The topic of emotional intelligence has come up multiple times in my journey through nursing school and into the “real world” of nursing. When the topic was first mentioned to me, I had never heard of such a thing before, and really never considered the need to become competent in this area.
Emotional intelligence, essentially, is the ability to recognise your own feelings, emotions, and responses, as well as those of others. Now, we recognise these emotions in different ways – some people journal, some people simply contemplate, and others discuss with trusted mentors/supervision/work place support etc. The importance in understanding where we are at in our own lives allows us to more easily interpret the emotions and responses of the patients we work alongside. It is easier to help our patients find strategies for coping that work for them, if we have first acknowledged and recognised our own strengths and abilities to cope. Nurses cannot relate to patients and help them if they are themselves in an emotionally unstable place.
One thing that I have noticed in my own practice, is that in order to truly develop a therapeutic relationship with a patient, I must be able to differentiate between my own thoughts/emotions and the situation. I have to be able to know what I think and believe about myself and yet not push my own thoughts and beliefs onto my patient. I have to be able to recognise that my patient’s strengths and ways of coping will be different than my own. In my experience this ties into the idea that we all possess a “shared humanness”. While we share a lot of the same emotions, experiences, desires etc.; each one of us is unique and individual. While we all have different strengths and ways of coping with the challenges of life, we all still share the experience of being human. Therefore, we can offer each other grace, knowing that we are in many ways the same.
A patient’s journey can be made easier by having a nurse who will walk alongside them, who understands that human experience; a nurse who has her/himself faced challenges and experienced a range of emotions; a nurse who can relate to them, and also recognise their uniqueness. It takes an emotionally intelligent, competent nurse to do this. It takes someone who has explored their own thoughts and beliefs; someone who is not only able to recognise their own strengths, but can also recognise the individual strength of their patient.