Reflective Writing: The Catalyst for Improving Emotional Intelligence

Emotional IntelligenceWhat is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage emotions—our own and others’. Everyone knows the importance of emotions. It’s one of those common sense things. But as Samuel, a fictional character in the The Parallax, points out “common sense ain’t necessarily common practice.” Emotional intelligence is the missing element in our understanding of personal effectiveness and a possible explanation for the disparity that often exists between cognitive intelligence (IQ) and success.

How does emotional intelligence impact our effectiveness?
Have you underestimated or neglected the importance of emotions? Or most importantly, do your behaviors reflect recognition of their importance? Baby boomers might remember Data, the android in Star Trek: The Next Generation. His cognitive abilities were super-human; however, Data knew that it was his inability to experience emotions that limited his effectiveness and differentiated him from humans—something he desperately yearned to be.

How can we improve our emotional intelligence?
When you experienced anger and frustration as a child, your mother may have offered this advice: “Count to ten.” …more common sense. But in our 4G world things happen very fast, eliminating the opportunity to pause and reflect which is key to managing and controlling our emotions. Without this critical self-reflection, our emotional intelligence is diminished and our effectiveness is impaired.

What is the relationship between emotional intelligence and writing?
Writing engages our brain differently. Think about it. Try writing something without giving attention to what you’re writing. You can’t do it! Writing demands that we focus our thoughts, and as our first words spill out onto the page, others begin to emerge, as if they’d been hiding, waiting to be discovered. Your mother was right—counting to ten helps. But even better, taking the extra time to write about something that is troubling you can yield one-hundred fold results, improving our emotional intelligence and increasing our personal effectiveness.

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15 thoughts on “Reflective Writing: The Catalyst for Improving Emotional Intelligence

  1. I have recently started to realize the importance of reflective writing. As I was reading about the characters in The Parallax and how their writing helped them uncover hidden emotions or finally deal with emotions that they had previously suppressed, I thought about some writing I have done for a creative writing type classes I have taken in college. I decided to read a few of my short stories and poems that I wrote a few years ago to see if this applied to my own writings. As I read my stories and poems I could actually remember the situations I was going through during those times just by reading those short stories and poems. I think my writing did help me sort through events and emotions going on in my life at those times and served as a positive way to release those emotions. I think it is good to routinely write about events or emotions that you are dealing with, both good and bad. As mentioned in the blog, “writing engages our brain differently,” and you can learn a lot about yourself through your writing.

  2. I completely agree that emotional intelligence can have a great impact on effectiveness of nearly everything we do. Without the ability to control emotions and hold ourselves to a standard that is socially and situationally acceptable, it could have an detrimental impact on the task at hand. It is clear that people holding any position that impacts other people in society have emotional intelligence that is essential for their success. This includes professions such as doctors, pharmacists, teachers, nurses, clerks, accountants etc. The ability to handle stress, anger, sadness, frustration and other emotions that are provoked throughout the day and contain and deal with it is an absolute necessity to perform whatever needs to be done. Channeling all these feelings into productivity and energy to treat others with respect is not only effective, efficacious but also self-rewarding.

  3. Emotional intelligence influences life in so many ways. It is strange to me to see people who let their emotions get the best of them in many situations. The most obvious example of people letting their emotions getting the best of them is fighting, both verbal and physical. I have rarely let myself take someone else’s words so seriously that I have such a reaction but there are so many people that do. It really gets in the way of their effectiveness in relationships and in work. Every mom’s advice of counting to 10 should be headed because it gives us a chance to slow down and think about what is actually being said, the consequences of every possible outcome, and whether or not what was said is actually worth our time.

  4. In the past, I have found managing my own emotions and understanding the emotions of others has always been a challenge for me. Especially in times of grief or sorrow, I found it difficult to feel for others and to feel the same pain or agony that they are feeling. However, after reading The Parallax, I’ve discovered that many of the emotions that I have not yet felt about certain things, and I have a new appreciation with the value of self-reflection, especially through writing. In writing my own personal reflections or reflections to others, I have found that it becomes easier for me to display my true feelings than it would be in sharing them with an individual in a personal encounter.

  5. The idea of reflective writing really speaks to me. I spent my first two years at St. Louis College of Pharmacy writing in my blog daily about the day to day happenings and my reflections on life. It truly has a cathartic effect to just sit there and write. I believe that the idea of free writing or writing nonstop for a certain period of time can reveal things about you that you had no idea that were there but were laying dormant in your subconscious mind. These revelations had a profound effect on my emotions and caused a much deeper understanding of myself as well as the other people in my world.

  6. Words are powerful. The way they receive and exhibit their power depends on the audience and their perception of their intended message. I feel a good author strives to write TO their audience, instead of AT their audience, similar to a teacher in a classroom. Yet, writing is a skill that its mastery is dependent on subjectivity- so some of it’s power is maintained by the mystery. Anyone can identify sub-par grammar and sentence structure due to the black and white nature of correct and incorrect, but the message of which is understood from a text or story is dependent on where that reader is in their life and all of their personal experience up until that point. I am keen to the actual therapeutic benefit writing provides individuals, especially those who loose focus of their perspective and I absolutely agree that it only promotes emotional intelligence of self and awareness of others. However, my approach to reflective writing is more of an episodic nature that happens less and less as I get busier and busier. To maintain this conscientiousness of emotional intelligence I find more at peace when engaging in oral story-telling and seeking others’ perspectives. It is when I do this that I become most reflective and aware of my own emotions, The Parallax has made me re-examine the idea of free-writing and focusing more on letting my ideas out of my head free from the criticism of self-editing- a task that is more than difficult for me to separate.

  7. As said in The Parallax, “You realize that the story is not anyone’s individual point-of-view because the story is distilled from everyone’s point-of-view, layered from the milieu of human experience. And then you understand that the source of restitution and forgiveness comes from seeing things differently. You’ve discovered The Parallax.” Parallax is defined as the effect whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions. The key word in this definition is “appears” because there are infinite ways to view an object depending on the position and the individual that perceives it. Using the age-old cliché, “there is no reality, only perception,” we can argue that all of our perceptions of reality vary greatly which is why it is imperative to accumulate changes in perspective to help develop self-effectiveness. This enhanced emotional intelligence will help close the gap between cognitive intelligence and success.

  8. Writing is a powerful tool that everyone should learn how to use in dealing with emotions. I find that when you are emotional you lose effectiveness in your daily activities. If you are unable to obtain emotional intelligence and maintain control of your emotions you can lose control of a situation. This can cause a snowball effect and can escalate into an event with poor outcomes for all parties involved. It is said that after a matter of seconds from the initial stimulus the emotions we feel are primarily of our own accord. I think that instead of acting on these emotions we can make better use of our time by writing about them. This allows us to let out the emotions we are feeling without causing any conflict between other parties and without hurting anyone that we care for. By using this tool we can prevent possible confrontations and complications between people in our lives and become more successful in obtaining and maintaining emotional intelligence.

  9. I think that there is a key distinction between being “emotional” in the sense of giving a (presumably hurtful) knee-jerk reaction versus understand emotion from the standpoint of what exactly it is about a situation that is provoking that emotion in yourself and others. Since this book places heavy emphasis on perspective and coming to see events in a different point of view, it seems that a reader could easily see the message as being “Be empathetic because others see things differently than you do.” However, I think it is important to note that to some degree people can do that for themselves. People can learn to consider alternative points of view and anticipate the feelings of others (as long as they know that there will be some margin of error in guessing another person’s reactions). Just the consideration of others seems to open channels of communication that would not be there otherwise.

  10. I believe that writing can have a truly cathartic influence on a person’s emotional psyche. Sometimes when you’re frustrated and you sit down and just begin writing down all the words that describe how you are feeling. “I am: angry, hurt, frustrated, annoyed…” These words sometimes morph into something different and you realize that it’s not anger you are feeling, it’s perhaps resentment or unhappiness. As the words flow, you can find yourself spiraling down to the source of your current emotion. You sift through all of those superficial emotions to get down to the source and the true emotion that is causing these feeling. I really think this was what Dr. Stein was trying to get at in the Parallax. Emotions like anger, fear, aggression, love and happiness are all far reaching and blanketing; they tend to cover other emotions that can be more hurtful or uplifting than just being angry or happy. If you find those root emotions, you can address them with clear thoughts and direct objective in mind. We always hear the phrase “oh let it go” or “don’t hold a grudge” but if all you think you are feeling is anger when it is really something deeper and more ingrained, that’s nearly impossible to do. If you come down to the root of your emotions, it’s easier to absorb that emotion, take it in, analyze it, and then move on from it.

  11. My favorite point that Parallax brings up is to connect with other people’s stories and even connect with your own story. As we go about our busy lives, we forget to sit down and listen to our own thoughts and feelings. Most of the time when a situation comes up, we simply react, or we bottle our feelings away and go on with our lives. I’ve often found myself do this. Sometimes it got to a point where I felt upset about something, but I did not know why. The concept of “write without editing” sounds like a fantastic way to get to the root of individual problems. Taking the time to reflect and simply listen to ourselves think is very therapeutic and will help us understand more about whom we are and what we want to define. Listening and connecting with others is the next step. We often get caught up in our own problems and forget the world around us may guide us to the answers we seek. Connecting with other people can be just as therapeutic maybe even more than just reflecting by oneself. Everyone has a story to tell and it is worth our time to listen, feel, and learn. This is what I believe emotional intelligence is about.

  12. The only experience I’ve had with reflective writing was when I was 18, and my cousin was killed in a tragic car accident. As soon as I learned that he was gone, I was in complete shock and couldn’t sort out what I was feeling. I decided to write about it, and it helped me deal with the loss with much more clarity.

  13. I can definitely see the difference that writing has in enhancing one’s emotional intelligence. I often write in my prayer journal before God whether I’m reflecting on emotions I’ve experienced or emotions that come from reading his word in the bible. I’ve noticed that up until I write things down, I often feel like there is a cloud of unknown burden hovering over me. I can’t quite see the edges or details of what is bothering me and that makes it more fearful. As I write out my emotions, feelings, and thoughts, clarity and relief often comes. The unknown is now known since I’ve pinned those flying thoughts and feelings down and usually connected them to a theme that is larger and more significant.

  14. As humans, we have no choice but to fall weak to our emotions at times, and some more than others. In fact, I believe half of those times we are not sure of the reasons behind what we feel and the emotions. Furthermore, ignored emotions do not just go away but rather get buried deep into the subconscious, ready to haunt at a moment’s notice of insecurity and despair. So yes, I wholeheartedly agree that emotional intelligence is vital. Emotional intelligence can even help us mold those emotions that formerly were our “enemies” to our advantage with better self-understanding. I used to think self-reflecting in your mind and self-reflecting on paper are interchangeable as they accomplish basically the same thing in improving one’s emotional intelligence. However, I found myself to be quite wrong. As Katherine Stein stated in The Parallax, “Emotions both conscious and unconscious are the result of our self-paradigms. Writing helps bring the subconscious paradigms to the surface.” Thus, reflective writing is, in fact, the parallax itself for me.

  15. I feel that reflective writing and empathy are both critical in developing emotional intelligence. In the process of writing, we reflect not only on our experience but on the experiences of others. By writing reflectively we can commit our experience to print but we can begin to explore how others perceived the event as well. This connection helps to improve our personal effectiveness as we become more thoughtful and sensitive to the perspectives of others and thus more emotionally intelligent. The assistance and support of others are critical to personal success and effectiveness. These things such cannot be achieved without emotional intelligence, by understanding the thoughts and feelings of others using empathy. Reflective writing can be an effective tool for developing relationships through empathy, bridging the disparity between intelligence and success with the help of others.

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