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What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Heart Emotions pic

Emotional Intelligence - intelligence of the heart - has its roots in the concept of 'social intelligence,' first identified by E.L. Thorndike in 1920. Psychologists have been uncovering other intelligences for some time now, grouping them mainly into three clusters:

  1. Abstract intelligence (the ability to understand and manipulate with verbal and mathematic symbols).

  2. Concrete intelligence (the ability to understand and manipulate with objects).

  3. Social intelligence (the ability to understand and relate to people).

Thorndike defined social intelligence as, "The ability to understand and manage men and women, boys and girls - to act wisely in human relations." And Gardner includes inter- and intrapersonal intelligences in his theory of multiple intelligences. These two intelligences comprise social intelligence. He defines them as follows:

  • Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand other people: what motivates them, how they work, how to work cooperatively with them. Successful salespeople, politicians, teachers, clinicians, and religious leaders are all likely to be individuals with high degrees of interpersonal intelligence.

  • Intrapersonal intelligence is the ability to understand oneself. It is a capacity to form an accurate and truthful model of oneself and to be able to use that model to operate effectively in life.

Emotional Intelligence (often given the acronym EQ, the emotional-intelligence equivalent of IQ) encompasses social intelligence and emphasizes the affect of emotions on our ability to view situations objectively and thus to understand ourselves and other people. A deeper dive into the importance of emotional intelligence in daily life can reveal how these skills enhance decision-making, relationships, and stress management, further illuminating its role beyond mere theory. It includes a person's ability to understand their own emotions and those of others, and to act appropriately using these emotions. Balancing and integrating the head and heart, channelled through the left and right brain, is the mission of personal growth work in the domain of emotional intelligence.

EQ includes such things as: 

  • Identifying your feelings and needs, through body-awareness.
  • The ability to read others’ feelings, and to listen to others with empathy.
  • Knowing how to express your feelings with words and/or body-language.
  • Choosing when to contain (not repress) emotion, and when to communicate emotion appropriately.
  • The ability to process and let go of emotion when necessary.
  • The willingness to give ourselves time to feel, and to enjoy the depths of our ‘selves’ through feeling.
  • The ability to lead wisely or follow with grace.
  • The ability to honor our own limits, as well as to celebrate our talents.
  • The ability to give and receive love.

emotional intelligence skills

A rich and colorful tapestry of emotion gives meaning to our lives, and depth to our experiences. Even when we are not consciously aware of emotion, it motivates our behavior, and drives our every gesture and choice. Many of us have learned early in our lives to hide or ignore our feelings, and that is why relationships can become stunted and dull. Relationships cannot be truly intimate, nor can they grow, without a sharing of our emotional inner worlds.

Emotions are the primary source of human energy, aspiration and drive, activating our innermost feelings and purpose in life, and transforming them from things we think about, to values we live. The key factor is the way that we interpret our circumstances, based on our prior experiences and belief system, to either respond reactively like a stimulus-response machine with an emotion that is outside our control and may be inappropriate and self-defeating, or to respond proactively with self-determined responsibility - and freedom of choice.

Only part of our success in life is attributable to intellect. Other qualities: trust, integrity, authenticity, creativity, honesty, presence and resilience, are at least as important. These 'other intelligences' are collectively described as Emotional Intelligence.

There was a time when IQ was considered the leading determinant of success. Based on brain and behavioral research, Daniel Goleman argued in his ground-breaking book, 'Emotional Intelligence,' that our IQ-oriented view of intelligence is far too narrow. Instead, Goleman makes the case for emotional intelligence (EQ) being the strongest indicator of human success. He defines emotional intelligence in terms of self-awareness, altruism, personal motivation, empathy, and the ability to love and be loved by friends, partners, and family members. People who possess high emotional intelligence are the people who truly succeed in work as well as play, building flourishing careers and lasting, meaningful relationships.

The good news is that EQ can be learned or developed, it's not something you're stuck with. We can develop in ways that can improve our relationships, our parenting, our classrooms, and our workplaces. Our temperaments may be determined by neurochemistry and long-established patterns of behavior, our genetic and cultural programming, but we can recover control. We could turn society on its ear if we learned to recognize our emotions and control our reactions; if we combined our thinking with our feeling; if we learned to channel our flow of feelings into creative expression, an expression of love.

Emotional intelligence plays an integral role in defining character and determining both our individual and group destinies. It involves the ability to monitor one's own and others' emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one's thinking and actions. In short, to embrace the power of emotions intelligently. It involves abilities that may be categorized into five domains:

  1. Self-awareness:
    Observing an emotion as it happens; realizing the prior ideas and conceptions that underlie an emotional response; being open to intuitive insights; emotional honesty - a developed sense of integrity and authenticity.

  2. Emotional maturity:
    Facing up to fears and anxieties, anger, sadness and discontent and expressing that energy constructively, whilst retaining spontaneity.

  3. Self-motivation:
    Channeling emotional energy in the service of a goal; openness to new ideas; the ability to find breakthrough solutions and to make sound decisions; resilient optimism based on competence; sense of responsibility and personal power to get things done in accordance with what is needed and wanted.

  4. Empathic understanding:
    Sensitivity to others' feelings and concerns and willingness to respect their perspective; valuing the differences in how people feel about things; the capacity to trust and be trusted, to forgive and be forgiven.

  5. Quality communication:
    Managing emotions in others through communication based on empathy and understanding, to build mutual trust; social skills, including constructive handling of disagreements and the ability to create and sustain friendships; leadership effectiveness.
unintelligent and intelligent emotions

Repairing and further developing these abilities requires a knowledge of personal therapeutic and transformative techniques. The pages of 'Understanding and Releasing Emotions' explain how to understand and utilize each primary emotion, and to acknowledge, accept and release painful emotions. We also present a series of 'Tools for Emotional Intelligence' - see the links below.

What is Emotional Intelligence? ~ by Dr. Alan Zimmerman

Tools for Emotional Intelligence

1. Fulfilling Your Potential

2. The Highest Need

3. The Evolution of Personality

4. Why Do People Behave the Way They Do?

5. Man as a Social Being

6. Discovering Fixed Ideas

7. Moral Development

8. The Mind-Body Split

9. The Three Worlds

10. How to Make Affirmations Work

11. Dimensions of Creativity

12. The Heart Journal - A Spiritual Workbook

Also see: 9 Facts and Strategies for Working with the Subconscious Mind (includes a free workbook)

Emotional Intelligence - Home Page

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