In this blog I try to highlight challenges, behaviors and strategies that can benefit and increase social and emotional health. I have mentioned the concept of ‘Emotional Intelligence’ or EI which is most often defined as the ability to perceive, use, understand, manage, and handle emotions. It is considered by some experts to be more important than IQ for success in life. An excellent early book is Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ. There are even some tests for measuring EI and you can find some more information here: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-emotional-intelligence-2795423 or from a quick online search.
Recent research on how the brain develops in childhood shows that the parts of the brain in charge of emotions develop before the parts that are responsible for intellectual learning. So EI is an essential skill to build early in life and keep on building as the challenges get more complicated.
I have found that children who are not able to cope with their or others’ emotions or demonstrate empathy for themselves and others have feelings, behaviors and focus issues in school that make it harder for them to learn. Their brains are just not ready to learn intellectually especially in a controlled environment that may not recognize their needs.
Our ‘lizard’ brain or our limbic system is in charge of expressions of emotion and can ‘highjack’ our higher brain functions unless there is emotional intelligence to mitigate these lower brain functions. Stress, trauma and low emotional intelligence can all lead to our brain being highjacked AND that has massive implications for our physical health as well. I have written about this in a prior blog as it is related to the ACE’s research as well as research on resiliency.
For adults, the ability to name, understand and cope with our own and others’ emotions as well as read the emotions of others through facial expressions and body language are big parts of how successful someone can become in life. High EI also means having good social skills and an ability to work things out with others. You can imagine how high EI would be a benefit people not only in personal relationships but also in professional, school and leadership roles. Many of these abilities can be learned and that is what I spend most of my time on working with others and sharing through this column.
I said in my last article, “How Do You Handle the Pool of Life” that I would talk more about ‘ghosting’ and why it is a measure of lower emotional intelligence. I have seen what seems to be a distinct reduction in EI in conjunction with the rise in social media and electronic devices dominating our lives. Research has shown we feel MORE isolated, alone, depressed and anxious, especially our children, despite the additional ‘connections’ people have online. We are not built for these kinds of connections and distractions to dominate our lives.
I see people more and more unable to have a respectful disagreement and this goes all the way up to our institutions and infects all aspects of our culture. It seems more difficult than ever for us to recognize and manage our own emotions and behaviors without turning to substances or other unhealthy behaviors. Communicating through devices when there is a conflict or even just a wee bit of discomfort makes it too easy to become aggressive, cut someone off, or refuse to answer them or agree on a way to work things out. Ghosting is the ultimate example of how we lower our EI level. If you aren’t familiar with this term, it means to just ‘disappear’ from someone’s life especially if most of your communications were via an electronic device.
It’s one thing to cut out someone who is abusive or dysfunctional once you have realized it. You are under no obligation to inform them of your decision. Unfortunately, I see people doing this who were good friends, partners, spouses, co-workers, etc. and it seems to be getting much more frequent. I have both been ghosted and done it myself and oh, it’s so easy right? But I feel my EI going down every time I choose to do it. I see others’ EI go down in front of my eyes when they think it’s a good idea to have a fight via texting or email or when they go through other social media to ‘tell on’ someone else or a myriad of other ways we cut off or passive aggressively strike back at someone with whom we have a problem.
Now, people have always struggled with conflict. We simply are not taught well how to deal with it when we are young—or the exact EI skills we need. This is generations in the making but mainstream media, social media and electronic devices have exacerbated this problem.
When you can just drop relationships by ghosting or when you get ghosted, how much harder does it become to trust in the longevity of a relationship and therefore commit to keeping it healthy and vibrant? Even if everyone else around you continues to ghost others and lash out with their devices as a weapon instead of a tool, you can raise your own EI and watch as you become a leader and more successful than those who stay with their heads down thinking they are doing ok.
Think of someone you admire and know who can handle a controversial subject or strong emotions from others or their own most of the time. No one’s perfect but is there anyone like this in your life? Even if you don’t know them personally, is there someone like this where you follow their teachings or like their example and it appears to be who they are consistently? If not, it’s hard not to have a role model. Seek out an example in society, even if you watch them from afar. There are loads of successful, empathetic leaders and examples out there that you can learn from if you don’t have anyone close in your life. You can learn these skills through a therapist or coach as well as trusted others in your life.
What could be different if you had explicit conversations with your friends and other loved ones to NOT resort to dealing with conflicts via electronic devices? This is the first ‘rule’ I always have for couples who end up in therapy after their conflicts degenerated into cruel, electronic fights. What might be different if you had an explicit rule to take a break very early when it feels that one or both of you is not able to process their emotions in the moment but that there is a commitment to coming back to work out a solution later?
When you don’t see the other human during a conflict, you don’t have to deal with their reactions to our lashing out. I have written before about our ‘mirror neurons’ which cause us to feel what other’s feel when you see it on their face or body language. This built-in empathy switch can be uncomfortable at times, hence the need for high EI. Ghosting and electronic fighting takes away this essential bit of humanity and drops our EI like a rock.
There are many other ways to get help during a conflict but cutting people off is not the answer to what ails us and it will only make the next relationship harder because you haven’t built your EI muscle. Commit not to ghosting or to pick up the phone or go in person when you have a conflict. This is high level stuff but we are built for it with the right amount of help and skills.
Of course, reducing our stress levels is an essential step in managing our emotional load and raising our EI. Self-compassion and loving kindness meditations, in fact many forms of meditation, have also been shown to build our emotional control.
As always, playing is the number one source of stress reduction, as is exercise (also can be done by playing), and breathing (also can be done during play). Reach out if you need help with how to start. Your high EI will pay you back in dividends! Now go out and play!!