The Challenge of Emotional Wellbeing

Last week I wrote about the emotional debt that is owed to many Irish, European and non-European people. I also intimated that corporate and work practices are, at root, an interpersonal relationship between employers and employees and between employees and their customers. These latter alliances are the most robust aspect of economic activity and whilst techniques, strategies, structures and goals are important, it is through the quality of relationship within the work organisation and between individuals in the work organisation and their customers that such ‘head-sets’ are delivered. In other words, the leader’s ability to form relationship – alliances – is the most crucial determinant of his or her effectiveness. Given the foregoing, how is it that many leaders – especially males – are considered to be heartless and consider relationship to be the ‘soft’ skills of management. This ‘soft’ concept of emotion is a defensive response on the part of males because, if truth be told, many men are terrified of both the expression of their feelings (with the exception of anger) and the receptivity to the expressed feelings of others. We are only half human when we operate only from our heads and the sad thing is that it is our hearts that are the driving force for good in this world.

Parenting, educating, governing, managing need to be both heart and head, passion and reason driven and when either one of these is missing, great neglect ensues – as we now only too well know. With men, the heart has largely been missing and, with women, the head has been more absent. It is not for men to pass the buck of responsibility for their emotional life to women and it is not for women to give over responsibility for their intellectual life to men. It is incumbent on all of us to operate from the fullness and light of our sacred nature so that dark behaviours – from either gender – do not shadow one’s own and the lives of others. Certainly, women have taken up the challenge of balancing their heart potential with exploring their head potential. Signs of this are that girls are outdoing boys across all school subjects, and this is not surprising, because when ambition is infused with heart, it thrives. Nonetheless, there is a need for wariness around generalisations. We direly require leaders in all fields of human activity to be fully human. More women in leadership roles are needed, but let us not confuse maturity with gender. Maturity is a human issue, not a gender one. Maturity manifests itself in such qualities as openness, warmth, respect, responsibility, accountability, emotional expressiveness, emotional receptiveness, active listening, equality, fairness, empowerment of others, an orientation of progress for all, a commitment to the wellbeing of individuals and the championing of people’s right to be themselves.

Emotions are the most accurate barometer of the level of a person’s well-being, and, as such, need to be embraced as allies (not as aliens, as many men see them). Encouragement to be receptive and expressive of different emotions needs to be present in all relationships – no matter where – home, classroom, church, community, workplace, the Dail, the Seanad, voluntary and sport organisations. Feelings do not disappear because we are told not to have them; on the contrary, repressed feelings of abandonment, hurt, anger, rage, sadness, loneliness, guilt determine how we live, work, play and pray – more often than not without any consciousness being present.

Perhaps one of the reasons why feelings are often still taboo is the fact that feelings – like non-verbal communication – never lie. When speaking the truth carries many dangers – in families, classrooms, churches, workplaces, government meetings – it becomes a clever expedient to shoot the messenger – the emotions. In the face of the huge threats that have existed to reveal truth, is it any wonder that many individuals learned to repress, bottle-up, displace, project, introject, modify, dilute or deny their own or the emotions of others. Welfare feelings (for example, love, joy, excitement, passion, compassion, security, confidence) let us know that it is safe to be real and authentic; emergency feelings of anger, hurt, fear, disappointment, hate, rage, sadness, depression alert us to threats to our own and other’s wellbeing.

From our earliest years the nurturing of emotional expression and emotional receptivity are critical to psycho-social and economic prosperity. Those in governorship roles who struggle with their emotions have an urgent responsibility to seek support and help to become fully human for their own benefit and the benefit for all of whom they have charge.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist, author, national and international speaker. His latest book Leadership with Consciousness is relevant to today’s article.