What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional Intelligence (also referred to as EQ or EI) is a blend of our emotional response and informational processing capabilities. Emotional intelligence represents a set of abilities that enables a person to generate, recognize, express, understand and manage their own emotions and the emotions of others. In simpler terms, EI involves understanding and managing emotions, and using such skills and insights to effectively connect with others.
In recent years, researchers have delved into the concept of ‘Meta-Emotional Intelligence’ which expands on traditional EI by considering how our personal beliefs about emotions and our perception of our own emotional competence influences our level of emotional intelligence.
Types of Emotional Intelligence
While Emotional Intelligence has been researched for decades, the concept gained widespread recognition in 1995 thanks to an American Psychologist and Author, Daniel Goleman. As our understanding of Emotional Intelligence evolves, professionals in the field have discussed different viewpoints:
- Ability EI: This perspective suggests that emotional intelligence is similar to cognitive skills and our ability to process information. In other words, it is a skill that can be developed and measured through testing.
- Trait EI: This viewpoint suggests that emotional intelligence is more closely tied to personality traits than cognitive intelligence. This perspective implies that EI is not easily developed and is more accurately measured through self-report questionnaires.
The Four Pillars of Emotional Intelligence
Amid the diverse definitions and concepts surrounding emotional intelligence, four pillars stand as its fundamental components:
- Self-Awareness: The ability to understand our own emotions, thoughts, and actions and recognize their interconnections. Self-awareness invites us to reflect with curiosity on our inner experiences and how we engage with the world. It also entails assessing our beliefs about emotions and honestly evaluating our own emotional abilities.
- Self-Management: The ability to self-regulate, manage difficult emotions and experiences, adapt to change and shift perspectives. Self-management involves intentional responses to thoughts and emotions, and controlling our own emotional reactions.
- Social Awareness: The skill of recognizing and understanding the emotional state of others and responding accordingly. It encompasses empathy, reading social cues and understanding what power dynamics and influences may be present in social interactions.
- Relationship management: While related to social awareness, relationship management refers to the actions taken in response to what we have noticed within a social interaction. It is the action associated with social awareness. It entails how we collaborate with others, how we respond and present ourselves in certain interactions, how we resolve conflict, or how we influence others.
Emotional Intelligence through a Trauma-Informed Lens
Developing emotional intelligence can be a challenging journey for many individuals. Personal beliefs about emotions and individual experiences related to family, culture, and life circumstances play a significant role in determining the level of difficulty one might encounter in developing emotional intelligence.
Lower emotional intelligence can occur among individuals with a history of trauma or those who face barriers to emotional awareness. Psychological trauma can have a profound impact on the brain, affecting emotional processing, response inhibition, decision making, impulse control, memory, and more. Individuals who have experienced trauma tend to adapt in two ways - through hypervigilance or disassociation:
- Hypervigilance: Being in a constant state of high alert, always on the lookout for potential danger. This can lead to reduced positive emotions, difficulty reading others' emotions, and challenges in effectively managing one's own emotions.
- Dissociation: Dissociation causes individuals to disconnect from their emotions. This disconnection impairs their ability to connect with others and hinders their awareness of important social and emotional cues. People who dissociate may struggle to recognize and respond to their own emotions.
Both hypervigilance and dissociation create barriers to developing and improving emotional intelligence. While it is possible to heal the brain over time and improve emotional intelligence, the immediate and unresolved impact of trauma on the brain reduces one’s ability to process and respond to emotions effectively.
The Impact of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence can have a positive impact on our work, relationships, and daily life. It shapes how we experience emotions, interact with others, and make decisions. The positive impacts that can arise from emotional intelligence include:
- Improved relationships: Healthy interpersonal relationships are closely tied to Emotional Intelligence concepts. Developing EI enhances teamwork, self-awareness, empathy, trust, conflict resolution, and effective communication, all essential components of a healthy relationship.
- Leadership and Organizational Benefits: Emotional Intelligence is a central aspect of leadership development, closely tied to the effectiveness of organizational leaders. For leaders who influence and expect trust from others, it is essential to conquer the ability to manage emotions and be aware of how one’s actions affect those around them. Effective leadership involves a deep understanding of oneself and the skills to interact effectively with others.
- Personal Growth: Self-awareness is foundational to Emotional Intelligence. It empowers us to develop a comprehensive understanding of our thoughts and feelings, providing us with more control and choice in our responses to better align ourselves with our values. When we honestly evaluate our emotional beliefs and our ability to navigate through emotional challenges, we learn how to improve and we identify our limits. This level of self-awareness ultimately sets us up for success on our chosen paths.
How to develop your Emotional Intelligence:
- Work with a Therapist: Emotional intelligence development, whether viewed as a cognitive skill or a personality trait, can be challenging. Therapists can help facilitate a deeper exploration of our thoughts, emotions and responses. For those who have experienced trauma, therapies such as CBT or EMDR can help decrease hypervigilance and increase emotional regulation.
- Develop healthy coping strategies and responses: Emotions are a part of being human and can arise unexpectedly, especially in emotionally charged interactions. Acquiring the skills to manage emotions is crucial to developing emotional intelligence. For example, practicing mindfulness strategies can help us to notice our internal reactions and slow us down to respond differently. Responding from a space of self-awareness and emotional management requires us to identify and practice grounding skills to help us defuse intense emotions.
- Seek Feedback: Soliciting feedback from others can provide valuable insights. Whether it's a work conflict or a disagreement with a partner, asking for feedback on your handling of situations is essential. These are crucial conversations that may naturally occur, but actively seeking feedback can help to identify your strengths and areas for growth.
- Consider Alternative Points of View: Recognize that your experiences, thoughts, and emotions are unique to you. While self-awareness is foundational to Emotional Intelligence, so is social awareness. This involves considering alternative perspectives, experiences, and emotions beyond your own.
- Access Educational Resources: There are numerous educational resources available to better understand emotional intelligence including exercises, articles, books, or podcasts. To deepen your knowledge, invest time in self- learning. Before using a resource, it is important to check the credibility and reliability of the chosen source.
Embracing Emotional Intelligence:
Our understanding of emotional intelligence continues to evolve as more research presents and professionals in relevant fields gain deeper insights into what constitutes self awareness, self management, social awareness and relationship management. The journey to developing emotional intelligence is unique and personal for each individual. Embrace curiosity and be compassionate with yourself as you work towards understanding and developing your emotional intelligence.
- Facing mental health challenges? Layla is here to help - Individuals, couples, and families use Layla for personalized, convenient therapy. Layla matches you to a suitable therapist and manage the therapy process in a warm, dependable manner, supporting you on your journey to better health. Learn more here
- New to therapy? Here's your beginner guide - Starting therapy can evoke feelings of vulnerability, but knowing what to expect can help. The journey is individualized, with no exact right or wrong way. During the first session, typically administrative matters are discussed, goals are set, and you and your therapist will get to know each other. Fit between you and you therapist is very important for your outcomes, and it's okay to switch if the fit isn't right. Therapy is adjusted to your timeline and constraints, and can range from weekly to monthly sessions. Reflecting on what you wish to accomplish can guide the process
Brown, H. (2018). What is emotional intelligence? +23 ways to improve it. PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/emotional-intelligence-eq
Chefalo, S. (2023). The four pillars of emotional intelligence. PACEs Connection. https://www.pacesconnection.com/blog/the-four-pillars-of-emotional-intelligence
D'Amico, A., & Geraci, A. (2023). Beyond emotional intelligence: The new construct of meta-emotional intelligence. Frontiers in Psychology, 14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1096663
Gottfredson, R. K., & Becker, W. J. (2023). How past trauma impacts emotional intelligence: Examining the connection. Frontiers in Psychology, 14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1067509
Van Rooy, D., and Viswesvaran, C. (2004). Emotional intelligence: a meta-analytic investigation of predictive validity and nomological net. J. Vocat. Behav. 65, 71–95. doi: 10.1016/S0001-8791(03)00076-9