Why is emotional intelligence useful?

The so-called “emotional intelligence” is a purely human capacity that would be included within intelligence in general, which is multiple, diverse and complex. The term has been used for many years and became very popular especially as a result of the book of the same title written by Daniel Goleman. Over time, and gradually, it has found its place also in the more academic literature (beyond the best-sellers on psychology).

As we have just mentioned, intelligence is multiple; and each of its parts, like emotional intelligence, is not something simple either, but would have different components. One of them, for example, would be the ability to become aware of our own emotions and give them a name: to be able to describe in some depth our emotions and feelings, our emotional world, which can sometimes be so diverse and contradictory).

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It would also include the ability of detecting emotions in others and responding accordingly. In other words, emotional intelligence is, among other things, the skill of responding coherently or simply acting intelligently to the emotions of others. This is tremendously important in our relationships and is closely related to empathy.

Emotional intelligence includes understanding one’s own emotions but also those of others

In the same way that we must react intelligently to other people’s emotions, we cannot forget that our own emotions must be expressed correctly, and this is also part of emotional intelligence. There would be more components, but the following are probably the most important.

Cultivating emotional intelligence

It is not something easy or specific to carry out, but basically yes, it is possible. Our capabilities and psychological traits are not static, but dynamic. Some of them decline over time while others are maintained or even increased. Intelligence in general -and emotional intelligence in particular- is not something alien to this dynamism, on the contrary.

This means that an individual may not be the most emotionally intelligent person in the world at any given time, especially when they haven’t yet had a chance to fully mature; but if they manage to broaden their knowledge about different emotions, learn to experience them themselves, with the patience to describe them and to know certain basic notions about what to do and what not to do in the face of certain emotions of others, they can increase their competence in this area.

Let’s think about children, from the moment they’re born. Maybe we don’t say it with these words but part of their education and upbringing consists of teaching them to be emotionally intelligent people too. We teach them what emotions are called, we ask them how they feel, if something is wrong with them (which encourages them to stop and think about it and spontaneously train their mechanisms of introspection). We also make their emotions a shared experience, as when we become happy with their joy or sad with their sorrow. We teach them to express their emotions in an appropriate way, indicating in different ways how much sadness, joy, anger, etc. is appropriate to express and in what way at each moment. By doing so, we act as emotional models for them by showing our style of experiencing and expressing our own emotions, so that they can learn to regulate themselves, that is, to calm down and channel all their emotional energy in an adaptive way.

This happens spontaneously during a child’s education, but it also happens in relationships between adults. It’ s very difficult that with time we don’t become even a little wiser in the emotional area as well. Another thing is how much and whether or not we use that wisdom, of course.

Sometimes, more deliberate and formal work needs to be done on “emotional education” since some people, for various reasons, haven’t learned the basic skills in this area so well as others. For example, although it may seem very basic, not everyone knows how to distinguish sadness from worry, or melancholy, or healthy joy from euphoria, or they feel that any degree of fear is panic. Some people find it hard to see if someone is being ironic with them, or angry, or sincerely glad to see them.

Emotions are very diverse and have their own way of being transmitted, and some people have more difficulty than others in detecting their nuances, which often leads them to experience certain clumsiness in their relationships with others. Exercises with different faces and gestures to learn to distinguish some emotions from others are very typical, as well as everything that has to do with so-called social skills: what not to do when a person is very angry or very sad, how to properly receive the joy or fear of others, when a person is becoming emotionally active and should not be altered any further, etc.

Advantages of emotional intelligence

There’s a lot of them. Basically, all those that have to do with what we call in colloquial terms “understanding yourself” and “understanding others”. The opposite is the confusion, not knowing how I feel, or not being able to put it into words (which makes it more unclear and confusing), or not knowing what function the emotions I am experiencing have, that is, what sense they have, what they can be useful to me for.

In the same way, if I have difficulty in reading the emotional world of the people with whom I relate, I will not be able to behave as well as I can in relation to it, which can generate friction with the rest, misunderstandings, the feeling of not being understood, etc.

The emotions that we feel and that others feel give us a lot of information about what kind of people we are, how we experience what happens around us, what our motivations are… If we don’t have an adequate capacity to process this information we are going blindly through life.

Emotional intelligence and health crisis

It’s not going to work a miracle, but understanding what happens to us and what happens to others is always good. Emotional intelligence is not just about detecting emotions: it includes locating them, analyzing their details and causes, perceiving what function they are fulfilling in the specific situation, differentiating their degree of intensity, knowing how to describe them with a certain degree of precision, regulating them if they are too intense, living with them to the extent that we cannot automatically deactivate them, savoring them when they are pleasant, communicating them to others in an effective and understandable way… and doing the same with the emotions of others.

In a moment of crisis, it is important to put fear (and its respective relatives) in its place, to make room for the family of joy, satisfaction and hope, to have the patience to accompany the anguish of others (even if we do not share it), to assume that emotions are activated and deactivated in us in a cyclical and unexpected way but that we can also promote and strengthen them to a certain extent.

Regulating our emotions

If we are not able to stop and become aware of how we are feeling and what it is all about, at a relatively specific level, it is not going to be easy to regulate. Regulation implies having a certain capacity to control our emotional activation, so that we can adjust excessively high (and also excessively low) intensities and, of course, their form of expression.

Emotional intelligence is a set of skills that we can train from a young age, up to a certain point.

Verbal expression (talking about it, sharing it with others) has a great influence on whether what we feel becomes more active or, on the contrary, is deactivated. An annoyance can grow as we put it into words and talk about it, we can “ignite more”, although it can also be deactivated by the fact of the relief or containment that the other offers us. The same happens with any other emotion (guilt, fear, joy, sadness, shame, etc.).

On the other hand, regulation always implies becoming aware of our emotions and this cannot happen if we do not get in touch with ourselves. This conscious internal contact has to take place at an emotional level, at a cognitive level (what we think while we are feeling the concrete emotion) and also through the body: to locate in it the emotions, where they often manifest in very noticeable ways; to be able to feel them in purely physical terms, without adding “interpretative literature” to them with our thinking. Contact with the body, for example through our breathing, is always a useful anchorage in emotional regulation.

Now, this is a skill in itself, a capacity that we can intuitively improve and that can also be trained in therapy, with the help of a trained psychologist. On the other hand, it is trainable to a certain extent and, beyond that, it has to do with our style of facing, reacting to, and living situations, which is partly what it is. Often, we must assume that it is also a matter of living with that style, not so much of changing something that cannot be changed.

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