Book Review: Emotional Enlightenment: Managing Feelings for Success by Jane Birdsell

Each of the four Amazon customer reviews of this book gave it five stars. I only gave it four. Jane Birdsell has been Nursing Instructor, a Public Health Nurse, and a mother of two children. After her children started school, she obtained a Masters degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Calgary. For 25 years, she worked as a psychologist conducting her own private counselling practice and teaching Personal Development Seminars. Accordingly this book is written is a practical manner and for that reason I like it.

My biggest issue with the book is that it focuses on emotions and not temperament. Chapter Two defines the Primary Emotions as Fear, Anger, Sadness and Happiness and then in Chapter Four Birdsell reverts to the six emotions of Darwin’s Biological Theory of Emotions: Fear, Surprise, Anger, Disgust, Sadness, and Happiness. The six emotions are particularly defined in terms of facial expressions.

I must confess I still have much difficulty with the Six Emotions/Facial Expressions model. I have done Paul Ekman’s course, failed miserably and this week during another Emotional Intelligence course that spent 90 minutes on facial expressions failed again. The only cheering news about this failure is the research from the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow, published in February 2014. The research asked the observers to characterize the faces based on those six basic emotions, and found that anger and disgust looked very similar to the observers in the early stages, as did fear and surprise. As the number of observations rose, people could eventually make the the distinction between the two, but when the emotion first hit, the face signals are very similar, suggesting, the researchers say, that the distinction between anger and disgust and between surprise and fear, is socially, not biologically based. This gives me some hope.

However the same situation can give rise to different emotions. Suppose you are driving on a winding road by the edge of a high cliff, you may be concerned about the danger of the road. Your passenger, on the other hand, perhaps thinks about the beauty of the view. You will probably feel frightened, while your passenger may feel joy. I would suggest that temperament is the cause of the difference. In the case of the driver, the Doublechecker component is more dominant, while in the case of the passenger it would be the Mover or Artist component.

On the other hand the final chapters of the book are some of the most useful I have read in the area of emotional intelligence as Birdsell channels Stephen Covey by focusing on empathic listening “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood”. When instead of responding to another person with advice and suggestions, Birsell says it is much better to say nothing and concentrate on walking in the other person’s shoes. She notes that the mere act of silence is often enough to lift the speaker out of his or her self-inflicted misery. Also instead of reacting with recommendations, it is much better ask “feeling” questions or make sympathetic statements such as that must have been overwhelming.

Another part of the book I really enjoyed were the cartoons at the beginning of each chapter. They are easily the best collection of Emotional Intelligence cartoons ever made. They were worth the price of the book alone.

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