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Is there such a thing as “emotional intelligence”? Some
psychologists maintain that emotional intelligence can be measured,
along the lines of traditional intelligence tests. Emotional
intelligence (sometimes called EQ or EI) indicates a person’s ability
to perceive, express, understand and manage emotion. Unlike traditional
intelligence tests, which use verbal and mathematical ability to
measure intelligence, how does one measure “emotional intelligence?”
What would be a “correct” answer to a question about one’s feelings? It
is debated whether this is a true “intelligence” in the traditionally
accepted sense and whether there can be objective measures of it–but
it is an interesting concept nonetheless.

Human beings have
feelings and emotions, because we are physical beings. Angels do not
have feelings, because they are purely spiritual beings. Christ, the
Word become flesh, had feelings: he became quite angry with the
Pharisees (“Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their
hardness of heart…” Mark 3:5) and with the money changers outside the
temple. Jesus cried when Lazarus died, and as he approached Jerusalem
prior to the crucifixion, “he saw the city and wept over it” (Luke
19:41). He was in agony and distress in the Garden of Gesthemane the
night before he was crucified. He experienced the utmost desolation and
abandonment on the Cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Matthew 27:46)

Christ’s emotions were always perfectly
appropriate for the situation. His anger at the Pharisees was justified
and his sorrow about Lazarus’s death was entirely real. Sometimes we
think that, if we are truly good Christians, we shouldn’t be sad if
something bad happens, nor should we ever become angry: after all,
don’t we have the joy of the risen Christ in our hearts? But this is
somewhat weird. I know a woman whose baby died during labor. She
insisted that she was “happy” because her child was in heaven and this
was God’s will. It is good and noble to trust in God. But, it is
entirely appropriate to be devastatingly sad at such a time. As Jesus
said in the Garden of Gesthemane, “”My soul is sorrowful even to death”
(Mt 26:38).

Feelings are not in themselves wrong or evil. But
because of Original Sin, our emotions and feelings are not always under
control. Not that we should be like Vulcans, expressing no emotion, but
we should not let our emotions lead us to sin. For example, out of
anger, we might say something unkind or hurtful. Or, we refrain from
doing what is right or good, out of fear. The emotion itself is not
wrong, but what we do with it—through our willful action—may be sinful.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us “In themselves
passions are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to
the extent that they effectively engage reason and will.” (CCC 1767)

It all goes back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were created to be
in perfect harmony with God, with each other, and with all of creation.
God walked with them in the Garden, in the breezy time of the day (Gen
3:8). They were intelligent, immortal, lords of the world. Their
emotions were in perfect harmony with their minds and wills. There was
no jealousy, no arguments, no suspicions, no domination or servile
fear. They were perfectly suited to each other, best friends and
perfect partners.

But the Devil sowed suspicion in their
hearts, and they turned away from God as their loving Father. When they
disobeyed God, a rift was created between them and God, and between
each other as well. It is always so with sin. They became suspicious of
each other. Adam blamed Eve, and they both became ashamed. Enmity
between men and women entered the world, along with sickness and death.

Not
only do we feel distant from God, but we also feel distant from other
people. And, we no longer have that harmonious balance within our own
psyche. Our intellect is darkened, our wills weakened. Our passions can
get out of control. Even though we are baptized, we still experience
the effects of Original Sin. “I do not do the good I want, but I do the
evil I do not want,” writes Saint Paul to the Romans (Rom 7:19).

The
interesting thing about feelings is that we have a cultural bias that
men are less emotional than women. I think that what actually is the
case is that women are more comfortable
expressing their feelings than men are. Men are also emotional; in
fact, they can be dangerously so, because they do not always recognize
the role their emotions are playing in their thoughts and actions. They
might assume (because of the cultural bias) that they are more logical,
less emotional. It is wise for each of us to evaluate our own
“emotional intelligence” as it were.

In his book Nervousness, Temperament and the Soul,
Fr. Joseph Massman tells us that emotions affect our thinking and our
actions much more than we realize. “The word ‘temperament’ signifies an
unvarying disposition of the moods of the mind. The mind is influenced
and tempered by the secret emotions…One thinks, judges, and acts under
the influence of this emotional bias.” [1]

Depending
on one’s temperament, one may be inclined to a certain imbalance in our
emotional life. For example, a choleric might be more prone to anger. A
phlegmatic might give in to fear. A sanguine might begin and quit
projects depending on his mood, and a melancholic might give in to
despondency. But our emotions can also lead to much good: the zeal of
the choleric may accomplish great works for Christ, the calm of the
phlegmatic soothes the most irritable, the enthusiasm of the sanguine
brings joy to those around him, and the melancholic can respond with
deep sensitivity.

We are human beings, and so we have feelings;
our emotions can move us toward love of God and neighbor. But we can
also be victims of our emotions and moods. We have all had the
experience of waking up on top of the world, only to come crashing down
as our mood changes, like a thundercloud rolling in to sweep the sun
out of our life. We don’t want to be as fickle as a weather-vane,
spinning and turning with every gust of wind. Rather, we would like our
actions to be based on principles; we do the right thing,
no matter what our mood is, or how we feel about it. When we examine
ourselves and our own emotional tendencies, we can then take the next
step to gain equilibrium and control over our emotions and moods.

So
long as there is no serious handicap (whether physical or
psychological) that would require professional guidance, we can
gradually improve ourselves and grow in emotional stability and
maturity through a deep, interior life. We will become more and more
detached from our own mood swings or emotional biases, as we draw
closer to Christ, through prayer and meditation.

There is no
drawing closer to God, or growing in holiness, without a corresponding
increase in our charity toward others. “If anyone says ‘I love God,’
but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a
brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1Jn
4:20).

Real love is willing the good of the other. False love is using others to increase my
pleasure, which is ultimately nothing but self-love. And, as Jesus told
St. Catherine of Siena in the Dialogues, “[S]elf-love, which destroys
charity and affection towards the neighbor, is the principle and
foundation of every evil.” [2]

When our
emotions prompt us toward greater love of God and our neighbor, they
aid our moral perfection. But when our moods are changing like the
weather-vane in the wind, or our emotions are flying out of control, we
can become a trial for our neighbor, a cross for our friends and
family, and we may fail to respond to God’s will. It is wise to take a
personal inventory of our emotional well-being. Do I over-react when
someone says a slightly hurtful comment? Do I tend to be anxious,
moody, fretful? Do I easily fly off the handle and become angry? Do I
give up when my mood changes? Do I indulge myself in my passions? Can I
laugh at myself?

Wise spiritual directors, saints, and other
spiritual writers over the centuries have offered many insights into
ways of rightly controlling our emotions so that they work harmoniously
in our lives for the purpose of drawing us closer to God. Ultimately,
this will result in a calm acceptance of ourselves and others, as well
as genuine joy, trust in God, and true charity. The following are four
pillars of the spiritual life, loosely adapted from Father Joseph
Massman.



1. Grow in self-knowledge.
Self-knowledge gives rise to true humility, which is the foundation for
the spiritual life. With self-knowledge, we will be neither arrogant
nor self-deprecating (false humility). Our true dignity does not lie in
our being perfect, or beautiful, or smart, or having no faults, but in
being a child of God. So, we should not be afraid to take a rigorous
look at ourselves through the clear lens of truth.

2.Put ourselves in the loving presence of God.
Filled with hope and love, we can see ourselves as God sees us, without
self-recrimination, and seek to discover his will for us

3.Discovering the will of God.
“In His will, our peace,” wrote Dante. When we realize that all
circumstances derive from God’s loving will, we will find ourselves at
peace. This is the true recipe for enjoying life! So long as we are
constantly fighting against circumstances, dissatisfied with our lives
and the people in it, we will be resentful and unhappy. When we realize
that every moment is contained within Divine Providence, we will be
happy and serene: “We know that all things work for good for those who
love God” (Rom 8:28).

4.Finally, the most important of all, charity.
Love of God will increase love of neighbor. Emotionally immature
individuals often struggle with charity. Moodiness, over-sensitivity,
self-pity, fear, constant fault-finding or blaming, anger or
desire–all these can lead to sins against charity. “The difficult task
of educating oneself to feel kindly, to be good to others…requires the
continual help of God in an inward life.”[3]

 

But
when we seek daily to grow in self-knowledge and humility, to live in
the presence of God’s love, seeking His will above all, and striving to
make others happy–then we will enjoy life more fully, gain equilibrium
in our emotions and moods, and steadily grow in friendship with God and
neighbor.

 



[1] Rev. Joseph Massman, Nervousness, Temperament and the Soul (Fort Collins CO: Roman Catholic Books) 14.

[2]The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena” translated by Algar Thorold. (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books, 1974).

 

[3] Massman, 167.

 

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