Emotional Intelligence in Body-Mediated Counseling

Written by Milena Screm, Manager, Insight, Italy

A word too many, a sentence spoken with particular emphasis, an aggressive tone of voice, and a crescendo of verbal skirmish can erupt: a conflict.We all see it happen sometimes, or even worse we take part in it. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, some people actually look for it, and indeed some TV personalities seem to take pleasure in it.

While words are one of the means humans have to communicate, when they become harsh, when they are spoken with anger, when they have the energy of a slap in the face, they become offensive tools: articulated sounds that sink their metaphorical blades both into the softness of the ear and of the belly. A true warfare tool, in these cases they express trenchant judgements, showing aggressive emotions and, sometimes, dangerous purposes. They are underlined and often naturally emphasized by glance, facial mimicry, posture, and gestuality.

Before focussing our attention on “what” to do and “how” to manage aggressive impulses, let’s try to understand “why” we feel them.

Anger is a “primary” aggressive display whose origins are primitive and instinct-related. In the animal world, baring teeth and growling is a behaviour that signals “Beware: I am about to attack!” Animals do it when they feel in danger, and therefore have to defend themselves, or when they attack to satisfy their hunger; in both cases, it is a matter of survival.

Of course, human beings are more complicated and sophisticated, but sometimes they also may attack to defend themselves from a danger, real or imaginary. Often people become aggressive when they feel that a boundary has been crossed: an angry glare, some harsh words, a snarling tone of voice, and a clear message has been sent: “Beware, you are going too far and you may have to face the consequences!”.

But there is also an anger stemming from a underlying and semi-permanent state of irritability; those affected by it react easily even to trivial things, and above all they are impatient. In such cases, often this is one of the effects caused by stressing situations where stress, which has become distress, that is, a full-blown tension-filled situation, sets off a chain of physiological reactions altering the chemical conditions of the organism as well. The production of adrenalin, the hormone of the “fight or flight response”, exceeds the required amount (the same happens with another hormone, cortisol) and the side effects of this hormonal overload affect organs, physiological systems, and mood; the latter becomes irritable and reactive.

Stress-induced anger is a signal similar to a red warning light on the dashboard of an old generation car: it says “Beware, there is a malfunctioning, a check and adequate actions are needed”; it encourages the individual to stop, listen and take care of themselves. Relaxation techniques are very effective in these cases, as well as everything that makes quality sleep and nerve relaxation easier.

If the cause is not stress but a “highly flammable” personality, the management approach should follow multiple paths. Emotions awareness work is the starting point. What do I feel? Where do I feel it? What did I experience? What started this emotional feeling inside of me?

Asking these questions, developing this self-listening, being able to provide answers, are the first steps to take on the way towards a new emotional education. Breathing, as a resource physiologically and naturally connected to emotions, is another practical tool that can be used. It has a dual potential: it encourages an accurate listening of sensations and, at the same time, it enables to act physiologically on the emotional reaction and to manage it: the suggestion “Count to five before you react” could also be transformed into “Take five deep breaths before you explode in anger”.
Another tool that can be used, in connection with the previous two, are practices aiming to release accumulated tension, in such a way as to avoid to accumulate nervousness first in the workplace and then within the family. Both simple practices as physical activity, and specific exercises aiming to express anger as such and not “against” someone, can be effective. Also, the use of writing must not be underestimated: committing destructive impulses to paper helps to lighten up the mood enough, and so it builds well-being, without hurting anyone.

What should we do when a colleague pours out their anger on us?
How can we check our mounting anger when someone succeeds in driving us mad?
What should be our attitude in a quarrel?
There is no “recipe” for this.
But there are some tools we can use.
A basic premise is that other people don’t put emotions inside us: these are our response to the stimuli we have perceived. We cannot change other people; instead, we have the power to know ourselves and improve.


As a first step we should get to know our personal list of uncontrollable emotions, those that can cause problems to us straight away.

Here is a simple practical process:
- Write down a description of the way you would always like to feel, your ideal mood, the best inner state to face the day;
- Another piece of paper, another description: the opposite states of mind to those described before.
For example, if the first list includes “happy, satisfied, open to others…”, the opposites could be “sad, frustrated, closed in on myself…”.
The second list should be examined carefully: it is our emotional “black list”, containing the rejected emotions we want to keep away from, because when they come up… they put our backs up against the wall!

From a very early age, we learn to divide emotions into good and bad. Over the years, we try to become one with those we allow ourselves to feel, and above all,
to express.
We present ourselves to others, and to ourselves, as the whole of “good” emotional states. We use this image as a photograph of ourselves or a business card for other people (and for ourselves, too). But when we feel a powerful emotion coming we can’t manage, one of those from the “black list”, then… we completely freak out.

Usually we say: I am angry, I am sad, I am happy, while we could say: I feel anger, I perceive sadness, I experience happiness. Is it just a lack of synonyms? Language laziness aside, we are expressing with words that we have fallen into a trap: we get the impression we have become the emotion we experience. When we identify ourselves with an emotion, we unconsciously peep at the lists to check whether it belongs to the “Good” or “Bad” one. So we assign the same value and judgement also to ourselves who are feeling it.

At this point, expressing our feelings or not becomes a matter of context; depending on whether the expression of what we feel is socially acceptable or not, we may appear good or bad.
Whenever we feel we cannot expose what we are experiencing, we automatically put a fake but expressible behavior into action: a disguise.
”I am envious “. “Don’t show it, smile!”

“He hurt me, I feel like crying “. “No way: just walk away outraged!”
”I feel so angry I want to smash everything “. “Self-control!!! Compulsively tide up your desk.”
Are we forgetting something? Yes! That every emotion we feel has some message to tell us, that is essential for our life and well-being.
When we repress particular feelings, the complex mechanism governing emotions reacts by making us feel them more often, by exposing them to people around us, by transforming them into physical disorders. Anything, as long as we are able to get the message they have for us.

Five steps towards a healthy management of emotional life.

1. Rediscover the art of listening to your body, the place where emotions show themselves and move.

2. Learn to call emotions by their proper name, instead of being vague.

3. Broaden your perspective about emotions, rediscovering the gifts and messages they bring.

4. Develop a non-judgmental attitude towards your feelings.
5. Learn the strategies to express your emotions in a healthy way.

Dis-identify from emotions, learning how to experience, listen to, and express them: this is the recipe for a healthy emotional world. Easy to say, and not too hard to do. Alone or in good company, along a path towards greater serenity and authenticity.

Daniel Goleman is a psychologist and award-winning author of Emotional Intelligence and other books on EI, challenges traditional measures of intelligence as a predictor of life success.
John D. Mayer is a psychologist at the University of New Hampshire. He co-developed a popular model of emotional intelligence with Dr. Peter Salovey. He is one of the authors of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), and has developed a new, integrated framework for personality psychology, known as the Systems Framework for Personality Psychology. He is the author of Personal Intelligence: The Power of Personality and How It Shapes Our Lives.

Peter Salovey is an American social psychologist and current President of Yale University. Is one of the early pioneers and leading researchers in emotional
intelligence. He is author of Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Implications for educators, with D. Sluyter, and Intelligence Test (MSCEIT): User’s manual, with J.Mayer, & D.R. Caruso.
Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional

Keywords; Body-Mediated Counseling, psychology, stress, emotional intelligence,

© Milena Screm 2014

About the author: http://www.insightformazione.it/chi-siamo/docenti-counselor-interni/milena-screm
 Supervisor Counselor & BreathWorker,
 Founder and president INSIGHT School of BreathWork Counseling – Milan (Italy)

Author of fourteen books in psychology, published in Italy, France and Spain, among which: “BreathWork” (1998), “Autogenic Training” (1989,2012), “Rebirthing & Water” (1994), “The history of Rebirthing” ( 1992 ), “Rebirthing, breathe for renewal”, the first book published in Italy on rebirthing (1989, 1993, 2011)