Discussion Questions for Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett
1. Why do we need “permission to feel”? Author Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, thinks it’s because so many of us have learned to deny, hide, suppress, and act out our feelings rather than embrace them. So, what do you think? Do you need permission to feel?
2. Uncle Marvin changed Marc’s life when he was a boy by asking one, simple question, “How are you feeling?” Marc adds, “It wasn’t just what he said, it was the way he said it. Truly wanting to hear the answer. Not judging me for what I felt.” Did you have an emotion scientist like Uncle Marvin in your childhood?
3. How we feel has enormous influence on our lives, from our education to our relationships, from our health to our creativity. Can you think of an example of how an emotion helped or hindered you in one of these areas? Where do you see evidence of the influence of emotions in your family, school, or work context?
4. Emotional intelligence is not about allowing our feelings free-reign but harnessing them for hoped-for results. “Well-being depends less on objective events than on how those events are perceived, dealt with, and shared with others,” writes Marc. Do you agree? What are the limits of emotional intelligence?
5. Marc uses the RULER acronym to describe the skills of emotional intelligence: recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating emotions. Which of these five areas of competency is most challenging for you? Did you read anything in its corresponding chapter that encouraged you?
6. The Mood Meter is a chart that helps us identify a wide range of feelings from high-energy to low-energy ones and low-pleasantness to high-pleasantness ones. (There is an example of the Mood Meter on the book’s endpapers.) What quadrant do you live in? What body clues tell you this is true?
7. One of the most heartbreaking human dynamics Marc points out is this: “When we need emotional support most is when we’re least likely to receive it.” Tell a story about a time this was true for you or someone you love. What emotional intelligence skills were missing? What do you know now that might have helped?
8. Marc notes that different people groups experience emotion differently. For instance, African Americans report being judged more harshly than whites for expressing anger. Women, on the other hand, were twice as likely as men in one study to say that they want to feel valued at work. How does your gender, race, or other socio-cultural markers affect what you want to feel and what you are allowed to feel?
9. In the final chapters of the book, Marc offers a number of strategies for emotional health at home, school, and work: these include taking Meta Moments to reset when we’ve been triggered, using physical objects as reminders for when we need to regulate, or developing charters that outline emotional commitments we’d like to make as a group. Which of these strategies have you tried or could you try? Was there another strategy Marc mentioned that intrigued you?
10. Along with permission to feel, Marc offers permission to fail. “When that happens, we can only try again—take a deep breath or two, envision our best selves, and start over at the first R.” What kind of permission do you need today?
Bonus: After reading Permission to Feel, what part of the book resonated with you most? What insight will you carry with you?
Discussion Questions written by author, editor, and facilitator Erin S. Lane.