Emotions and emotional intelligence

Emotions are crucial to survival, problem solving and communication. More often than not, emotions are disregarded during interactions and viewed as a nuisance. Engaging with emotions has benefits which range from determining whether one’s boundaries are being crossed, can inform actions when someone is not feeling safe and has the ability to enhance learning. In addition to being adaptive, emotions can be maladaptive. For example, worrying excessively, extend rage to those we are closest to or respond to provocation with anger. Since emotions are neither simple nor providers of pure bliss, taking the time to develop emotional intelligence has benefits to oneself and inter-personal relationships.

Emotional intelligence has gained popularity over the last ten years in social, academic, and organizational circles with the intent of fostering meaningful inter-personal relationships and inclusive work environments. Multiple skills are required to develop emotional intelligence which include the ability to perceive, understand and regulate emotions.

Perceiving emotions consists of recognizing and interpreting the meaning of various emotional states as well as the relation to other sensory experiences. Understanding emotions involves comprehension of how basic (primary) emotions are blended to form complex emotions, and how emotions are influenced by experiences. Regulating emotions is the control of emotions in oneself and others. Emotional intelligence is the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings, discriminate amongst them and use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions.

Multiple factors contribute to the underdevelopment of emotional intelligence; traumatic experiences which stunt the identification and subsequent processing of emotions, cultural beliefs espousing the suppression of emotions, and genetic and epigenetic factors. Emotional intelligence has the ability to inform communication styles whereby the individual responds without aggression or impulsivity, serve as a motivating factor instead of relying on external stimuli, helps build resilience and improve inter-personal relationships.

Strategies for developing emotional intelligence include increased awareness of one’s emotions since the nature of emotions is focus on the present, responding with empathy toward the self which will eventually extend to empathy for others, validation of other’s emotions because invalidation is a psychologically damaging experience, and reflection of feelings to foster integration of head and heart. Empathic attunement helps to strengthen connections with others and helps to enhance emotional intelligence.