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Here are several
more ways to quickly find what you are looking for:
- To quickly identify a particular emotion and learn more about it, begin
with the page on recognizing emotions.
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- To understand the survival value of each emotion, read about how each
serves as a beacon.
- To understand several concepts that trigger our emotions, read about
these core concepts.
This guide suggests a path for studying the emotional
competency material and presents a through and orderly tour of the entire website. The tour starts at the beginning and moves logically from one
topic to the next until each page in the site is visited. Because each of us
differs significantly in our background and interests, we will want to
study some topics in depth and move quickly over other topics. Therefore, it may be helpful to consider
your comprehension and interest in each
statement or topic as you read the study guide. If the statement is clear,
understandable, and you believe it to be true, then move on. If you don't
understand the statement, or you are skeptical, or curious and want to learn
more, then follow the links embedded in the text to learn more about each topic.
Several of the more important or complex topics will be covered more than once, beginning with a short
introduction to the topic and leaving the in-depth coverage for later in the
All humans experience emotions that help
our actions. These emotions are ancient mechanisms that quickly mobilize us to
deal with important interpersonal encounters. Emotions are experienced as
feelings that often occur simultaneously along with our cognitive (conscious) thoughts. The emotional feeling may be
subtle and go almost unnoticed, or it may be strong enough that it clearly
divides our attention, or it may be so strong that it overwhelms our decision
making and leads us directly to immediate action.
Emotional competency is the
ability to recognize, interpret, and respond constructively to emotions in
yourself and others. Humans are social beings, and emotional competency is an
essential social skill. Just as one person might be good in math, one good in
music, and another good in sports, we each differ in our
emotional competence. Some of us might easily
recognize an emotion that others don't even notice. Just as studying math
increases our math competency, and practice with a musical instrument
increases our musical competency, studying emotions and practicing constructive
responses can increase our emotional
competency. While some people seem to have a knack for math, and others have a
knack for music, some people easily attain high levels of emotion competency,
even without formal instruction. These people are naturally high in Emotional
Intelligence. But just as most of us don't learn math without careful study, most of
us can benefit greatly by studying to improve our emotional competency.
Emotion competency is
an important skill that can provide several benefits throughout many aspects
of your life. It can increase the satisfaction you have with relationships while it
increases your gratification and
contentment with the many simple events in your life. It can give you
greater insight and help you better understand the
motives and actions of yourself and
others. You can free yourself from anger,
vengeance, and other destructive emotions that cause hurt and
pain. You can feel relief and enjoy greater
competence, and wisdom as you engage more
deeply with others. Increasing your
tolerance and compassion can lead
to an authentic optimism and a well-founded confidence, based on your
better understanding and interpretation of
As your emotional competency increases, you may experience a
variety of positive transformations in your life. Destructive behavior
patterns of the past may transform into more constructive behavior as you begin to solve
the mysterious puzzle of human interactions
and gain a quiet and confident understanding of them.
yield to more peaceful, tranquil, and contented feelings as your
understanding increases. You may become less isolated as you become
more engaged with others you now enjoy relating to. You may feel more
confident and powerful, and less confused, frustrated, and powerless.
Overall you can transform from confused to confident; from clueless to
comprehending and enlightened, from fragmented to coherent, from
shallow to deep, and from oppressed to liberated as you become your
Once we recognize an emotion we can choose
how to react to it. Making good choices
requires us to understand the information the emotion is sending us,
know how to interpret that signal, consider the choices we have for action, and
the consequences of those choices. The many emotions we all
feel provide us with many decisions we are
Let's begin by analyzing the powerful emotion of fear.
is a Basic Emotion
Everyone experiences fear at some time. This
helpful because it quickly alerts us
to imminent danger and prepares us to act to avoid that danger. Fear serves to
protect us from harm. Fear is typical
of emotions in that we have a physiological response,
including a distinctive facial expression, the signal may or not be
directly helpful in today's world, and we have choices in how to respond.
The signals that trigger fear originally developed millions of years ago.
They include: something hurling rapidly toward you, such as a boulder rolling
quickly toward you; sudden loss of support, such as the floor giving way; and
the threat of physical pain. We also learn new triggers for our fears
based on our experience in the modern world. Because
these ancient triggers may not be relevant in today's world, we have to analyze
the true source of our fears before deciding how to react. Falsely
triggered fears, or ineffective responses, can increase our stress and make it
difficult to relax.
If you discover the threat is now gone and the danger you
feared has disappeared, you will enjoy a feeling of
Anxiety is a
generalized variant of fear triggered by an uncertain threat. It describes a
prolonged moderately intense condition provoked by a specific event that can be
upsetting. It is the distress we feel when existential concerns are provoked by an
immediate or upcoming event.
While fear alerts us to threats,
surprise alerts us to any unexpected event, whether
or not it is a threat. Both emotions increase our alertness and focus our
attention as strategies for self-defense and survival. Surprise motivates us to
Fear provides the basis for dominance—the ability to harm. Dominance
is one source of power—the ability of one person to
change the behavior of another. Although you often hear the phrase “motivated by
fear”, fear usually constrains our actions rather than
motivates us. Survival is the true motive at work.
As with any emotion,
culturally determined display rules influence
how much we allow others to see the fear we are feeling.
maintain a cool and brave outward appearance in public even if they are
experiencing moderately high levels of fear. We don't often allow ourselves
to scream in front of our boss or other people we seek to impress. We also work to
keep a brave face and don't show our fear while we are protecting children from
a danger we may be facing along with them.
Courage is a particular
strength we use to cope with and manage our response
to fear. A courageous person understands danger, and chooses to overcome their fear
and proceed to face the danger. It is not fearlessness, recklessness, or
rashness. It is a well considered and brave decision to behave constructively
despite the fear.
Studying fear in depth provides important insights into
the working of our emotional brains.
Our brains evolved first as survival mechanisms. Only eons later did we develop
our cognitive abilities. As a result, when we are faced with a threat we sense
and act first and only later do we consciously notice, decide, and reflect.
We are built to defend before we comprehend. This probably worked better in
prehistoric caves than in today's modern homes and offices.
Emotions instantly respond to a rapid assessment of our
sensory inputs and immediate perceptions. They attain their speed by sacrificing accuracy;
emotions are oriented toward action based on snap
judgments. It is safer to
mistake a stick for a snake than to delay or overlook a possible
threat. However, a careful investigation, examination, and
analysis of the
situation often leads to a different conclusion and more constructive course of action. To react constructively it is
essential to understand what truly is, not just what might seem to be. This
requires a careful examination of the evidence. This,
however, is made difficult by the large number of
fallacies we are likely to overlook, our
tendency not to challenge the opinions of people recognized as
authorities or holding power, our existing
beliefs, the time and
attention we dedicate to the investigation, and the
many distortions our brains introduce. Applying
our own well-developed theory of knowledge can help us choose the most
accurate and helpful beliefs and make more informed decisions.
Reassessing the situation often provides a more accurate analysis and allows for
more constructive action. Look carefully before you leap.
Right, and Wrong
Each of us has a sense of
justice—our ideas of what is fair, what is right,
and what is wrong. This may be based on the constitution and written laws of our
nation or state, religious teachings, or the by-laws and personnel handbook of the organizations we work
in. We may adopt a more local or personal code of justice, such as the norms and
customs of our parents or peer groups, the Code of the West, the Code of the South, the
Code of the Streets, our sense of trespass, or our own set of rules
for living. Alternatively we may seek a more universal basis for our code of
justice. These universal principles
may include: the golden rule, the principle of
empathy, a sense of
responsibility, or an appeal to equality, reciprocity, or
symmetry. Our own values and
beliefs also contribute to and are based on our own sense of justice. But of course
these foundations for justice vary greatly in the guidance they provide and
interpretations they are given.
In addition to this variety in our chosen basis for justice, we each have
our own personal experiences, recollections, and perceptions of what
happened in any particular situation. This is further shaped by our own
first-person viewpoint, motives,
needs, and goals. As a result, ideas of what is fair vary
greatly from one person to the next, from one family to the next, from one
culture to the next, from one nation to the next, from one religion to the next, and from one situation to
the next. The result is that two people, each claiming to be acting for a just
cause can find themselves in a heated conflict strongly opposing each other.
Anger is the emotion that
seeks to preserve and defend our sense of justice.
Anger—an Urgent Plea for Justice and Action
Anger acts as our sentinel for justice. This powerful
emotion is triggered by a perceived injustice and it instantly alerts,
arouses, and energizes us to take swift, decisive, and often violent
action to preserve and restore justice, repair our loss, and achieve our goals. This vital emotion would serve us better
if our snap judgments were more accurate, our sense of justice was more widely
shared, and if anger would lead us to justice without starting a fight.
Both sadness and anger are emotional responses to suffering a
difference is that we become angry at someone or something. When we are
sad we do not blame someone. When we are angry we
find someone, a responsible agent, to blame and
hold responsible for the insult, loss,
or disrespect we suffer.
The offense is “blameworthy”. Because we blame someone for the loss, we feel that
we can “teach them lesson”, “even the score”, and “change things around here”.
Anger insists “something has to change”, creates the
vindictive passions that lead to
revenge, and often result in
violence. Anger breeds more anger. To satisfy our need to blame someone, we may
create an innocent scapegoat. To escape unfair
persecution, the scapegoat may resort to whistle
blowing to alert others to the injustice and appeal for their help.
Whenever we are provoked to anger we face very important choices
in how to respond. Although our almost
uncontrollable urge is to prepare to fight, strike out, engage in an anger
display, and become violent, this is the wrong
choice. A passive aggressive response—hostile inaction—is
another a poor choice, and so is initiating or entering a
dominance contest. The best coping strategy
is to calm down, perhaps by counting to 10 or 100, and analyze the situation in
depth. Wait until you can overcome primal
thinking—snap judgments based on polarized
thinking and false dichotomies—and calmly gather and reflect on the
requires us to identify and assess our loss, discover the unmet
needs identified by our anger, understand who we
blame for our loss and why we hold them
responsible, and engage in constructive
dialogue that can resolve the root problem, strengthen
our relationships, and lead to lasting and
Some people are easily provoked to
anger; they just seem to be angry all the time.
This may be caused by their fragile high
self-esteem, specific hostile personality
traits, or because they hold to unreasonable rules for making decisions.
After we take time to reflect and reassess the situation we often regret
actions we took while we were angry. As we reflect on a situation, at some later
time we may decide to apologize to people we have hurt
and forgive those who injured us.
A relationship is the history of interactions between two or more people.
Relationships are based on reciprocity—mutual
exchange. Strong relationships are based on trust—relying
on others—and authentic expression—gaining common
understanding. Although each relationship has many features that define it, one
pervasive characteristic is the level of symmetry of the exchanges. A relationship is either symmetrical
and peer-based, or it is asymmetrical and power-based. In a peer based
relationship each person regards the others as their equal. In a power based
relationship, one person is in the “one-up” position, the position of
power, and the other is in the “one-down” submissive
position. This ranking may be well know and accepted, it may be disputed by the
people in the relationship, the actual ranking may be inverted from the apparent
or expected ranking, or it may be unknown to the people in the relationship.
Most of our relationships are casual, ordinary, and nearly neutral; however some
evolve into strongly felt love—a caring relationship
between two people—or hate—an intense dislike. Deeply
felt love arises from limbic resonance—a kind of primal dialogue and emotional
entrainment communicated between people through
primal messaging and limbic attractors
that closely connect and entrain the mental symbols of the couples'
Doubts about love can lead to jealousy—feeling
hurt because you fear you are unlovable. If the powerful urges of jealousy go
unchecked they can lead to violence.
Hate too easily gives us someone to blame for our
troubles and too often leads to violence. It is a popular but tragically
short-sighted and destructive short cut. Because violence
leads to more violence as people seek revenge,
long-lasting and escalating bouts of violence are a common human tragedy. This cycle can be
broken when someone makes the decision and has the
courage to apologize, take
personal responsibility for ending the
violence, extends feelings of
empathy to include compassion for their enemy, engage their enemy in respectful and
meaningful dialogue, and
forgive those who have wronged them. Disrespect is the precursor to
hate. Heed the warning. Reevaluate the
evidence, avoid the
distortions, correct the errors in reasoning, and reject the temptation to
dismiss or humiliate the other.
Even healthy relationships often lead to conflict.
Dialogue can help us understand the other's viewpoints and
resolve conflict constructively.
Accurate empathy—a deep appreciation for another's situation and point of view—is the
basis for the
and our intrinsic sense of justice and reciprocity.
The basic skill of understanding how another feels, seeing our
selves in another, is generalized into a broader sense of
Empathy connects us to others. It is the basis for
compassion—our unconditional kindness toward others—and
gratitude—our appreciation of another's kindness
towards us. It recognizes the basic symmetry and
universal connections of humanity—whatever you
may be experiencing, I too could be experiencing the same thing.
Stature is the ability to help others. We are attracted to people we believe
have high stature because of the possibility of receiving a reward. Pride is the
emotion related to increased stature, while
shame is the emotion related to decreased stature. The
terms “one up” and “one down” refer to relative stature in a
relationship. Insults are an attack on stature that often provoke
humiliation, anger, and violence.
Several emotions reflect changes in stature:
- Pride reflects your pleasure with an increase in
- Shame reflects your displeasure with a decrease in
- Envy reflects your displeasure from an increase in
an acquaintance's stature.
- Gloating reflects your pleasure from a decrease in an
stature. This may also make you feel a bit guilty.
- Contempt is your assessment that another's
stature does not your standards of what is acceptable. Contempt is similar to disgust, but is
triggered by people rather than by toxic substances.
- Fear is often based on a potential loss of
stature through some type of injury or insult.
- Anxiety can arise from concern over
inadequate stature, especially in comparison to colleagues.
- Hate is an attempt to isolate and remove people—the
harmful others—suspected of low stature.
- Anger results from
humiliation, an unjust challenge to stature.
These emotions are often very powerful, perhaps because of the importance of
stature for survival and procreation in prehistoric times. Respect and
often depend on stature measures. Humiliation is a
cruel, powerful, and often enraging form of disrespect and stature challenge.
Stature is an important and authentic source of power and an
essential component of
True stature should not be confused with social rank or
image—estimates of relative worth based superficially on appearances.
These assessments are often incorrect and misleading.
Stature is so essential that
all of history is the quest for
Power—which is often thought of as the ability of one person to alter the
behavior others, has a more precise definition. Power is an asymmetrical dyadic relationship—basically
an unbalanced or one-sided way of treating someone or of being treated. It is instructive to recognize that power is an attribute of the
relationship and not of the person.
Power can be exercised from these three basic postures:
- Dominance—The ability to inflict harm, also
know as aggressive coercion, or
- Stature—The ability to provide help, also know as
- Influence—altering people's beliefs.
The first two power bases are the proverbial “carrot and stick”. The third is
an implicit and pervasive method used to alter people's behavior without
requiring their obedience, submission, or perhaps even their awareness.
We communicate our understanding of the power relationship every time we talk
with someone. If we believe we are speaking with a peer, we use
dialogue, otherwise we use one of the many power-based
When power goes unchecked
it can quickly become tyranny and lead to oppression.
We are all human and we share a remarkable list of intrinsic similarities
we call human nature. Yet we are all
different, distinguished by the intrinsic differences we call
personality traits, our unique
experiences that establish our learned responses and
habits, and our unique values, beliefs, and
We also have our own unique strengths,
disappointments, and dreams. Everything we do and every perception we have
of the world around us accumulates over time and contributes to the
ever-changing entity we refer to as our “self”.
We have the remarkable, and perhaps unique ability to think about our own
thoughts. This strange loop allows us to become
aware of our self, judge our self, plan for the future, reflect and
ruminate about the past, think about our selves separate from others, imagine
the thoughts of others, and judge our own actions.
We assess the value of our own self. We may be
pleased, recognize our own dignity, and respect our self, or we may be disappointed and feel
shame for our self. The mental symbol we use to
think about our self is our self symbol. When we understand our self
and act according to our true self, we are authentic.
We have a unique view-point on the world based on our own center of awareness. We are
responsible for the choices we make and the
results, good or bad, that result from those choices. We apply our own
theory of knowledge to choose our beliefs.
We use a complex integrated system to guide us
through life. Our values, beliefs,
and long-term goals set an overall direction. However,
we make rapid, almost instantaneous appraisals of
events that happen every day. When these appraisals involve important goals we
react with particular emotions and
stress. We cope with adverse
events to solve problems and reduce their impact on us. We reappraise past
events and may revise our values, goals, or beliefs as a result.
Architecture for Interaction
Many factors influence our behaviors. The
architecture for interaction model organizes these factors into four distinct layers and also considers the
of relationships that are currently influencing our behavior. We can easily
change some of the factors that lead to our behavior
and we can't change others. When analyzing your own
behavior or that of others it is helpful to begin by determining which portions
of this model are primarily responsible for the behavior.
These four layers of behavior are:
In addition, each relationship is either a peer-based
symmetrical relationship or a power-based
asymmetrical relationship. This complex system of behaviors is at work within
you and every person you interact with.
Every human experiences a similar set of
emotions that respond to a wide range of human
encounters. These essential and primitive mechanisms drive us to take
immediate action based on snap judgments. While emotions contain remarkable wisdom that
has guided our ancestors' survival over millions of
years, emotions often get it wrong, especially in our modern world. They may
encourage us to over-react or to mis-react. A considered examination,
investigation, and analysis of the situation often leads to a different
conclusion and a more constructive course of action. We have the self-control and
cognitive abilities to choose how we react in every event; we are not prisoners
of our emotions. We can learn to cope. Emotions react to
what is important in our lives. This includes what-is,
safety, justice, power,
empathy, beliefs, needs,
motives, goals, what we can
change and what we cannot, and our own self concepts
Emotional competency begins to provide a model for constructive human interactions
path toward peace.
Passion does have logic. We can
increase our emotional competency and improve our ability to recognize,
interpret, and respond constructively to emotions in our self and others. Humans
are social beings, and emotional competency is an essential social skill. We
hope these pages help to increase your emotional competency and allow you to
live a more fulfilling life.
If you are satisfied with your progress toward emotional competency, you may
wish to proceed along the path toward wisdom,
or study what matters
most in life. Good luck to you.