Poor communication is one of the most common reasons why relationships struggle.
Communication is as much about emotion as it is about intellect.
Pragmatic thought and rational communication are of course necessary. We all need to navigate aspects of life in rational and logical ways.
The strength to think on our feet and have a cool head to think clearly helps us make decisions and solve problems.
In contrast, expressing emotions can be more complicated! They can be hard to express let alone identify and seem at times to be irrational!
For most of us, feelings tend to fall into a few simple categories:
Good or bad
Positive or negative
Acceptable or unacceptable
Sad or happy
Our feelings guide us to how we live and relate to the world.
Research determines living a satisfying life is dependant on our emotional intelligence. It is a better predictor than IQ.
So why do we find ourselves intellectualising feelings?
Intellectualising feelings is one of many Meta-Emotion strategies that men in particular often adopt in their intimate relationships.
Dr John Gottman and other researchers introduced the concept of ‘Meta-Emotion’ in their groundbreaking research into how parents influence emotional intelligence in kids.
Meta- Emotion is defined as:
“ an organised set of thoughts and feelings about one’s own emotions and one’s child’s emotions”
Our feelings and thoughts about our emotions influences how we connect with others including our kids, friends and partners as well as how we relate to our own emotional life.
In terms of emotional expression Gottman places adults in two categories.
People who believe that negative emotions are harmful, should be controlled, not expressed and be overcome quickly.
This is a more dismissive approach to emotions. People will usually hold the following thoughts and beliefs:
- Crying, sadness, fear are signs of weakness
- Sadness is only for major events and is wasted on trivial matters
- Sadness is ok as long as it’s over quickly
- You should never show you are angry
- Self-appreciation should be kept to yourself or you are boasting.
- Feelings of worry are wrong. It doesn’t help to talk about them.
- Emotions are not important.
- Feelings bare little significance and are not to be trusted
It’s likely that people who fit into this kind of ’emotion philosophy’ intellectualise their emotions as a way of coping.
People who believe it’s important to be in touch with emotions and express them in socially appropriate ways.
These are people who recognise the value of their emotions and are more comfortable in accepting and sharing their feelings.
They live by a mantra that all emotions are ok to have. They trust them and see emotion as a valuable guidance system to the way they live and an opportunity to connect with people.
Where do you belong?
Are you emotionally expressive or do you tend to intellectualise emotion?
Intellectualising is defined as:
‘to seek, or consider the rational content’
In psychological terms feelings of anxiety, anger, insecurity or any other negative emotion are defused by staying intellectual or factual.
The uncomfortable emotions are literally ‘thought away’ by pragmatism and logic.
When we are intellectualising we are:
- ignoring our gut feelings
- explaining everything away
- focus only on facts
Here’s a somewhat exaggerated example.
Intellectualisation gets in the way of building trust and intimacy.
Intimate relationships are all about giving and receiving love, nurture and care which requires us to express our emotions openly and freely. Especially so if we are hurt or distressed.
Being rational, logical and abstract about feelings in a relationship tends to appear as:
- Lack of interest
The consequences of intellectualising emotion in a relationship exacerbates conflict, insecurity and mistrust.
Intellectualisation is a ‘flight into reason’ and takes away the humanity of intimacy.
Understand your Meta-Emotions
Intellectualising emotion is a common defence mechanism that many blokes use.
If you are an over-intellectualiser you may be avoiding enjoying a more fulfilling, close and happy relationship.