When I think of vulnerability for the sake of writing, I think of Emotional Intelligence. Maybe you've heard of the all coveted idea- that it’s the new IQ as far as determining your worth as a person? As long as my understanding is correct, Emotional Intelligence came into the conversation around 1995 because a reporter named Daniel Goleman found an article published by psychologists Mayer and Salovey about the idea. Then Goleman took their theory and a bunch of other research and wrote the book Emotional Intelligence. Now it’s used by schools, and businesses, and creatives all over the world. Basically, the idea is that if I am emotionally intelligent, I can correctly recognize emotions in myself and others, and create a rational plan of action for dealing with those emotions.
Toddlers are NOT emotionally intelligent
At 5:30 a toddler will hit the (not so) sweet spot of too tired and too hungry. The emotional chaos is too much for them to handle.
During this time the smallest bump somehow justifies ear-shattering, inconsolable wailing, and at no point do they think, “huh. Stumbling and landing on this soft Cushion shouldn’t have hurt at all. Maybe I’m actually upset because I’m hungry.” That would be emotionally intelligent, which toddlers are not.
Finding the root of the emotion is essential to understanding the cause of the reaction.
Did you know that many psychologists consider anger to be a secondary emotion? Anger, as opposed to fear or sadness, flings us into action. This is super helpful if you're a momma cavewoman, and a bear slumps into our home one night looking for a snack and you need to protect your children. The anger and the adrenaline it produces in your body keeps you safe. Now we feel anger when someone cuts us off on the freeway. In both instances, anger is secondary to the root emotion- fear. If a driver cuts me off causing me to slam on my brakes and swerve to the side to miss him, I might curse at him in anger, but if I’m being honest here that’s only because in that moment the thought of my babies in the back seat crying in their car seats, while I’m slumped over my steering wheel unconscious because of an accident terrifies me. But fear does nothing for me. Anger causes me to act, causing that whole scenario to be a hypothetical and not an actual thing.
In my work in progress On The Wings Of Angels, Maddi lashes out at her sister, Savannah, in anger. Savannah harasses Maddi to go to the movies with her, to play catch with her, to do anything with her before Maddi leaves to go to college. But her sister’s neediness is getting in the way of Maddi doing what she really wants to do- spend time John. So Maddi scolds Savannah. Does she do this because she’s mad? Kind of, but if Maddi were to really get down to it, she just feels guilty. There’s nothing wrong with anything Savannah is asking for, and Maddi knows she should make time for her. She just doesn’t want to.
Cool thing is that Maddi doesn’t have to think about that at any point in the text, and the readers don’t have to know that. As long as I know it, then I can write a reaction that feels more authentic, more complex.
I know I’m partially there because I can see this little bit. I know that I have a lot of work to do on my own emotional intelligence because later on when the emotions really matter, I hit a brick wall. I don’t understand why Maddi feels so… fake.
I think, if we find ourselves, like toddlers, reacting irrationally to emotions that we don’t understand, or blocking them all together, then our characters will be a mirror of that.