1.3.2 The ‘Emotional worker’
Description: This is not a worker who is constantly overwhelmed by their emotions – though expressing emotions does have its place. It means being able to acknowledge and work with the strong emotions in ourselves and the young people we are involved with. Young people are a complex mix of emotions – sometimes angry, disappointed, wretched, but also excited and joyful. ‘Doing emotional work’ (Fineman, 2000) means being prepared to work with the young people's emotions in individual and group settings rather than avoid them. Goleman (1996) contends that ‘emotional work’ develops qualities such as optimism and resilience on the part of the individual and the ‘emotional worker’.
Issues: In many work settings, emotions are seen as private, or perhaps messy and inconvenient. Certainly, this tends to be the case in schools where handling the feelings of large numbers of people in an enclosed space is challenging, potentially disruptive to the teacher's main aims and therefore often suppressed. It is also true in many families. Intense expressions of emotion are sometimes too much for adults to cope with, and in the wider community the expression of strong feelings by young people, whether anger or boisterousness, can be frightening or viewed as unacceptable.
What is sometimes referred to as ‘emotional literacy’ is the ability to register and take account of the strong feelings that young people have. In order to achieve this, workers need to develop an ability to deal with strong feelings in others, and this means being comfortable with their own feelings. In other words, being able to ‘recognise what I am feeling so that it doesn't interfere with my thinking’ (Orbach, 1999).