You know, I never learned about this in school. 

Somehow, indicators of intelligence were your SAT scores, ability to use math, size of your vocabulary, ability to fall in line.  Sure, kids got in trouble for not following rules, or for being disruptive, or for being caught being cruel.  But I wish I had had more of an opportunity to learn about what real emotional intelligence was during my earlier years.

I’d like to believe this has been slowly changing — mental health has now become something that’s acknowledged to be important, and people are now socially allowed to acknowledge that they go to therapy (whereas when I was younger, which wasn’t too too long ago, it was social suicide to even mention therapy or mental health).  Millennials and Gen Z’s hold a huge place in my heart due to their burgeoning emotional intelligence and ability to acknowledge hard topics including mental health.  It feels like things are going to keep improving, socially.  Or at least, I have hope that they will.  

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So what is emotional intelligence?  And how do we work on developing more of this insight into ourselves and our emotions?

Emotional intelligence of EQ can broadly be defined as the ability to have insight into our emotions, to understand, name, and manage these emotions, and the ability to manage our emotional wellbeing through self care, stress relief, and effective communication about emotions.  Positive outcomes of having a higher EQ can be less conflict, better problem solving, more success in relationships and interpersonal interactions, better decision making, more insight into oneself, less fluctuations in mood and increased stability, and lower stress levels.  

Scientists continue to study Emotional Intelligence and have comprised two models to help make sense of this phenomenon.  Let’s take a look to see if we can gain some better insight.  

Goleman’s (1989) Mixed Model of EQ includes five main constructs of EQ:

  1. Self-awareness – insight into one’s emotions, thoughts, and feelings, and the ability to understand and recognize their impacts on self and others
  2. Self-regulation – the ability to manage one’s own emotions and to moderate them to adapt to different environments and circumstances
  3. Social skill – the ability to form positive relationships, communicate, and get along with diverse groups of others
  4. Empathy – the ability to understand and consider feelings of others
  5. Motivation – understanding one’s own motivations and drives.

Salovey and Mayer’s (2001) Ability Model includes four types of adaptive behaviors that comprise EQ:

  1. Perceiving emotions – the ability to detect and understand emotions both in self and others
  2. Using emotions – the ability to use emotions to perform better at tasks and activities
  3. Understanding emotions – the ability to understand emotion by using language and when communicating with others, and the ability to recognize and name emotions in the self and describe them
  4. Managing emotions – the ability to mediate and moderate emotions in self and others.

OK, so hopefully this fleshed out the idea of Emotional Intelligence a little more for you; rather than being a hard and fast measure, Emotional Intelligence is a framework used to describe a vague set of skills and abilities relating to one’s own ability to understand and manage emotions in self and others.  

Emotional Intelligence is of premier importance because it affects your relationships with others whether at home, in relationships, at school, at work, and in other settings, as well as your ability to have a relationship with yourself and your mental health.  EQ can impact your ability to succeed in environments where you must interact with and work with others (which is, like, every environment), as well as your ability to regulate your stress level and reactions to certain situations and environments.  Managing your stress level also has far-reaching impacts on your mental and physical wellbeing.  

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So how do we continue to hone in on our experiences as emotionally-developing beings?

Understanding your own internal experience and processes is important to understanding your thoughts, feeling, and actions.  So many of us get caught up in ignoring our internal experience, trying to escape it, criticizing and judging it, and fighting it, leading to emotional distress and a stress reaction that can become chronic.  A key component of developing better emotional intelligence is to notice these processes and attempt a new process of noticing and validating.  This doesn’t exactly mean supporting all that we find: rather, being able to acknowledge something and not pass a judgement on it right away is important.  

My friend may have just moved into a baller new apartment.  When I go there, I am excited for them, and find I am pointing out “We need to re-point this light, fix the cracks in the paint there, move the fridge, get a new screen for this window here.”  My friend stops me, saying, “Can we say nice things about my apartment instead?”  I could withdraw, become angry, feel attacks, be defensive, whatever.  But understanding my own emotional state and validating it is important for my progress.  “Sorry about that,” I say, “I tend to get so caught up in projects and want to do everything all at once.  I am really excited for you, tell me what you plan to do with that wall over there.”

Being mindful of your emotions and internal processes means sitting with them and noticing them, without pushing them away, criticizing, or judging them.  We may want to let our minds wander, daydream, or fantasize about anything else, but sometimes easing into that gross hot tub of sweltering feelings is important.  Maybe we are caught up in a relationship that feels not-good, but we avoid our own feelings: focusing on work, hobbies, and other things so when it comes to the end of the day and my mind starts to race, we can hopefully just fall asleep fast.  Sitting with ourselves and really giving space and time to those feelings is important, even if it feels negative.  Our minds and hearts create feelings for a reason: they guide us to where we would really like to be.  We have to listen to, and make space for that, free of self-judgement.  I know it’s hard.  

A way we can gain competency here is to practice naming feelings.  I may not feel great after a person yells at me from across the parking lot.  I drive home and then sit in my car, heart racing, noticing my rapid breathing.  What do I feel?  Maybe it’s too much of a blur just then.  I can ask myself, “How would someone else feel if they had that happen to them just now?”  Or, I can notice my heart rate, and say, “How am I usually feeling when my heart beats this fast?”  It would be helpful to quell any thoughts like, “Ugh, I should just get over this,” “Suck it up Sara,” “You’re being a huge baby.”  Noticing and naming feelings means allowing those judgements to pass and then returning to the task at hand.  I feel scared.  I feel embarrassed.  I feel on edge.  

Describing your internal experience can also be helpful.  “I feel stressed out trying to name these feelings, it’s really hard work.  I would prefer to avoid thinking about this stuff because forgetting it or pushing it away feels less horrifying.”  OK, that’s cool.  We are honestly reflecting here.  Not bad.  

Validating these thoughts would look like, “It’s understandable I don’t want to dwell on a negative experience.  That doesn’t make me a bad person or weak, that is a response because I am trying to protect myself emotionally and have my own back.”  Understanding and normalizing your own experiences is important.  The more conversations we can have with ourselves where we are open and honest, the better insight we gain into our inner processes.  And this makes us better at understanding and managing our emotions, while also lessening any judgements or criticisms we get stuck in that make us feel worse.