Ask any parent, teacher, or a random person walking down the street about their Intelligence Quotient(IQ), and you are sure to find immediate recognition of the term, if not outright understanding, and an eagerness to share. Less well known (though certainly no less important) is the term Emotional Intelligence Quotient, also known as EQ.
Emotional Intelligence: What Exactly Does It Mean?
IQ is a measure of a person’s intelligence, while EQ is a measure of a person’s ability to recognize, regulate, and express their emotions, and recognizing and understanding the emotions of others. IQ may be more easily recognized, but the EQ of an individual—whether a child or an adult—might be a more important factor involved in health, success, and happiness.
As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, emotional intelligence can be difficult to come by. Although as a parent, I can recognize my own need to regulate my emotions, it is far more difficult to explain the concept of emotions, what they mean, and how to handle them to my son who, despite having made massive strides in development, continues to struggle with emotional disruptions, appropriate emotional reactions, and understanding the emotional responses of others.
From making friends with his peers to getting along peacefully with his little sister, my son struggles mightily in day-to-day tasks in the face of underdeveloped emotional intelligence.
A person’s emotional intelligence describes their ability to recognize and regulate their own emotions, while also being able to understand and recognize the emotions of those around them. Emotional recognition means being able to name and comprehend what you are feeling. If, for instance, you are feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities on your shoulders in a given day, having emotional intelligence means that you are capable of recognizing your feelings (overwhelm, fear of failure, apprehension about your ability to get everything done) and what is triggering them.
Emotional regulation is not suppressing emotions, as its name might initially suggest, but the ability to recognize and name emotions and take them in stride, rather than being largely controlled by them. It is not the absence of strong emotions (anger, joy, despair), but the ability to cope in healthy, effective ways.
Emotional intelligence also measures an individual’s ability to recognize and understand the emotions of others—a skill that proves invaluable in a host of different situations. Emotional intelligence means the difference between feeling lost and confused in the midst of conflict with a loved one, and being able to recognize where the loved one in question is coming from, and why they are upset (even if you do not agree with it).
The combination of self-awareness and the awareness of others combine to create emotional intelligence, as it allows someone to navigate the ever-present emotional landscape of their own mind and the minds of others. In all situations—business, school, family, and romance, alike—emotions are a driving force for reactions, behaviors, and goals. Lacking the ability to recognize, regulate, and understand yourself and others can pave the way for difficult relationships and problematic encounters in work and school.
EQ and Performance: Work and School
IQ was once considered the peak of a child’s development in school, and IQ was considered a valuable asset for an employee. As increasing numbers of studies regarding emotional intelligence have been conducted, however, it is clear that IQ alone cannot accurately predict a person’s ability to be successful in work or in school, as intelligence alone is not sufficient to successfully and mindfully navigate the many hurdles involved in daily life.
In school, emotional intelligence is necessary to navigate friendships and peer interactions, teacher expectations, and classroom expectations. Without the ability to recognize the emotions of others and the ability to regulate their own emotional states, children are far more susceptible to emotional rollercoasters, difficulty making friends, difficulty understanding instructions and teacher expectations, and an inability to delay gratification. As children grow, emotional regulation becomes increasingly vital, playing a large role in creating and maintaining friendships, and attending to the tasks demanded of them. Boredom, irritation, anger, and sadness, left unchecked and gone unnamed, can create an environment hostile to learning and retention.
At work, emotional intelligence is also vital. From navigating coworker relationships successfully, to handling the needs of a client or customer, emotional intelligence is vital to consistently perform at work and prove yourself an asset to your company and team.
EQ and Relationships: Relationship Strength and Connection
Failing to understand why a friend, partner, or peer is feeling or behaving a certain way can fracture relationships, damage self-esteem, and encourage feelings of loss, isolation, and hopelessness in children and adults. Relationships are stronger and healthier when both parties possess emotional intelligence, as a person’s EQ informs their ability to communicate and manage conflict. All relationships come with conflict to some degree, and being unable to manage that conflict in a healthy, safe, and effective way can make it difficult (if not impossible) to maintain relationships of all kinds.
Developing strong connections is also reliant upon emotional intelligence, as a connection is fostered and recognized via emotional bonding. A connection might come on the heels of the discovery of mutual love or hobby, but those loves and hobbies are typically ruled by emotional responses, such as joy, elation, or fulfillment.
EQ and Mental Health: Emotional Recognition and Regulation
Although emotional intelligence might be easily recognized as an important part of relationships and even performance in work and school, it is less often lauded for its role in mental health. Emotional recognition is an important part of maintaining mental health, as it allows an individual to pinpoint their emotional responses, and why those responses have taken place. In truth, a significant part of therapy is often the creation of techniques to name and give space to emotional experiences, which is among the definitions of emotional intelligence. A mentally healthy individual will often display emotional recognition, and the ongoing practice of naming and recognizing emotions can improve mental health.
Emotional regulation, too, is both a product of mental health and a venue toward the development of mental health. Emotional regulation involves recognizing and respecting the emotions of yourself and others, and understanding that those emotions are not the sole determiners of your mental state and behavior. Emotional regulation and mental health are less about pushing down emotions, or pretending they do not exist, and far more about recognizing emotions, giving them space in order to understand your triggers, needs, and difficulties, and behaving in a way that honors your emotions, while respecting the well-being of yourself and others.
When angry, for instance, someone lacking in emotional intelligence might find themselves yelling uncontrollably, while someone with emotional intelligence might request the time and space to process their anger, before discussing their frustration or emotional response.
BetterHelp, Parenting, and Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is a vital skill to learn for virtually all aspects of life, including healthy and successful parenting. Although emotional intelligence is often present in children by default, children can essentially “unlearn” emotional intelligence through unhealthy EQ modeling by parents and other trusted adults, or may not have the necessary tools to successfully develop EQ more fully.
BetterHelp (a trusted online therapy platform) and other counseling methods may be of some help. Therapists can work with children, adults, and families to develop greater emotional intelligence through an increased understanding of the facial cues and body language of others while working on self-awareness and regulation techniques.
Therapists can also help develop emotional intelligence by working through identifying any mitigating factors involved, such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, or other areas of mental health in need of attention. In some cases, disorders and illnesses can impede emotional awareness, as can trauma and other delays and disorders. Addressing these issues through therapy (whether through BetterHelp or other therapists such as child psychologists or occupational therapists) can help people overcome obstacles in their path, and increase their emotional intelligence.
Although being on the autism spectrum continues to present unique challenges regarding emotional intelligence—particularly with regard to emotional regulation and understanding the emotions of others—consistently naming emotions and working on emotional recognition in others has proven valuable for my son, and has resulted in the continued development of his emotional intelligence, and my own.