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Commentary On Susie Orbach #1
Emotional Literacy Education Course 101:
Lesson One: What Is Emotional Literacy?
by Mark Zimmerman
Emotional Literacy Education Course 101 Lesson One: Commentary On Susie Orbach #1

Commentary On Susie Orbach by Mark Zimmerman In the spring of 2001, I came upon the concept of Emotional Literacy for the first time. Most of my adult life, I've used the term Self-Knowledge. Where the idea of Self-Knowledge falls short is in the social context; and how it relates to others. Emotional Literacy, on the other hand, has a social connection - which for me immediately meant education. Because the term literacy comes from education. The term literacy means, or it has come to mean, acquiring specialized skills, for example, computer literacy. And I understood immediately that Emotional Literacy was a skill, that could only be learned through an educational system. Self-Knowledge, on the other hand, is primarily self-taught, but very few people are capable of teaching themselves such a complex subject.

The first time I came across the concept of Emotional Literacy was at the Antidote Website, where I read Susie Orbach's definition. She is a Psychologist who wrote in The Guardian on August 12, 1998, "Emotional Literacy means being able to recognize what you are feeling, so that it doesn't interfere with thinking."

Self-Knowledge means exactly recognizing what you are feeling, so immediately I saw the connection between Self-Knowledge and Emotional Literacy. I have spent the last two years working with Emotional Literacy, trying to see where it connects with my work in Self-Knowledge. And I have been modifying my own work, so that it meets educational standards.

Susie Orbach wrote, "Emotional Literacy means being able to recognize what you are feeling, so that it doesn't interfere with thinking."

I also became very interested in the concept of Emotional Literacy, because it involved both psychology and education. And combining the two for me means Emotional Literacy.

Where psychology becomes important is that psychology is the study of the human psyche. It's the science of studying the human mind. And psychology has made tremendous progress since the time of Sigmund Freud. And it has gradually moved away from a psychology of pathology, and the study of human mental illness, towards a new kind of psychology started by Abraham Maslow.

Freud studied mental illness, but he never really explained completely why people were mentally ill. He failed in one area, and that was the study of human health - human mental health. And Abraham Maslow chose to study healthy human beings as a model for his new psychology, which he called the Psychology of Being. His contribution to psychology is as great as Sigmund Freud's for showing that man is not merely a set of pathologies or mental illnesses and neurosis, but that man has human potential far beyond our imagination.

Abraham Maslow showed us that human beings can be psychologically healthy. He also demonstrated why humans become psychologically unhealthy. He determined that we become psychologically neurotic, when our needs are thwarted; when we as human beings are blocked in fulfilling our human needs. That this blocking causes us frustration and a rerouting of our behavior into neurosis.

Susie Orbach wrote, "Emotional Literacy means being able to recognize what you are feeling, so that it doesn't interfere with thinking."

Why do feelings interfere with thinking? Mankind, in its philosophy, likes to separate feeling from thinking. They're not separate at all. Every thought has a feeling attached to it. If we are frightened or angry or confused, it's going to affect the way we think.

What is happening here is that we do not recognize our feelings. We're unconscious of feeling. What is conscious is our thoughts. What's not conscious are the feelings attached to those thoughts.

"Emotional Literacy," as defined by Susie Orbach, "means being able to recognize what you are feeling, so that it doesn't interfere with thinking. It becomes another dimension to draw upon when making decisions or encountering situations."

It can become another dimension to draw upon when making decisions or encountering situations. That is, if we were able to recognize our feelings, we would understand how they affect our thoughts. So her statement is conditional. If we became more aware of our feelings, we would be able to use them to help us make decisions. Feelings which are properly associated with thoughts are what helps us to decide. They lend meaning. They lend gravity. They lend weight to our thought processes. Without feelings our thoughts would be like words in a computer. It's our feelings which give meaning to our thoughts. Its our feelings which help us to decide our behavior, whether we're conscious of it or not. We all start out life unconscious. Becoming conscious requires a special effort.

Susie Orbach continues, "Emotional expression by contrast can mean being driven by emotions, so that it isn't possible to think."

For most people thinking is an unreliable process. We like to think that it's our thought processes through which we decide what we're going to do, but ultimately it's our emotions that drive our behavior, unconsciously. Only when emotional experiences reach a certain level of intensity of confusion or pain or depression does it make it impossible to think. And it's when we become conscious of our emotions, that our immediate response is to repress them. What we don't realize is that our emotions influence our thoughts more than our thoughts influence our emotions.

Susie Orbach continues, "These two things are often confused, because we are still uncomfortable with the idea of the validity of feelings."

It's our feelings that need to be sorted out, because our feelings are driving both our thoughts and our behaviors. Men and women function differently when it comes to their thoughts and feelings. Men usually deny that they have feelings. Men are better able to suppress into their unconscious - emotions. And they rely more heavily on their intellect, and this has been hailed by men as a strength. But it is a self-defeating attitude, because their emotions are there, they just block consciousness of them, and amplify their thoughts. And women do just the opposite. In women emotions are stronger, consciously, than in men. Yet, maybe it's these strong emotions which do interfere with their thoughts, because emotions are scary, and fear does interfere with rational thought.

For me Emotional Literacy means sorting out thoughts and emotions, because they can work together, when both are made equally conscious. But so much of our psyche is unconscious, that we have problems working within the framework of our own capacities and mental functions.

And we tend to work outside in a social context, where we accept direction from without largely because of the uncertainty within.

Emotional Literacy means becoming literate, becoming skilled in reading your own emotions.

England is far ahead of the United States in advancing Emotional Literacy both politically and in the education system.

At the Antidote Website Emotional Literacy is defined as, "Emotional Literacy is the practice of engaging with others in a way which facilitates understanding of our own and others' emotions, then using this understanding to inform our actions."

Emotional Literacy should be understood in the social context, because it is the practice of engaging with others, learning from others ways which facilitate understanding of our own emotions, and the emotions of others.

Our emotions do inform our actions. They drive our actions, instinctually, and in an unconscious way. But they can also act to inform our actions. Our emotions can provide us with information about ourselves, and about our behavior and about the behavior of others.

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