Know Your Emotional Style

There are two emotional styles – avoidant and reactive. Regardless of your gender, you are more likely to display more of one style than the other.

Mike and Karen Gosling are married. They are both highly educated and intelligent. Mike has studied for a Masters in Business Administration and a PhD in emotional intelligence. Karen holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work and a Masters in Public Health. Both Mike and Karen have been successful in their careers, raised a family, travelled widely, and have offered advice and support to thousands of people from all walks of life to improve human wellness. They are stable and influential, in a relationship lasting more than 30 years. They have collaborated to provide clients the benefit of their combined knowledge and experience in life.

But Mike and Karen each have a different emotional style. They respond differently to the same event and experience emotion in totally different ways. And because they are both fully aware of their emotional style and the impact it has physiologically on their bodies and on others, they experience and manage their worlds very differently.

Awareness of your emotional style offers you the opportunity to change your mind and change your life, elevating emotional well-being.

Karen said…

Once I learned how my adrenalin floods affected everything I did, life became much more enjoyable and easier.

I have always gone along with what other people wanted, deferred to their wishes and opinions, in order to manage my adrenalin levels. My happiness came from harmony in my environment, as conflict or even potential conflict, resulted in adrenalin floods. If I perceived that a person may judge me, disapprove of me, be disappointed or feel let down by me, I would feel so dreadful that I would go out of my way to ensure that this did not happen. Once I’ve had an adrenalin flood I need to process it out of my body and “return to normal”. After conflict it takes me a long while to “warm up” again – hence Mike’s suggestion of the egg-timer!

I experience my negative emotion intensely (the burden of the highly sensitive person) and avoid any situation that may potentially cause an escalation of that feeling – the avoidant emotional style. I was an obedient teenager (lest my parents be cross with me), a diligent student (lest my teacher think badly of me), helpful to all (lest people dislike me because I was selfish) and a wife that withdrew and internalised in order to avoid conflict.

I am learning that my avoidant behaviour – the flight response – impacts on Mike who feels punished and excluded. Mike says, “Because you have an avoidant emotional style doesn’t mean that you have a monopoly on negative emotion”. This is something I need to be constantly aware of and recognise when considering the impact of my behaviour on others. My appreciation of how I deal with my emotion has improved my over all well-being. I feel energised to share with others how managing my avoidant emotional style releases adrenalin from my body making me emotionally well.

Mike said…

I learned at great personal cost, with the loss of my former wife and twin daughters more than 30 years ago, that loud tones, aggression, irritation, and anger had to go.

I have always been a leader, full of ideas and the energy, persistence, and dedication to carry them out. I used to not take fools lightly and felt quickly frustrated, irritated, and angry when things did not go my way. I could explode like a bomb! As a man, I was used to summing up a situation, weighing alternatives, implementing them, and looking for results, often all done in my head and without too much discussion, not realising fully that my behaviours, including loud tones and quick words, impacted on Karen so adversely. Karen says, “Mike, it doesn’t matter what you say to me, just say it in a normal voice. When someone speaks to me in an irritable tone my perception is that you are cross at me for what I just said and that leaves me feeling unfairly judged”. This is what I need to be aware of constantly, as a person who has a reactive emotional style, when considering the impact of my behaviour on others.

I deal with events as they happen – the reactive emotional style. I still react to things quite quickly – the fight response – but I am learning to put a gap between my thoughts and emotions to allow me time to manage better negative emotion generated by my reactive emotional style. Now I recognise negative emotion in my body on a scale from one to ten, one being low intensity and ten being rage. By the time I feel my negativity rising to level five or six, I can usually put a gap in my response and deal with my dis-ease in an emotionally intelligent way, releasing adrenalin from my body. As I respond to events I recognise that only I can make myself irritated, frustrated, and angry and so I manage my emotional style in a way that elevates my emotional well-being. As a result, I feel much healthier. And Karen is happier for it.

Have you ever heard someone say:

  • “Oh, she is so sensitive; she always bursts into tears at the drop of a hat.”
  • “Now come on son, real men don’t cry.”
  • “Reason is superior to emotion. Emotions are chaotic and immature.”
  • “Emotions ‘get in the way’ of rational decision-making.”

The contemporary view is that emotions convey information about relationships. Each emotion signals a different relation. And each of us experiences our emotion differently. Thoroughly thinking through and understanding our emotions and the emotions of others is an important source of coping – with ourselves, our workmates, friends, family, and community – and solving behavioural problems.

Life is a series of events. Every event is an opportunity for change. It is from the most painful events that you change the most. Solving these emotional challenges is the key to a life of emotional wealth.
– Dr. Mike Gosling


Dr. Mike Gosling helps people grow and brings clarity, purpose, happiness and abundance to their lives. He is an expert in teaching people how to apply their emotional intelligence in emotional leadership and everyday living. An author, business owner, ELPro coach and mentor to successful leaders worldwide, Mike is also co-founder of the world’s premier membership site to build better relationships, To reach a new level of self-understanding and greater effectiveness in your personal and professional life, sign up for the e-Changes! Newsletter

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