Dr. Marc Brackett, a research psychologist, spoke with Landon faculty and our parent community on January 3 about his newest book, Permission to Feel. Brackett is the founder and director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a professor at Yale University’s Child Study Center. In his work there, he has developed a blueprint for understanding emotions and how to use them for well-being and success. We sat down with Brackett between his sessions to ask him about the science and strategies behind Permission to Feel.
Q: What is the premise of Permission to Feel?
A: We have to have a mindset that there are no good or bad emotions. That emotions are information. For example, anger is about injustice. When you’re happy, you are reaching a goal. When you are sad, there is some kind of loss. Life is filled with all kinds of emotions, and we have to appreciate them all. People don’t necessarily want to believe that because they don’t understand the science. Emotions influence our thinking, our judgments, our relationships, and our health. I think a big part of my work is helping people make this kind of psychological conduct accessible for people to use our feelings wisely to have well-being, to build good relationships, to make good decisions, and to achieve our goals in life.
Q: In the book, you describe your Uncle Marvin as instrumental in your understanding of your own emotions. In essence, he was the first person in your life to ask you how you were feeling and to give you that permission to feel. Tell us about him and why we should have one in our own lives.
A: I think for some of us with dysfunctional upbringings, it’s hard to attract an Uncle Marvin. What I have done is conduct research on the characteristics of an Uncle Marvin: empathy, compassion, non-judgmental, supportive. Start asking yourself questions about the people you meet. Is this person accepting me for who I am? Is this person someone who wants to get to know me and care about me? Find ways to connect more with people like that.
Q: Landon is known for its teacher-coach-mentor model, in which boys often find a mentor through an advisor, teacher, or coach who knows them well and across different areas of school life. What message do you have for parents on how their sons can facilitate finding an Uncle Marvin to champion and support them?
A: My real request of parents is to be the Uncle Marvin. If we have role models at home, and they are empathetic, non-judgmental, compassionate, supportive, good listeners and not the fixers, that’s what the science says works best. We know that people feel good being around people with those characteristics, and then they go into the real world and they are going to be more selective about their relationships. Parents sometimes come to these workshops with the mindset that I am going to teach them how to teach their children to have emotional intelligence. And they leave thinking, I have a lot of work to do!