BY: T. Franklin Murphy | March 28, 2019
Emotional intelligence is the skilled coordination between feelings and logic to guide relationships, action, and healthy development in a person.
In 1995, Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book Emotional Intelligence brought the concept of emotional intelligence (EQ) to main stream society. Nearly twenty-five years later, many of his insights continue to be found in business conferences, teacher development and personal growth seminars. Success in relationships, happiness and health are often attributed to elevated emotional intelligence. If all this the EQ hype is correct and emotional intelligence does catapult success in key areas, then we should harness this incredible power to bless our lives.
#emotions #emotionalintelligence #wellness
Although emotional intelligence was popularized by Goleman’s book, emotional competency isn’t new, existing for thousands of years, littering the pages, speeches and thoughts of many prominent philosophers, both in western and eastern societies.
Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.
"If all this the EQ hype is correct and emotional intelligence does catapult success in key areas, then we should harness this incredible power to bless our lives."
The ability to properly use emotion to achieve goals and build relationships is the foundation of emotional intelligence. EQ includes components of self-awareness, self-restraint, skilled channeling of the energy flowing from feelings, and empathy and expertness in social relationships. By increasing emotional competencies, recognizing the flow of emotion in ourselves and others, and directing passions towards skilled responses, we act intelligently, gaining richness from the flow of feeling while avoiding chaos of directionless tantrums of emotion.
The concept of EQ (emotional quotient) suggests a measurable competency similar to IQ (intelligence quotient). While researching for this article, I discovered several quizzes promising to provide an EQ score. These quizzes suggested, by their structure, that EQ is easily determined. Don’t be fooled. Emotional intelligence is much more complicated than a number rating from a ten-question quiz can provide.
The term ‘emotional intelligence’ is misleading, suggesting an isolated intelligence different than the standard intellectual measurements. EQ is more of a whole-body intelligence, integrating information from many regions. The emotionally developed person isn’t devoid of logic but integrates the rationality of cognitive reasoning with the powerful impulses of feeling. The cross communication between these prominent modalities creates a partnership, with logic and emotion working together for the betterment of the individual.
Humans have theorized about the duality for centuries—the brain and the mind, logic and emotion, body and spirit, the material and immaterial. Emotional intelligence is a bridging of these different functions. For instance, in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) this duality is described through concepts of “emotional” and “reasonable minds”, and the bridging of the two as “the wise mind.” The idea of a wise mind correlates well with a high functioning emotional intelligence.
Each avenue of processing information has evolutionary strengths and weaknesses. The emotional mind is easily hijacked, creating havoc from small disruptions. The reasonable mind disconnects from emotion, pushing feeling back into the darkness where external information is missed or ignored. The wise self finds balance, retrieving wisdom from both sources (2012, Dijk. Pp 31-34).
Early childhood experiences profoundly contribute to our emotional competency. A child learns to disregard emotions when his expressions are received with ridicule, rejection and punishment. Emotionally immature parents are frustrated by a child’s emotional expressions, slapping the child with painful and rejecting feedback, projecting their own frustrations with emotion onto the developing mind of the child. The youngster quickly adapts by burying emotions and losing contact with this valuable source of information. The child, emotionally blind and deaf, must stumble through the complicated world of relationships and interactions missing this key component.
Emotionally barren environments curtail healthy development. Many children fail to bridge the gap between emotions and logic. However, the unrecognized processes remain present and in force, exerting influence over choice and action. Both minds (rational and emotional) still exist, operating in ignorance of the other, with one mode prominent and the other operating in the dark. When emotions and logic operate independently, they often conflict, creating an internal dissonance, wasting precious resources fighting against each other during the repeated collisions. Mindful living begins to bridge this gap, minimizes the conflicts by bringing hidden motivations to light.
The good news is that emotional intelligence can be developed. Goleman wrote, “one simply has the potential to become skilled at these competencies.” (2005, Location 181). We are not imprisoned by biology and early programming. We can make the weak become strong, developing the neglected areas. This development may require assistance from skilled instructors, attentive focusing, and humble openness.
EQ is not something we have or don’t have. It’s much like IQ, possessed in varying competencies. We should purposely work to develop emotional intelligence throughout our lives. There’s no finish line; no checkered flag signaling final enlightenment. Our task is to establish an environment safe enough to provide shelter and to employ self-awareness subjective enough to provide accurate information. When living in constant stress or with confusing and misleading information, we squander, failing to draw valuable lessons from experience. Life stagnates missing the embedded lessons from experience. When overly stressed, we adopt unhealthy strategies, utilizing protective adaptations instead of life-giving wisdom. We neither gain insights from successes nor learn from failures.
"We should purposely work to develop emotional intelligence throughout our lives. There’s no finish line; no checkered flag signaling final enlightenment."
Self-awareness is essential to enhance emotional intelligence. A growing familiarity with the internal activity of feelings connects the body and the mind. These connections are especially important to build and maintain relationships. Instead of rebuking a partner because their action upset us, we curiously examine the triggering events together with our feelings, noticing in more detail the moving feeling affect surging through our bodies. We should pause and reflect on the external and internal happenings together from a dispassionate position, eventually invoking the intellect to give the feelings a more complex handle, “her words really sparked an intense feeling. I wonder why?” These reflections exercise the muscles connecting emotions and logic, improving the flow between these primary modalities.
The pause and reflection break forbidding chains of reaction that lead towards emotional hijacking, where emotions explode, and reflexive actions serve purposeless needs. We learn little from hijackings and potential damage a lot. Our egos fail to grasp the error and typically excuse the stupidity with protective justifications that ripening thinking that promise to continually invite destructive silliness into our futures.
Practices of deepening awareness invide more preciseness to our perceptions. Emotions are constructed from biological feeling affects; but are refined through learned the concepts drawn from culture and the environment. Our biological system winces, jumping and running in reaction to environmental triggers. These are survival mechanisms, escaping or attacking threats, and grasping or chasing advantages.
Emotions are infinitely more complex than the original stirs of feeling that recruit action. Through awareness, we can widen our view, giving handles that incorporate more of the surrounding landscape, perceiving the reactionary feelings within the broader contexts. This includes seeing the impact from childhood learning on current instances of emotion—our pasts give life to the present. Like experts in any field, repeated contact increases vocabulary to describe the subtle differences only recognizable through greater familiarity. Through repeated exposure, we begin to see emotions with more granularity, adopting greater skills to label feeling experiences. “People with low emotional granularity will only have a few emotional concepts.” (Barrett, 2018, p. 106).
When we see the world from a narrow perspective of anger, sadness, and pleasure, we imprison our minds to very confined responses, such as, “I like this; I don’t like that.” Oversimplification fails to maneuver through the complexities of relationships where much more flexibility is required. The inadequate guidance, forcing the square pegs of simplified concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ into the round holes of complexity inevitably creates confusion when life fails to match our lacking interpretations. Our predictions of what should be compared to the reality of what is leads to frustration, and limiting achievements in relationships, careers—or both.
We need to “beef up our concepts.” (2018, p. 179). Instead of simply being angry, we can describe the feeling affect with more preciseness. We may feel frustrated, resentment, irritable, displeased, or impatient. Each of these more granular concepts provide deeper grounding in the underlying emotion. The labels (handles) we adopt interact with future feelings affects, changing the incident of emotion that follows. We are effectively integrating logic into the emotion.
All the modules or regions of the brain are interconnected, trillions of axions spread of from one locale to the other, sending and receiving information. Networks do not exist in tidy corners of the brain, solely dedicated for specific functions. Our expanding concepts (logic) impact the feelings and the feelings impact our concepts. Learning is circular and preferably cumulative. When I define a feeling effect erupting from being cut-off on a busy highway with “impatience,” rather than anger, I am more likely to avoid unnecessary conflicts, soothe my system, and get to where I am going without an escalating conflict with another emotionally immature driver. This is the foundation of emotional health and the beginnings of emotional intelligence.
Another essential part of emotional intelligence is harnessing feeling affects to achieve goals. Recognizing the emotional pushes and shoves allows for conscious direction of those passions. We succeed in life and relationships by constructively adapting to environmental triggers. Life is dynamic and we must respond—either blindly or intelligently.
The strategies we employ to navigate life are many and diverse. We can’t rely on a single method for psychological health. The hallmark of emotional health is flexibility; and the availability of many strategies is essential. Intentionally following strategies requires emotional strength, keeping focus on more adaptive goals. Without sufficient connection with emotions tied to the cooler logic, situation can send us spinning in wrong directions—emotionally hijacked, leaning on immediate goals of protection instead of growth. When we live right (attention on futures), we improve the feeling experience, developing a more integrated approach with complex and reality-based appraisals of experience. Emotion and logic collide in the moment, impacting action. We perform best when our information systems operate in tandem.
Common strategies for adapting to experience are:
Regular reliance on healthy strategies boosts emotional intelligence; but when life derails strategies morph into maladaptive protections, fracturing healthy cooperation between the ‘reasonable’ and ‘emotional’ minds. When living in despair, constantly threatened by experience, we adapt, acting out of fear and not from the ‘wise mind’ of whole-body intelligence.
We must be flexible. In some situations, one or more of the strategies may be maladaptive. Some methods of employing a strategy are misguided and harmful. We may deflect attention when we should be reflecting. We may reinterpret situations with faulty (more amicable) information when we should face the brunt of a harsh reality. The strategies are simply tools developed to cope, we become adept with practice, by pulling the right strategy from growing tool box of options, using the best method, at the appropriate time and in a skilled manner.
A third component of emotional intelligence is utilizing our awareness of emotions to connect with others. We can expand judgments beyond “nice,” or “mean” (or whatever other limiting definitions we habitually use). Applying more granularity to our emotional experience easily correlates into giving more granularity to the emotional reactions of others. During interactions, we read physical expressions for signs of internal experiences, noting changes in facial and body movements. Recognizing outward signals is important but with more emotional competency, we understand that these initial assessments will miss many contextual components. The furrowed eyebrow is a sign of emotion—typically signaling displeasure or anger; but the exactness of the other person’s experience remains hidden.
A growing familiarity with emotion assists with healthy interactions. We notice the feelings brewing in others early and can intelligently respond. Our improved assessments assist in knowing when to run, embrace, soothe, and instruct.
Science has shown that relationships contribute to well-being. Like self-awareness and self-restraint, improved relationships are circular and cumulative, creating healthier environments, bolstering strength, and giving greater satisfaction with life. Emotions are essential to creating these bonds and maintaining relationships that provide a foundation for well-being.
Our growing connection with emotions—in others and ourselves—familiar with the flow of energy that gives life, is the essence of wisdom. With practice, we become masters of emotion, harnessing their power to direct healthy lives. We don’t simply express anger, but we express anger in the right situations, at the right times, and to the right degree, in a manner that improves our lives and the lives of those around us. We become emotionally intelligent people, gathering new wisdom from the complexity of life.
Barrett, L. (2018). How emotions are Made. Mariner Books; Reprint edition
Dijk, S. V. (2012) Calming the Emotional Storm: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Manage Your Emotions and Balance Your Life. New Harbinger Publications; Original edition
Goleman, D. (2005) Emotional Intelligence: Why It Matters More than IQ. Bantam Books; 10th Anniversary edition
Thaler, R. H. (2009) Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Penguin Books; Revised & Expanded edition.