What’s been shown by research to be more important for job success than IQ?
What’s a major factor in life satisfaction?
What contributes to lasting marriages and happy children?
What can leap tall buildings in a single bound? (Well, maybe not that.)
It’s Emotional Intelligence! Also known as EQ.
Emotional Intelligence has been defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships and conflicts with empathy and skill.
Research tells us that people with high EQ enjoy many advantages and benefits in life. But some people have a lot more of it than others.
Many people feel rather mystified by the concept of EQ. It’s natural to wonder how people get EQ. Are we born with our EQ already set? And why do some people have high EQ and some people don’t? And, probably the most important question of all: Can we increase our EQ?
Are We Born With EQ?
The answer is, “Maybe somewhat.” Few things are purely genetic, and EQ is no exception. Sure, some babies are undoubtedly born with a more natural tendency toward emotional awareness and capability for abstract thought, both of which would make it easier to learn about and understand emotions.
But in the nature/nurture question, I have clearly seen that nurture is enormously important.
The Role of Parenting in EQ
Childhood is a training ground for emotional intelligence. When your parents see what you feel and respond to your feelings by helping you name and manage them, you learn what different emotions feel like, and how to put them into words. You learn how to identify what you’re feeling, and why you may be feeling it. You learn how to understand why you do what you do and deduce the reasons for others’ actions as well.
Emotionally aware and skilled parents do all of the above, naturally. So they tend to raise high EQ kids. But, unfortunately, the opposite is also true. When your parents are not emotionally aware or skilled, you do not get what you need to learn the EQ skills.
When your emotions are not noticed, validated or addressed enough in childhood (I call this Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), your emotions automatically become blocked off in adulthood. So throughout the most formative decades of your life, you are missing the opportunity to learn how emotions work.
You are left with a lack of crucial knowledge. Which emotion is which? What do you do with your feelings when you have them? How are your emotions affecting your decisions? How do other people’s emotions affect their behavior?
The effects of this lack of knowledge on every single area of the emotionally neglected person’s adult life are far more severe than most people realize.
Lacking a solid EQ makes it hard to handle situations when you are having feelings or when the other person is. So you are more likely to ignore issues, sweep problems under the rug, hurt other people’s feelings, or make decisions that you will later regret.
So, although less clearly visible, the effects of low EQ are so significant that I have often compared them to those of having a physical disability, such as a missing limb.
The Bright Side
Fortunately, for all of us, that is not the end of the story. There is some very good news here. EQ is nothing other than a set of skills. And you, no matter how much Emotional Neglect you were raised with, no matter what genes you were born with, can learn them.
Do These 5 Things to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence
- The first step is to decisively declare yourself a student of emotions. Then start paying attention to feelings in your everyday life, and make it your plan to learn everything you can about emotions and how they work.
- Start trying to be aware of when you are having a feeling. Being aware of your own feelings is the most important building block in all of the EQ skills.
- Increase your emotion vocabulary. This involves learning and using more emotion words in your everyday life. You can find a link to a free download of an Emotion Words List below.
- Build your capacity for empathy. You may already have plenty of ability to empathize (many who grow up emotionally neglected actually have too much empathy). But if it is rare for you to feel someone else’s feelings, you can learn how to be more empathetic. To do this, start by practicing when you are watching TV or a movie or reading a book. Try to feel the feelings of the characters. Then move forward to trying to feel the feelings of the people around you.
- Practice assertiveness. Assertiveness is saying what you need to say in such a way that the other person can take it in. It requires you to know what you feel and be able to put it in words that will not insult the other person or put them on the defensive. It is speaking your truth, but with compassion for the other person.
Of all of the things you can work for in your life, emotional intelligence is one of the most fruitful. As you study and pay attention to the world of feelings, you will find yourself changing in small but remarkable ways. You will find yourself feeling more. You will become more connected and more attuned to the people in your life, and they will feel it too.
Slowly, gradually, but with purpose and intention, you will stop neglecting your own feelings and become better able to handle others’ feelings.
What can change your life?
To learn much more about how to increase your EQ skills and apply them in relationships see the books Running On Empty and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.
You can download the Feelings List free HERE.
Childhood Emotional Neglect can be hard to see and remember. To find out if you grew up with it Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.