Possessing emotional intelligence predicts a better outcome of success at work, in relationships, in academic settings and can even positively impact our physical health.
But what is Emotional Intelligence or “EQ”, and how can we help our loved ones cultivate it?
Emotions are what make life worth living. The term “Emotional Intelligence” was first mentioned in writing by a university student named Wayne Payne (from Ohio:) His paper was called “A Study of Emotions” where he asserted that society trains people to suppress emotions and as a result, our emotional expressiveness is terribly stifled. Since 1985, when Wayne introduced the idea of emotional intelligence, we have come a long, long way.
IQ is formed by a biopsychosocial model (the interconnection between biology and psychology), the same is true for EQ. Genetics play a role but the environment has profound effects as well.
It is known that IQ is linked to morbidity, mortality, social status, and academic performance but the link to general success in life, relationship success and quality of life is less strong. Clearly, IQ does not fully explain why some succeed and others do not. Emotional Intelligence seems to make an even bigger difference, when it comes to success.
Wait a second, isn’t emotional intelligence something you either have or you don’t?
Plasticity of the brain refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize pathways throughout the lifespan as a result of experience. Put simply- the brain’s ability to change with learning. The human brain is not fully formed at birth. Experience, particularly in childhood and adolescence, sculpts the brain. Teaching children how to understand and manage their feelings, problem solve and emotionally regulate can help develop their inborn intelligence further.
So what are the components of Emotional Intelligence?
We will use the theory of Daniel Goleman, a Ph.D. graduate in psychology from Harvard University. He is the psychologist who developed “The Five Components of Emotional Intelligence”, which are widely used today to define what emotional intelligence is.
The five components that Daniel Goleman coined are:
Each of these components is important individually and build on each other. Our purpose here is to get a quick view on understanding these components. We will explore in a future article how you can practically teach these ideas to your loved ones. Here, we will simply identify the components. Remember, not to expect your children to be fully developed in these areas. The laboratory of life (along with adult intervention) teaches these skills every day, cultivating emotional intelligence is a life long journey.
Self awareness is the ability to identify, understand and accept one’s own emotions. This is when we understand and are comfortable with our own thoughts and emotions. Understanding and accepting the way you feel is often the first step to managing emotions.
The very root of the word emotion is “motere,” latin for “to move.” Each emotion prepares the body to respond. Emotions give us information, emotions communicate and influence others and emotions prepare us for action.
Our emotions guide us in facing predicaments and tasks that are too important to leave to intellect alone. Danger, painful loss, love, building a family and bonding with another person are some examples. Each emotion offers a distinctive readiness to act and each points us in a direction to handle the challenges of life.
The key to the emotions playing a healthy role in our system is that whatever passes through our system we see with impartiality, as an interested but unreactive witness. It is a slight stepping back from an experience, being aware of what is happening, rather than being totally immersed in it. This will be the first step in which other emotional competencies can build. Understanding your emotions is a key to sounder decision making. It is also one way of understanding yourself.
In order to do this, it is necessary to have access to as many words as possible that refer to the many different emotions we have. Of course, the way to begin would be to start with the very basic emotions.
Awareness of feelings plays a strong role in life’s decisions. Strong feelings can create havoc in reasoning, if one does not have awareness. Big decisions in life cannot be made with rational thinking alone. Decisions such as which career to choose, who to marry, or where to live require some dose of gut feeling. These are realms where reason without feeling may not lead to the best decisions.
Self management is your ability to use awareness of your emotions to actively decide what you say and do. Managing emotions builds on a foundational skill of self awareness.
Self awareness is necessary, since you can only choose how to respond effectively to an emotion if you are aware of it. We are hard-wired to experience emotions before we respond to them. It is the ability to quickly read emotions and then effectively react that sets self managers apart. A high level of self management ensures you aren’t getting in your own way and doing things that limit your success. It also ensures you aren’t frustrating other people. You have the power to take control of difficult emotions, manage change and take initiative needed to achieve your goals.
What we want here is balance. When emotions are too muted this leads to dullness, and when they are out of control, too extreme and persistent, they can become pathological. Keeping our emotions in check is the key to emotional well being. This state isn’t a lack of feeling of emotions but rather knowing how to manage emotions – so they do not get too intense, too often, for too long. Sometimes, the emotional brain may storm too often and that may mean that this individual was born with or has learned to have a highly activated emotional brain. For this individual, emotional regulation may need to be achieved with pharmacological help.
One key to empathy is awareness of your own emotions. When you are aware of your own emotions, you can take another’s perspective and understand what others may be experiencing. On the flip side, if one lacks empathy, they may be, in Daniel Goleman’s terms, “emotionally tone deaf.” Political action, sales and management, and building a family all require empathy. The reason this skill is placed after emotional regulation is because empathy requires enough calm and receptivity to pick up the subtle signals of the feelings of others which are most often non-verbal. That is a good first step, but it may not be enough to actually make a person really lean into another’s experience. Infants and toddlers display a phenomenon called motor mimicry where an infant is reacting to the disturbance of others as if it is their own. Some see this as the early precursors of empathy, whereby as time goes on, they realize someone else’s experience is not the same as their own. Attunement occurs as part of the rhythm in relationships. Babies and children can sense that the caregiver has a sense of what they are feeling, when the caregiver responds to their needs. These small attunements give an infant the feeling of emotional connection, the “I get it feeling.” One way to teach empathy is by modeling empathy, but sometimes that isn’t enough and certain children required extra skills to help them develop empathy. When you see a lack of empathy in a child, this may be part of a neurological issue where a child may be born with less ability to empathize. In addition, some children’s experiences can also contribute to a lack of building the capacity of empathy.
This skill is the marshalling of feelings to achieve a goal. The degree to which our emotions might either get in the way of or enhance our ability to think and plan, to pursue a goal, to solve problems, defines how far we can take our skills and talents that are inborn or developed and do something with them.
One piece of this intelligence is the fundamental psychological skill of impulse control.
Another component that seems to predict the ability to set a goal and follow through is hope. C. R Synder, a University of Kansas psychologist, conducted a study to see what set students apart in academic achievement. Synder’s explanation is as follows: “Students with high hopes set themselves apart in setting goals and attaining them. When you compare students with equivalent academic aptitude, what sets them apart is hope.” Snyder finds that people with high levels of hope share certain traits. These include the ability to motivate themselves, feeling resourceful enough to find ways to accomplish goals, reassuring themselves when they are in a tight spot that things will get better, and being flexible to change their plan to reach their goals.
Being able to manage emotions in someone else is at the core of the art of handling relationships. In order to do this, you need to be able to socially analyze a situation – to have the ability to detect and have insight into people’s motives and concerns. You need to be able to have a personal connection – using the talents of empathy and connecting which usually starts with good listening skills. You also need to be able to negotiate solutions – preventing conflicts and resolving those that arise.
The first few topics we covered, self awareness, managing emotions, empathy and motivation, are the building blocks for good relationship skills. We all know some very socially savvy people who don’t exhibit good character in their personal relationships. There is a component of possessing social skills in interpersonal relationships and another huge aspect of emotional intelligence in relationships that it is not just etiquette but more about care, concern, empathy and perspective taking. In other words, not about how well you play the game, but who you really are.
This was a short summary of the five components of emotional intelligence. Most people spend their lifetime developing these skills. More on how you can help those close to you develop these components in a future edition….
Written by: Sima Brochie Weinberg, M.S., LPCC