Emotional Intelligence (EQ) refers to a person’s ability to empathise with others. The skill of being able to put yourself ‘in another person’s shoes’ and understand how they might feel. Someone possessing emotional intelligence generally feels at ease dealing with emotion and is able to identify in themselves and others, the emotions that are being experienced.
I have met many people in my Â life who have seriously lacked emotional intelligence. Academic intelligence is not the same as emotional intelligence and there seems to be some correlation between studious, academic types and emotional intelligence. I have come across extremely intelligent people who love to analyse and immerse themselves in facts and figures with great pleasure. Yet when it comes to socialising or empathising they draw a blank.
For some who lack emotional intelligence, it can begin in childhood. Parents who shield their children too much and act as if life is hunky dorey all the time are not preparing their children for real life. Life is full of emotion and ups and downs and if children are raised in an artificially cheerful environment they will not learn the skills of dealing with emotion.
Children learn from their parents and it is healthy for them to see their parents upset at times. They will observe and learn from what their parents do about the distress and learn that emotions are normal. I have had many clients who were too protected as children and they have grown into adults who expect life to be emotionless. They are certainly at a loss when trying to identify their own emotions and it leads to a desensitised life.
Other emotionally unavailable types that I have come across have been deprived of emotional interactions as a child due to their parents being unaffectionate and cold. Some Â (especially boys) have had authoritative fathers who showed no emotion and their children have learned to be this way too.
Emotions are natural and healthy and if you do not experience emotion, either by suppressing or by denial, it is akin to living a life in a glass cage. You can see and hear everything but you cannot be fully immersed in the experience. I call it being “unplugged”. Think of a lamp. If you are plugged in, you are shining brightly and experiencing the highs and lows of life. Unplugging from the energy source (emotions and connecting with others) makes life safer but does not bring out your full potential and encourages a life ‘half lived’.
Ask yourself the questions below to find out if your emotional landscape needs some watering. Give a “yes” or “no” answer to each:
1) I prefer practical jokes to verbal humour.
2) Talking about feelings is something I feel uncomfortable doing.
3) I would never break a law, no matter how minor.
4) I am not good at predicting how others are feeling.
5) I tend to find social situations confusing.
6) I haven’t cried in many months.
7) I find it easy to stay detached from films I am watching.
8) People don’t often approach me to tell me their problems.
9) I don’t like taking risks.
10) I often don’t understand the motives behind other people’s behaviour.
11) I can rarely tell when someone really likes me and wants to be more than friends.
12) I am not a good judge of character.
13) I am often wrong when judging someone on ‘first impressions’.
14) I look at facts rather than trusting my intuition when making decisions.
15) I find it hard to make friends.
The more “yes” answers you gave, the lower your emotional intelligence. A score of more than 5 “yes” answers indicates there might some issues with the way you interact with others.
How to improve emotional intelligence:
1) Be aware of your body
When we deny and suppress emotions, they sometimes make themselves known in a physical form. Sweaty palms, heart palpitations and panic attacks are just a few of the physical symptoms that can be related to suppressed emotions. If you suffer from consistent physical complaints such as headaches and trouble sleeping, this could be an indication that you are not in touch with you emotions. Try to link the physical symptoms to an issue that might be causing you anger or anxiety.
2) Learn to identify emotions
Years of emotional suppression make it harder for us to identify and deal with our emotions. Start writing down instances of when you last felt: happy, sad, anxious, scared, frustrated, excited etc. Get into the habit of relating to life on an emotional level rather than on just an analytical intellectual level.
3) Bring out the child in you
As we grow up we are taught to keep it together, to not appear weak, to be mature etc. In the process, we can often lose sense of our playful inner child. When did you last play or act silly? When did you let your hair down and do something for the fun of it? When did you last cry? Get stuck into life and stop living on the safe periphery. Tell others how you really feel, stop placing pressure on yourself to always keep it together. It really is okay to express emotion. It’s not illegal – you won’t get arrested. 😉
4) Engage more with others
Spend time getting to know others on a more personal level. People lacking in emotional intelligence tend to keep conversations very ‘light’, talking about the weather, business and sport. Take an interest in others and ask them questions about highlights they have experienced or ask them what makes them feel inspired. There are many ways to engage with others and form long lasting friendships rather than remaining acquaintances.
5) Pay attention to your non verbal communication
Most of our communication is non verbal. Make sure you focus on the other person, maintain eye contact and face them when you talk to them. People are far more likely to engage with a person who is friendly and approachable rather than one who seems to have invisible barriers up.
Tuning in to emotions and connecting with others on a deeper level takes some skill and it is harder to do when a person has learned to ignore emotions. Emotional intelligence improves your chances of feeling connected and bonded to others instead of being in a crowded room yet still feeling alone.