal emotions and pored over photographs in order to create the faces. John also mentioned Daniel Goleman’s controversial work, Emotional Intelligence (1995). Last year I had read a fascinating book by Goleman, Destructive Emotions (2003), that incorporated both researchers’ work, and I had included the ideas in my mind-body therapy research.
I was officially intrigued. I decided to use the cards as the Spirit moved me, document what worked and what improvements could be made, and look further into the research later. I didn’t want to use the cards with an agenda or to prove a hypothesis, I simply wanted to experiment and see if there were any patterns that could be explained by research. I discovered, in hindsight, that the games and exercises that I developed with clients facilitated the mastery of the five domains of emotional intelligence (EQ). As I read further into the research about EQ I became increasingly convinced of the value of developing these competencies; moreover, the underdevelopment, or lack of explicit awareness, of EQ amongst my clients could very well be the reason for their “misconduct.”
Although I experimented first and researched later, for the purposes of this paper, I will present the research first in order to ground the reader in the rationale and implications for the games and exercises.
If destructive emotions were inherent in the mind, there would be no point in trying to gain freedom from them. It would be like washing a piece of charcoal, which can never become white. To recognize the possibility of being free is the starting point of the path of inner transformation. One can drive away the clouds and find that, behind them, the sun has always been there and sky has always been clear (Matthieu Ricard in Goleman, 2003, p.81).
Ekman’s Research Paul Ekman is one of the world’s most eminent experts on the science of emotion. When Ekman began his research into universal emotions in the 1960’s, the general belief in the West was that emotions differed from one culture to another. This was in contradiction to the view in Charles Darwin’s book of 1872, The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals. “Darwin held that our emotions have evolved, that we share some of our emotions with other animals, and that they are a unifying force for all humankind (Goleman, 2003, p.125).” Although culture shapes what we display when, the particular configurations of muscle movements are fixed, “…enabling understanding across generations, across cultures, and within cultures between strangers and intimates (Goleman, 2003, p. 238).” Thus, having an ability to read and understand emotions is not only a crucial skill for survival, but also a sense of belonging and connectedness amongst humans and animals.
Ekman realized that expressions on the face offered a direct window on a person’s emotions; however, there was no scientific system for reading emotion from the movement of muscles on the face. Ekman studied facial anatomy in order to map the configuration for each emotion. Beder used this research to create his feeling cards.
The culmination of Ekman’s work on the facial expression of emotion is videotape in which a series of faces show a variety of expressions very briefly.
From studies with thousands of people, Ekman learned that people who do better at recognizing these subtle emotions are more open to new experience, more interested and curious, more conscientious, reliable, and efficient (Goleman, 2003, p.14). Thus, the ability to track others’ emotions has a great impact on success. The universality of emotions is not only in the expression, but also in the events that bring forth emotion. For example, the common theme for sadness or anguish is loss. The ability to recognize an emotion lays the groundwork for awareness of human context, which is a powerful foundation for advanced empathy and ethics.
Flanagan’s Research In 1980 Owen Flanagan discovered a scientific paper by Ekman on the universal expression of emotion in the human face. It inspired him to pursue the philosophical questions about human nature. In 1991, Flanagan published Varieties of Moral Personality that explores the role that emotions play in ethics and morality. Flanagan’s belief is that there is a connection between virtue, happiness, and mental health. Flanagan says, “We have so much focus on the self [in the Euro-Western paradigm] – self-worth and self-esteem – but much less of a tradition of trying to harmonize yourself internally. These emotions and moral principles governing them all involve social relations (Goleman, 2003, p. 63).” Thus, the pursuit of EQ is not merely for the individual’s benefit, but for society and human spiritual and social evolution, or transformation.
Physiology There are also universals in some of the changes that occur within the body when an emotion occurs. For example, across cultures, during anger and fear there is an increase in heart rate and sweating; however, in anger hands get hot, while in fear hands get cold (Goleman, 2003, p.128). Amazingly, the reverse is true also: If you intentionally make a facial expression, you change your physiology. The face is not simply a means of display, but also a means of activating emotion. Paradoxically, though, when an emotion begins it generates changes in our expression, face, voice, and thoughts – involuntarily.
Indeed, a defining aspect of emotion is that it momentarily takes over; the key is becoming aware of this physiological cascade and having the ability to impact it at any given point. One point of entry into this involuntary flow is our thoughts. According to current neuroscience, the brain does not make any distinction between thought and emotion, as every region of the brain found to play a role in emotion is also connected to cognition. Our immune system (endocrine and autonomic nervous system) is entwined with the parts of the brain connecting emotions and cognitions (frontal lobes, amygdala, and hippocampus). These facts reveal the power that we have over our emotional life and the possibilities for health and happiness given the mastery of our emotional life.
Freedom/Choice There are some techniques to open up choice about how our emotions affect our lives. According to Ekman, there are three different choice points: during the appraisal of an emotion, during the impulse, and during the actions taken (Goleman, 2003, p.146). My last research paper focused on mind-body techniques such as mindfulness meditation that offer a means of obtaining action awareness and impulse awareness. This paper also talked about Somatic Experiencing – learning to become more sensitive to the feedback from our bodies about what we are feeling - which would help in achieving action awareness. But understanding the appraisal phase where the mind is deciding – often involuntarily – which emotion will be ignited, necessitates meta-cognitive discussions that require a language/vocabulary to talk about emotions, exposure to various emotions, understanding of context for various emotions, self-awareness, and self-disclosure. Scientific experiments with meditation have shown that the more you look at anger, the more it disappears beneath one’s very eyes, “…like the frost melting under the morning sun. When one genuinely looks at it, it suddenly loses its strength (Matthieu in Goleman, 2003, p.81).”
I believe that these conversations about emotions require, and stimulate, the development of EQ. I say “stimulate the development” because neuroscientists have re-discovered what ancient religious practices have known for millennia: that thoughts and emotions are “emergent properties” of the brain, which in turn have influences on other brain systems (Goleman, 2003, p.209). For example, generating feelings or images of love (or hate) create physiological and permanent changes in the brain. This heralds hope, power, and freedom for people who believe they are stuck (in a thought, feeling, DSM IVR label etc.).
We can use the connection between emotion and cognition to make choices, according to recent neuroscience. Certain types of positive emotions are much more likely to arise from reason, whereas certain negative emotions arise more spontaneously. There is evidence to indicate that certain types of positive emotions are associated with activation in the left frontal lobe of the brain, which is where certain types of reasoning occur. There is also evidence to show impulsive, negative emotions that arise very strongly, spontaneously in the moment (such as anger or rage), are weakened by reasoning. “Very active reasoning will activate the frontal cortex and inhibit the amygdala (Goleman, 2003, p.216).” Thus, counselors can promote positive emotions and defuse negative feelings by stimulating client’s reasoning skills.
Facilitation of EQ development would decrease the necessity for counselor intervention because clients would have learned the skills to self-regulate. This is confirmed by neuroscience as the frontal lobes, amygdala, and hippocampus are highly sensitive to change in response to experience. Seen in this way, psycho education is a gift that “keeps on giving” and acts as a positive feedback cycle in the brain. Evidence of neural plasticity is science-speak for “transformation is possible” – a belief that counselors have been banking on for years.
Application According to Mark Greenberg, a pioneer in child curriculum development, there is a prefrontal window for emotional competence that begins around age three and closes around age seven. This emotional competence (otherwise known as social skills) includes the following: the ability to have self-control, to stop and calm down when one is upset, and the ability to sustain attention (Goleman, 2003, p.261). Children who do not develop these skills display a failure to integrate their emotions and their reasoning by striking out impulsively. This impulsive aggression stems from a combination of a failure to plan ahead and control emotions, both functions of the prefrontal lobes. This is where pure science gives way to social science.
5 Domains Daniel Goleman built upon Thorndike’s ideas about IQ, Gardner’s multiple intelligences, Salovey’s quest to bring intelligence to our emotions, and Sternberg’s studies about intelligent persons to create Emotional Intelligence in 1995. Goleman organized all the emotional competencies found to contribute to EQ in the following five domains:
1. Knowing one’s emotions: Self-awareness is the keystone of EQ. This is the ability to monitor feelings from moment to moment. Self-awareness is crucial to psychological insight and self-understanding. An inability to recognize feelings leaves us at their mercy. People who possess this ability are more confident and feel more in control of their decisions and life direction.
Self-awareness requires an activated neocortex in order to identify and name the emotions. It means being aware of both our mood and our thoughts about that mood. Although there is a logical distinction between being aware of feelings and acting to change them, the two usually go hand in hand. For example, self-awareness can be nonjudgmental, but more often if one is in a foul mood, there is a desire to get out of it. Nonetheless, the realization of feelings offers freedom and empowerment to make a choice to act or not, or simply just be.
2. Managing emotions: Handling feelings so they are appropriate builds on self-awareness. This includes the capacity soothe oneself and shake off rampant anxiety, gloom, or irritability. People who have difficulty with this constantly battle feelings of distress, whereas those who excel can bounce back from life’s setbacks. The goal isn’t muted or dispassionate feelings, but emotions appropriate to the circumstance. Specifically, keeping distressing emotions in check is the key to well being because extremes undermine stability.
3. Motivating oneself: This capacity is essential for paying attention, goal setting and achievement, mastery, and creativity. Part of motivation is emotional self-control – delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness – and this underlies accomplishment. People who excel at this ability experience a state of “flow” during outstanding performances and tend to be highly productive and effective. Conversely, students who are anxious, angry, or depressed don’t learn and anyone caught in these states do not process information effectively.
Studies of Olympic athletes, world-class musicians, and other masters in their fields find their unifying trait is the ability to motivate themselves to pursue relentless training routines. That doggedness depends on emotional traits – enthusiasm and persistence in the face of setbacks. Subsequently, developing competency in any skill strengthens self-efficacy, making a person more likely to take risks and challenges. “People’s beliefs about their abilities have a profound effect on those abilities (Bandura in Goleman, 1995, p.90).” Therefore, to the degree our emotions get in the way or enhance our abilities, they define the limits of our mental capacity and determine how we do in life.
4. Recognizing emotions in others: Essentially this is empathy. Empathy builds on self-awareness; the more open we are to our own emotions, the more skilled we are in reading feelings from nonverbal clues. There is a high social cost to being emotionally tone deaf to others; however, empathy is the foundation for altruism. Empathic people are attuned to the subtle social signals that indicate needs and desires. That capacity comes into play in sales and management, romance and parenting, and compassion and politics. The benefits of empathy include being better adjusted emotionally, more popular, more outgoing, and more sensitive. Its lack is seen in criminal psychopaths, rapists, and child molesters (Goleman, 1995, p.96).
Daniel Stern believes that the most basic lessons of emotional life are laid down in those intimate moments between parent and child. The most critical are those that let the child know her emotions are met with empathy and reciprocated in a process called attunement. By the same token, infants can “catch” dark moods. Babies will begin to favour an unfortunate range of emotions if that is the mood that is reciprocated. However, this imbalance can be corrected by reparative relationships throughout life. Indeed, several theories of psychoanalysis see the therapeutic relationship as providing just such an emotional corrective, a reparative experience of attunement (Goleman, 1995, p.100-101).
5. Handling relationships: The art of relationships is mostly skill in managing others’ emotions. Social competence skills under gird popularity, leadership, and interpersonal effectiveness. People who excel in these abilities interact smoothly with others because they have the ability to know another’s feelings and act in a way to further shape those feelings. In order to manifest such interpersonal power, people must first reach a benchmark of self-control: “Attunement to others demands a modicum of calm in oneself (Goleman, 1995, p.112).”
As Ekman discovered, a key skill in expressing and reading emotions is to know the display rules of any given culture. Knowing the rules regarding when to minimize, exaggerate, or substitute an emotion is learned mainly through modeling. But the magical transmission of understanding we call “communication” is more of an unconscious imitation of the emotions we see displayed by someone else. There is an “…out-of-awareness motor mimicry of their facial expression, gestures, tone of voice…Through this imitation people re-create in themselves the mood of the other person (Goleman, 1995, p.115).”
interpersonal abilities build on other emotional intelligences. For example, people who make a good social
impression are adept at monitoring their expression of emotion, are keenly
attuned to the ways others are reacting to them, and so are able to constantly
fine-tune their performance to create the desired effect. Nonetheless, if these abilities are not
balanced by a genuine, astute sense of one’s own needs and feelings and how to
fulfill them, this gift will become the curse of hollow success.
Rationale Scientists have observed that as negative emotions creep continually into the mind, if not consciously managed, they transform into moods. If a mood is consistent over time these eventually turn into traits of temperament; thus, one may be born with a certain temperament, but experiences and reactions to these have an impact. This may explain why a sweet, happy child could become a grumpy, bitter adult.
The first step to consciously managing emotions is to begin working with emotions themselves: at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. Increasing competency in any of these five domains would prepare one to progress through the levels of emotional mastery. At the beginning, a counselor might help a client avoid the negative consequences of a destructive emotion with the use of antidotes. For example, love and hatred cannot be felt simultaneously. Likewise, clients can contemplate the unpleasant aspects of an object of compulsive desire as an antidote.
The next step (the intermediate level of consciousness) is applying a universal antidote, which was mentioned earlier as being simply explicit and focused attention on any given emotion. Often called “meditation,” this could also be described as investigation, concentration, realization, or pointed awareness. I might describe it to a client as “being in the fullness of an emotion and attuned to anything that comes up – changes, shifts, sensations, images, or thoughts.” Doing so enables a client to demolish the apparent solidity of an emotion and experience its shifting nature.
The last step, which is advanced and somewhat esoterical, is the transformation of emotion; that is, using emotions as catalysts for freeing oneself from their influence. For example, anger can be damaging and destructive if it is not under the conscious will of the individual. However, it is an extremely powerful motivating force that, when harnessed and applied, can save a life, create a life, or change a life – in essence, it is transformational.
These methods are sometimes compared with three possible ways of dealing with a poisonous plant. One alternative is to uproot the plant carefully and remove it from the ground completely [antidotes]…A second alternative is like pouring boiling water onto the plant [meditating]…The third alternative is that of the peacock, which is traditionally thought to be able to feed on poisonous substances…Not only is the peacock not poisoned…but its feathers become even more beautiful [transformation] (Goleman, 2003, p. 83).
Prevention Programs According to the W.T.Grant Consortium (Communities that Care, 1992), the following are active ingredients of effective prevention programs (in Goleman, 1995, p.310-311). I placed a star beside those skills that I was not yet convinced would be developed with the use of feeling cards.
- Identifying and labeling feelings
- Expressing feelings
- Assessing the intensity of feelings
* Delaying gratification
* Controlling impulses
- Reducing stress
- Knowing the difference between feelings and actions
- Self-talk – conducting an “inner dialogue” as a way to cope with a topic or challenge or reinforce behaviour
- Reading and interpreting social cues – recognizing social influences on behaviour and seeing oneself in the perspective of the larger community
- Using steps for problem-solving and decision-making – *controlling impulses, *setting goals, identifying alternative actions, anticipating consequences
- Understanding the perspective of others
- Understanding behavioural norms
* Positive attitude toward life
- Nonverbal – communicating through eye contact, facial expressiveness, tone of voice, gestures etc.
* Verbal – making requests, responding to criticism, resisting negative influences, listening to others, helping others, positive peer groups
Studies have shown that effective curricula have at least the following five characteristics: They focus on helping children calm down; They increase awareness of emotional states in others; Outward discussion of feelings are used as a way of solving interpersonal difficulties (a Euro-Western ideal/value which may not be helpful for children from other cultures); Planning and thinking ahead are encouraged so that one can avoid difficult situations; Considering how our behaviour affects others. There is an ideology about emotions that fits with this program that consists of four main ideas: Feelings are important signals; Feelings are separate from behaviours; You can’t think until you’re calm; and The Golden Rule (take the perspective of others)(Goleman, 2003, p.263-265).
The following list of games and exercises unfolded through play and experimentation with clients. Included is a description of the game, a case anecdote, and the skills targeted. The games did not have names until the writing of this paper because each time I bring out the feeling cards I wait and take the client’s lead regarding the use of the cards in the moment. It is a mysterious and curious phenomena that my clients have the wisdom to create games on the spot that fulfill the main components of an effective curriculum; thereby, developing their EQ. This was certainly unintentional, as the research was done after my work with clients this year, but indicative of our inner wisdom to know what we need and how to get those needs fulfilled given the freedom and opportunity.
Games and Exercises
“Go Fish”: All 42 cards are shuffled. Each player is dealt five cards. Any pairs (ie. two “angry” cards) are placed in front of the player. Players take turns asking, for example, “Do you have ‘happy’?” If player #2 does not, he says, “Go fish.” Player #1 then picks one card up from the deck and checks his hand to see if he got a pair. The object of the game is run out of cards in your hand before the other player. If the deck runs out before this occurs, players count up the number of pairs and the player with the most pairs wins. Skills – develop awareness of various emotions, emotional vocabulary, sight recognition of feelings (precursor to identifying, labeling, and expressing feelings), icebreaker.
“The Fortress”: Often follows “Wildcard.” Clients are encouraged to explore how feelings shift and change from one to another. Exploratory questions about the sequence and interconnection of feelings are asked. As the conversation unfolds, the cards are laid out in a configuration that matches approximately how they unfold inside the client. Various patterns emerge.
“Poker”: Exercise for couple or family counselling. Female and male feeling cards are separated and laid out on large surface. Each client is asked to come individually and pick feeling faces that represent answers to a number of triadic questions related to the presenting issue. Clients hold their deck of cards until everyone has finished. Then everyone lays down their cards together. Discussion about patterns of responses and levels of accuracy with regards to other-awareness questions open systemic awareness and ideas about the gaps in understanding and possible bridges.
Example: Which face represents how you feel about this situation? Which face represents mom? Which face would mom pick for you? Which face does mom think you would pick for her? Levels of self and other awareness are revealed and a forum for correcting assumptions and developing empathy and humility is created. The foundation and rationale for communication skills is established.
“Medicine”: This game builds on charades. Individual: Introduction to antidotes. This is where the feeling cards might be expanded/improved. For each destructive emotion, there would ideally be an antidote. After guessing the emotion, the counselor would offer the antidote to the client and discuss the effects of this “medicine.” Group: When family members are choosing their emotional responses, they also pick up an antidote, or medicine that they could or would give the client. Family members are given a choice about only offering their response, offering it with the antidote, or only offering the antidote. Discussion of the intention and effects of their choices follow.
“Storytime”: Counsellor shows a variety of feeling faces and talks about a time when she felt those emotions as a child. Counsellor tells a story and emphasizes each emotion by holding up the feeling face as they arise in the story. When the client is ready he can switch roles with the counselor and be the storyteller. Can be used in group counselling.
Skills – level of skill building dependent on complexity of story and age of client(s).
“Role Play and Rehearsal”: This builds on, and often naturally unfolds from, “Puppets.” For individual clients, it can be a way for them to “face” their friends, family, teachers and practice managing their emotions and responses to the others’ emotions. It is a way for role play and rehearsal to occur without the client feeling like they are performing because it is occurring between faces the client is manipulating. For groups, it is a non-threatening way to confront, challenge, and express on an emotional level. It can bring humour in tense moments as well.
I hope that my experimentation with the feeling cards continues to reveal more games and exercises that can be used to develop emotional intelligence and facilitate healing. I also hope that I will get feedback from other practitioners using the cards about the efficacy of the games and exercises. It is my intention to continue to collaborate with John Beder with regards to the use and design of the feeling face cards.
Beder, J. (2004). Feeling Faces Cards: An Effective Resource for Counselors and
Educators. Available: www.feelingfacescards.com
Gardner, R. A. (2004). Psychotherapy of Children with Conduct Disorders Using
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