What makes emotions so complex to understand

Emotional competence

Everyone knows feelings - but why are they so important?

Whether sadness, anger or happiness, everyone, even the smallest among us, knows these feelings. Some let their feelings run wild, others prefer to hide them.

Let out or hide - why is it so important for us to have feelings? What significance do feelings have for our everyday life and for dealing with others?

Our modern society holds many new challenges and problems. Phenomena such as "burn-out", alcohol abuse by young people and violence in schools are currently on everyone's lips. On the other hand, virtues and skills that a modern (service) performance and knowledge society needs are becoming more and more important, including the ability to work in a team, "soft skills" and the ability to always bring one's "work-life balance" into order. There are many different approaches to explaining problems or trying to develop skills. One starting point are feelings, because the problems and abilities described are based to a large extent on the competent handling of one's own emotions and those of others.

What is Emotional Competence?

Psychology has only rediscovered feelings in the last few decades. Since then, feelings are no longer viewed as disruptions in the thought process. Rather, the great influence of feelings on personality development is emphasized today. In the course of our life, the competence to be able to perceive and regulate our feelings appropriately develops and changes.

What does emotional competence count? According to von Salisch (2002), emotional competence is essentially based on four core skills, which can be combined in many ways, namely the person's attention to their own emotional state, their compassion for their fellow human beings (empathy), their ability to develop satisfactory interpersonal relationships and dealing constructively with stressful or socially problematic feelings.

Based on the "burn-out" syndrome, a fifth area has recently been discussed: the ability to reconcile one's emotional life with motivation in such a way that premature "burnout" is prevented.

So feelings are not just feelings. With and through feelings we develop a wide range of skills. This includes the development of a balanced personality as well as the acquisition of relationship skills, coping skills and the ability to self-regulate.

Do feelings rule the world?

What do you mean? Does your thinking determine your feelings, or is it the other way around, that your feelings influence your thinking and actions?

Even science cannot give an unequivocal answer. But one thing is certain: the influence of feelings on thought processes and our actions has long been underestimated by science. How do I judge other people if I am dissatisfied or angry myself? Can I still be objective then? Today we know that feelings control the motivation of our behavior to a considerable extent, especially our social behavior towards other people. Emotions act as "glasses" through which one can look and through which the world is colored the way one feels. The emotional constitution of a person therefore has a major impact on his view of things and thus also his well-being and behavior in society. For example, it could be shown that positive emotions can have a positive effect on learning performance.

How does emotional competence actually come about?

Infants are born with basic communicative equipment. Again, the caregivers, mostly the parents, are also equipped with competencies, i.e. a perceptual ability, to react to the needs of the infant. Because of these mutual competencies, the children get to know a special world of self-awareness and self-regulation in the interaction.

Here the child learns linguistic communication, which is a basic qualification for emotional competence.

From the first 3-4 weeks of life up to the fourth year of life, children learn the meaning of different emotions and their expression. A child's facial expressions become clearer from the age of 3 months. In addition to the smile, there is now also a laugh and a month later the expressions for anger, surprise, sadness and shame are added. From the 7th and 8th month of life, the children show fear and fear. In the course of the second year of life, expressions for shyness, guilt and contempt are shown.

Up to the age of 3 the children develop the different emotional expressions and now learn to change them according to the cultural norms and parental expectations. However, in the first few months children are dependent on the voice and facial expression of the other in order to be able to classify the feelings of others. For example, a 7 month old baby cannot tell a happy face from an angry face without the pitch of the voice.

Talking about your own feelings begins at around 18 months and becomes very complex in the third year of life. The children can name emotional states in themselves and others. When playing, the children show that they are faking emotional states for themselves, for others or for toys such as dolls.

Developing compassion and prosocial behavior "empathy"

To start with, an example. One father describes the following experience with his 14-month-old son (after Harris 1992, p. 36): "When we got home that afternoon, I slipped and fell on my nose. It hurt and I sat in the rocking chair and rubbed my nose. My son was very compassionate. He did what I usually do for him when he gets hurt. He hugged and patted me and even offered me his blanket to take when he was hurt or is tired. He seemed very concerned about me. "

However, children can only show this behavior if they have already had experiences with the "appropriate feelings". They must be able to recognize the other person's emotional state and be able to change the other person's emotional state through their own behavior. Children then look for means of comfort that they have come to know themselves and that are good for them.

While children up to the 1st year of life still show signs of grief themselves when another child cries, the expression of own sadness declines in the 2nd year of life and these constructive attempts at comfort increase. Because up to the first year of life children cannot distinguish between their own emotional state and that of another person. Perhaps you have also observed yourself that small children often cry with other children.

Literature:

  • Harris, P.L. (1992). The child and the feelings. How the understanding for other people develops. Bern: Huber.
  • Von Salisch, M. (2002). Develop emotional skills. Basics in childhood and adolescence. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.

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