Developing Emotional Intelligence

check.emotionsEmotional intelligence

“Academic intelligence has little to do with emotional life. The brightest among us can founder on the shoals of unbridled passions and unruly impulses; people with high IQs can be stunningly poor pilots of their private lives.” — Daniel Goleman

Emotions are colourful, dramatic, fascinating, and essential dimensions of every person’s experience. These primitive mechanisms send a constant stream of powerful signals that can guide us along the difficult path of survival, or quickly send us off on destructive and painful tangents. How well do you understand these essential and universal signals? Many believe that living life to its fullest requires experiencing and enjoying the full range of human emotions. Yet so many of us are uncomfortable with emotions; we don’t recognize what they are, what they are telling us, how they can be helpful, or the choices we have in how to respond to them. Many of us were taught to ignore, suppress, diminish, or deny our own subtle feelings and vivid passions. Do you know how you feel? What emotions can you recognize and describe? We may have mistakenly learned to overreact to various negative emotions while suppressing positive ones. Unfortunately some of us are prisoners of anger, hate, guilt, sadness, fear, anxiety, shame, humiliation, envy, pain, and violence without understanding what has consumed so much of our lives. Others endure a lonely and sterile existence without experiencing genuine feelings or passionate emotions. But passion has logic. Emotions obey their own peculiar rules that we can study, understand, listen to, learn from, master, and even enjoy. How well can you interpret what your emotions are telling you?

To be emotionally intelligent is to have the personal skills that characterize a rich and balanced personality. Emotional intelligence includes, as Aristotle put it, the rare ability “to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way.”

A. Defining emotional intelligence

The first published attempt toward a definition was made by Salovey and Mayer (1990) who defined EI as “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.”

Emotional Intelligence doesn’t mean being soft — it means being intelligent about emotions — a different way of being smart. Emotional intelligence is your ability to acquire and apply knowledge from your emotions and the emotions of others in order to be more successful and lead a more fulfilling life.

A more formal academic definition is: The emotional awareness and emotional management skills which provide the ability to balance emotion and reason so as to maximize our long term happiness.

Estimate your emotional intelligence:

  1. Do you cope with unexpected change?
  2. Do you listen to other people’s ideas?
  3. Do you recognize your feelings as they occur?
  4. Do you express your feelings appropriately?
  5. Do you control strong emotions and impulses?
  6. Do you take responsibility for your actions and behaviour?
  7. Do you act intelligently and mature under stress?

Any “No” indicates part of your life where you may be emotionally immature, although most people will answer “No” to question 7. If the stress is high enough to cause you to age-regress (anything from a spider to the loss of a partner), most people will feel and act childishly for a time, before restoring balance and sobriety. During this time, immature behaviour is likely.

B. COMPONENTS OF EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

One commonly used version of Peter Salovey and John Mayer’s 1990 definition of emotional intelligence includes abilities in five main areas:

1. Self-awareness: Recognizing one’s feelings as they occur is the linchpin of emotional intelligence. The ability to monitor feelings from moment to moment is key to psychological insight and self- understanding. Being aware of one’s emotions makes one more confident when making important personal decisions such as whom to marry or what career path to follow.

2. Managing emotions: Having appropriate emotional reactions is a capacity that builds on self-awareness. The ability to modulate negative affects such as anxiety, anger, and depression is a crucial emotional skill. Emotional resilience helps one to prevail over life’s inevitable setbacks and upsets; those who lack emotional self-regulation are continually besieged by feelings of distress.

3. Motivating oneself: Being able to focus on a goal is essential for a range of accomplishments. Emotional self-control—such as delaying gratification or controlling impulsivity—is crucial in working towards such life goals. Individuals who can harness their emotions, and maintain hope and optimism despite frustrations, are generally more productive and effective in their undertakings.

4. Recognizing emotions in others: Empathy, another skill based in emotional self-awareness, is fundamental to interpersonal effectiveness. Those who are well attuned to subtle social cues that indicate what others feel are more successful in personal and professional relations.

5. Handling relationships: The art of relationships requires skill in managing others’ emotions. Social competence underlies popularity, leadership, and interpersonal effectiveness.

Individuals have a profile of differing abilities in each of these areas; for instance, someone masterful at managing anger may be inept at soothing someone else’s upsets. Neurological givens determine initial capacities within each domain of emotional intelligence. Each individual has underlying neurological set points that determine temperament—for example, the ability to control emotional impulse, shyness, or irritability. Although the underlying basis for emotional competence is neural, the brain circuitry involved is malleable. To a great extent, each of the five domains represents sets of habit and response that are learned, and so can be improved with appropriate effort.

Emotionally intelligent individuals have superior self-control and ability to motivate themselves. Life is meaningful for them; they are principled and responsible. They manage and express emotions appropriately, being assertive but sympathetic and caring in relationships. Their emotional life is rich but balanced; they are comfortable with themselves, others, and the social universe they live in. They manage stress without undue worry or rumination. They tend to be gregarious, spontaneous, playful, and open to sensual experience.

C. WHAT IS EMOTION?

In its most literal sense, the Oxford English Dictionary defines emotion as “any agitation or disturbance of mind, feeling, passion; any vehement or excited mental state.” I take emotion to refer to a feeling and its distinctive thoughts, psychological and biological states, and range of propensities to act. There are hundreds of emotions, along with their blends, variations, mutations, and nuances. Indeed, there are many more subtleties of emotion than we have words for.

We can think of emotions in terms of families or dimensions, taking the main families— anger, sadness, fear, enjoyment, love, shame, and so on—as cases in point for the endless nuances of our emotional life. Each of these families has a basic emotional nucleus at its core, with its relatives rippling out from there in countless mutations. In the outer ripples are moods, which, technically speaking, are more muted and last far longer than an emotion (while it’s relatively rare to be in the full heat of anger all day, for example, it is not that rare to be in a grumpy, irritable mood, in which shorter bouts of anger are easily triggered). Beyond moods are temperaments, the readiness to evoke a given emotion or mood that makes people melancholy, timid, or cheery. And still beyond such emotional dispositions are the outright disorders of emotion such as clinical depression or unremitting anxiety, in which someone feels perpetually trapped in a toxic state.

Emotional intelligence entails the appropriate awareness, management, and expression of the range of these emotions. In this sense, many psychiatric disorders in the fourth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV)—such as the anxiety and mood disorders—bespeak a deficit in affective self-regulation, which is a key capacity of emotional intelligence. To the extent that emotional intelligence skills like affective self-regulation can be cultivated, particularly in young people, the risk of developing such psychiatric disorders should be diminished.

D. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AND I.Q.

In a sense the human brain contains two minds and two different kinds of intelligence: rational and emotional. These two fundamentally different modes of consciousness interact to constitute our mental life. The emotional and rational minds are semi-independent faculties, each reflecting the operation of distinct, but interconnected, circuitry in the brain. The complementarity of limbic system and neocortex, particularly of the amygdala and prefrontal lobes, means each is a full partner in mental life. The emotional and the rational minds operate in tandem for the most part—emotion contributes to and informs the operations of the rational mind, and the rational mind refines and sometimes vetoes the input of the emotions. When these partners interact well, both emotional intelligence and intellectual ability are enhanced. Emotional intelligence and I.Q. are not opposing competencies, but discrete and synergistic ones.

E. EMOTIONAL MIND

In recent years a cognitive science model of the emotional mind has been offered independently by Paul Ekman and Seymour Epstein. Their qualitative description sheds light on the underlying neurology: they propose the following qualities that distinguish the ‘‘emotional’ from the “intellectual” mind.

Unlike the methodical and reflective intellect, the emotional mind reacts immediately, without pausing to consider consequences. Its workings are rapid, outpacing conscious thought and the deliberate, analytical reflection that is the mark of rationality. The emotional mind instantly apprehends potential danger, and can tune in to an emotional reality (e.g., he’s angry with me; she’s lying; this is making him sad), making snap judgments about whom to be wary of, whom to trust, who’s in distress. However, these quick impressions and intuitive judgments can easily be erroneous or distorted, since the emotional mind sacrifices accuracy for speed.

The immediate reaction to intense stimulus is emotional rather than logical because the rational mind processes stimuli more slowly than does the emotional mind. The emotional mind has childlike qualities that intensify with the strength of the emotion. Categorical thinking typifies this, as does personalized thinking, with events perceived with a bias centering on the self. Beliefs held by the rational mind are tentative—new evidence can refute one belief and replace it with a new one because the rational mind reasons by objective evidence. The emotional mind, however, is self-confirming, suppressing or ignoring memories or facts that would undermine its beliefs and seizing on those that support it. Emotions are self-justifying, having a set of perceptions and proofs all their own. The emotional mind can react to the present as though it were the past. An event can bring back associated emotionally charged memories from the past. The emotional mind responds by triggering the feelings that went with the original event, whether or not or to what degree the comparison is warranted.

F. DEVELOPMENT OF EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

Emotional learning begins in life’s earliest moments, and continues throughout childhood and into adulthood. Childhood and adolescence are the most critical windows of opportunity for the establishment of essential emotional habits. The primary skills of emotional intelligence each have critical periods extending over several years in childhood. Each period represents an opportunity for instilling effective emotional habits. The strengthening, sculpting, and pruning of neural circuits throughout childhood may contribute to the enduring and pervasive effects of early emotional hardships and trauma in adulthood.

Hundreds of studies suggest that how parents treat a child—with harsh discipline or empathy, with indifference or warmth, and so on—has deep and lasting consequences for the child’s emotional life. Only recently have there been hard data showing that emotionally intelligent parenting is itself of enormous benefit to a child. The ways parents handle emotions between them—in addition to their direct dealings with a child—impart powerful lessons to their children, who are astute learners attuned to the subtlest emotional exchanges in the family.

All the small interactions between parent and child have an emotional subtext; the repetition of these messages over the years forms the core of a child’s emotional outlook and capabilities. These interchanges mould the child’s emotional expectations about relationships, which will influence emotional functioning in all realms of life for better or worse.

The risks are greatest for children whose parents are grossly inept—immature, abusing drugs, depressed, chronically angry, or simply aimless and living chaotic lives. Such parents are far less likely to give adequate care, let alone to address their children’s emotional needs.

Emotional competence may be decisive in determining the extent to which any given child succumbs to such hardships or responds to them with a core of resilience and thrives despite the odds. Long- term studies of children brought up in poverty, in abusive families, or by a parent with severe mental illness show that those who survive the most severe hardships tend to share key emotional skills. These include social adeptness that draws people to them, self-confidence, persistence, optimism, resilience in the face of upsets, and an easygoing nature.

G. SIGNS OF HIGH EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

  1. vEmotional Self-awareness
  2. vImprovement in recognizing and naming own emotions
  3. vBetter able to understand the causes of feelings
  4. vRecognizing the difference between feelings and actions
  5. vManaging Emotions
  6. vBetter frustration tolerance and anger management
  7. vFewer verbal putdowns, fights, and classroom disruptions
  8. vBetter able to express anger appropriately, without fighting
  9. vFewer suspensions and expulsions
  10. vLess aggressive or self-destructive behaviour
  11. vMore positive feelings about self, school, and family
  12. vBetter at handling stress
  13. vLess loneliness and social anxiety
  14. vHarnessing Emotions Productively
  15. vMore responsible
  16. vBetter able to focus on the task at hand and pay attention
  17. vLess impulsive; more self-control
  18. vImproved scores on achievement tests
  19. vEmpathy: Reading Emotions
  20. vBetter able to take another person’s perspective
  21. vImproved empathy and sensitivity to others’ feelings
  22. vBetter at listening to others
  23. vHandling Relationships
  24. vIncreased ability to analyse and understand relationships
  25. vBetter at resolving conflicts and negotiating disagreements
  26. vBetter at solving problems in relationships
  27. vMore assertive and skilled at communicating
  28. vMore popular and outgoing; friendly and involved with peers
  29. vMore sought out by peers
  30. vMore concerned and considerate
  31. vMore pro-social and harmonious in groups
  32. vMore sharing, cooperative, and helpful
  33. vMore democratic in dealing with others.

H. SKILLS THAT CAN BE TAUGHT TO INCREASE EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

EMOTIONAL SKILLS

  • Identifying and labelling feelings
  • Expressing feelings
  • Assessing the intensity of feelings
  • Managing feelings
  • Delaying gratification
  • Controlling impulses
  • Reducing stress
  • Knowing the difference between feelings and actions

COGNITIVE SKILLS

  • Self-talk—conducting an “inner dialogue” as a way to cope with a topic or challenge or reinforce one’s own behaviour
  • Reading and interpreting social cues—for example, recognizing social influences on behaviour and seeing oneself in the perspective of the larger community
  • Using steps for problem-solving and decision-making—for instance, controlling impulses, setting goals, identifying alternative actions, anticipating consequences
  • Understanding the perspective of others
  • Understanding behavioural norms (what is and is not acceptable behaviour)
  • A positive attitude toward life
  • Self-awareness—for example, developing realistic expectations about oneself

BEHAVIOURAL SKILLS

  • Nonverbal—communicating through eye contact, facial expressiveness tone of voice, gestures, and so on
  • Verbal—making clear requests, responding effectively to criticism, resisting negative influences, listening to others, helping others, participating in positive peer groups

 Prepared by Bhyju cmf

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