What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is a bit of a buzz word nowadays, but because it’s a fairly new concept there is still some confusion over what it really is. It was first coined in 1990 after psychologists became increasingly concerned with how little traditional intelligence tests told us about one’s success in life. Daniel Goleman brought the term to public knowledge with the publication of his detailed and brilliant book, Emotional Intelligence, in 1995. Since then it’s become increasingly well known to the extent that now, our emotional intelligence, or EQ, s widely accepted as more important than our IQ.

So what is Emotional intelligence, otherwise known as emotional literacy? This article goes a bit deeper and hopefully explains it a bit more. Please feel free to give feedback at the bottom, or ask any questions.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

You could say Emotional intelligence affects, even dictates, your success or effectiveness in every single area of life – from home, work, family, finance, career, social life – and everything in between. It’s arguably more important now than ever before because there are more people than ever before, more complexity in our world, more conflicting needs, and more technology.

A child with emotional intelligence (EI) is more affectionate towards their family, has more friends, less behavioural problems (eg aggression), more confidence, will get upset less often, and learn better so achieve better grades.
An adult with high EI will progress further in career or work, have better physical health, is more positive and optimistic, more friendly and nicer to be around, more affectionate, have closer friendships and happier long term relationships, and can persist in the face of frustrations or setbacks.

Our Emotions in the Brain

The brain has a few different sections, or parts, that evolved at different times during our development into the animal we are today. The emotional part of the brain (also known as ‘mammalian’ because we share this with many other mammals) is the largest and by far the most powerful part of the brain.

This is the part that’s responsible for our very survival. The emotions we feel, especially the negative ones, developed millions of years ago to keep us alive in our original native home, the forest or jungle. This is also why emotions can overwhelm us so easily – they are powerful because they are designed to keep us alive in the face of danger.

The Power of Emotion

Because of the role emotions play in our survival, they are literally the most powerful force in our lives, so powerful that if uncontrolled they can wreak havoc. When we’re swept away by a strong sudden emotion such as panic, the whole of the rest of the brain and parts of the body more or less stop working, until the threat is overcome. We go into what’s called a high arousal state where our immune system all but stops, we don’t feel hungry, thirsty or tired, we stop digesting our food, lose our sexual urge, and our body is flooded with the stress hormone cortisol.

You can see that those high arousal states take a lot of our body’s resources. Which is fine because it was designed to enable us to escape a predator – after which we would return to the relaxed state once back in safety, 15 or 30 minutes later. However, in today’s world, many people live in a state like that most of the time, which will obviously take a huge toll on our bodies.

Our emotional intelligence could be seen as our ability to be aware of, accept, understand and handle the surge of those powerful emotions in ourselves. That is, without suppressing them, and without expressing them inappropriately. Quite an uncommon skill when you think how many people try and deny or escape their emotions through drink, drugs or other addictions, suppression or denial, and how many of us have difficulties with managing our anger, go into depression or suffer from long term anxiety.

The other side of emotional intelligence – empathy towards others

Another aspect of emotional intelligence is our ability to accept, understand and cope with those same powerful emotions in others – the driving force behind nearly all their (and our) behaviour. In a word, empathy. This allows us to connect or bond with others. It also enables us to make sense of and be at home in the complex and highly social world we live in.

Elements of emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence can be divided into 2 broad areas, our own emotions, and those of others.

There are 5 aspects of emotional intelligence:

  • Awareness or recognising our emotions (including acceptance of them),
  • Managing or handling strong negative emotions,
  • Marshalling our emotions in the pursuit of a goal, or delaying gratification – in short, maturity,
  • Awareness of or understanding the emotions of others,
  • Handling relationships, or ‘Social intelligence’.

I’ll go through each of these, and how to develop them, in future blogs and videos. So stay tuned!

Thanks for reading – if you enjoyed this please share the link with your friends, write a comment below, and come back soon for more info and ideas on how to improve your mental & emotional wellbeing, and basically move towards living a vibrantly happy life.

Till next time! Marina.

Part II – The Discovery of Emotional Intelligence

Part III – Emotional Intelligence and the Planet