Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and abilities to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships.” – John Gottman
Emotional intelligence (EI), sometimes referred to as one’s emotional quotient (EQ), refers to the ability to perceive, evaluate, monitor and control one’s emotional state. It refers also to the social intelligence involved in deciphering other people’s emotional states as well as the ability to influence them. The term “emotional intelligence” first appeared in the 1960s. Two major researchers on the subject, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, have defined emotional intelligence as, “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions” (1990). Many researchers agree that while any given person may possess an innate level of emotional intelligence, steps can be taken to further emotional awareness, producing positive outcomes on multiple levels.
First, a Look at Your Brain
It is no accident that as a baby, you were equipped to respond emotionally to your world before you grew capable of responding intellectually to it. Even as a small child, you experienced an incredible range of emotions including fear, disgust, hate, envy, longing, hope, trust, empathy, compassion and love. You were highly capable of all of these emotional responses long before you became adept at deductive reasoning. Your limbic system—also referred to as the paleomammalian brain—is a set of structures at the base and rear of the brain which includes the amygdala, and is largely responsible for your emotional responses. The limbic system also comprises the center for your “fight, flight, or freeze” response, the body’s in-built defense against stress. These two components are in relationship together in many ways, and for these reasons, it is obvious why the limbic system evolved millions of years before the parts of the brain involving higher reasoning did.
When a person experiences prolonged stress, particularly of a traumatic nature, the amygdala and the stress response portion of the hindbrain at the amygdala and pituitary gland is kept highly active and even over-charged. This is a life-saving mechanism. However, so much of the brain’s electro-chemical activities are being focused in the hindbrain that the forebrain—the frontal cortex where reasoning abilities lie—are not given the same attention and can suffer as a result. This is why an individual in prolonged stress may begin to experience heightened emotional responses to his environment which appear out of sync with actual stimuli. For example, someone who has had this kind of experience and the resultant brain changes may become prone to rage responses at the slightest provocation, or conversely, may withdraw from others in a state of social anxiety or panic.
What Someone With High EQ Looks Like
If you were to meet someone with high emotional intelligence, she would have several traits you might find pleasing. She would likely be open-minded and open to communicating positively with you. She would be intellectually curious, agreeable, and have a high degree of empathy. She would feel “easy to talk to” and possibly “easy to know.” If something highly stressful occurred during your conversation, you’d notice that she remained calm but alert. She’d offer to be there to help. Afterward, she’d be able to talk about and even laugh about the situation if it were appropriate.
Does this mean that your friend of high EQ had never experienced enduring personal trauma or prolonged personal stress? Not at all. She may be the vanishingly rare example of someone who came through highly negative experiences untarnished, but this is unlikely. What is far more likely is that your friend of high EQ is someone who has worked to not only overcome her past, but also to increase her perceptions of her own emotions; her awareness over her emotional responses; her effect on others’ emotions; and her ability to influence others in a positive way. These are all things you can do as well.
Why Should a Person Seek to Increase Her EQ?
Emotional intelligence is the foundation of positive and enduring close personal relationships, including one’s relationship to self. Without keen emotional intelligence, creating and sustaining lasting and valuable relationships is made more difficult. This includes not only our personal relationships—as with romantic partners and the relationships one fosters among family members—but is true of personal friendships and acquaintances one hopes to turn into friendships. And it is especially true of professional and working relationships. Studies show again and again that strong emotional intelligence is the difference between people who see continued, high-performing working success and those who struggle to achieve.
Beyond enhanced personal and work relationships, working to increase your emotional intelligence is one of the most positive steps you can take on your own to improve your chances of mental health recovery. Whether you have suffered from a period of depression, anxiety, or the life-altering results of a diagnosis with personality or mood disorder, you can create a more manageable life by taking steps to improve your own emotional intelligence. Learning how you are likely to respond emotionally to your environment and to the people in it, and teaching yourself to control that response, can help you immeasurably. You can begin to feel a sense of calm and clarity, and even begin to sense your commonality with others.
There are many methods and several excellent ways you can increase your emotional quotient. This article is an introduction into the subject of emotional intelligence, and you are encouraged to begin to seek out information on increasing your emotional intelligence. Choose to become aware of your own emotional triggers and how they affect you. If you become agitated, find ways to calm yourself. If you withdraw at the first sign of stress, find ways to energize yourself so that you can step back into your life. Choose to become more compassionate with yourself and others. Choose awareness and mindfulness. Deepening your awareness of your own and others’ emotional responses can only make you stronger.