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Diagnosing Emotional Un-Intelligence

The New York Times and Forbes Magazine recently published articles about “Emotional Intelligence” and its applications in the world of work.

Social scientists disagree about the exact nature and validity of Emotional Intelligence, and, as the Atlantic Monthly points out, no “people skill” is good or bad but that intention makes it so.  But if Emotional Intelligence is something you would like to cultivate, either in yourself or in others, here is a slightly different tack on the issue: Instead of listing and emulating the attributes of people who possess emotional intelligence, let us consider why some people are not emotionally intelligent.

Being social creatures, many of the traits of so-called Emotional Intelligence develop naturally within us.   If these traits are lacking– for example, if a person has poor control of their anger, or if they are narcissistic, oblivious to other people’s feelings, or just have trouble making eye contact– this may not be an issue of lacking a skill or a genetic propensity.  It may be evidence of trauma that has caused their innate Emotional Intelligence to be suppressed.

In her famous TEDtalk, Brene Brown points out that we are the most in-debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in US history.  She goes on to say we cannot “selectively numb” our emotions.  If you numb one emotion, you numb them all, and thus we slide into a state of what might called “Emotional Un-Intelligence.”

The act of “numbing up” emotionally is not so much a character flaw or lack of “smarts” or ability as it is a coping mechanism.  Unscrewing the fuses might make the house go dark, but at least the place won’t burn to the ground because of an overheated circuit.

Instead of being a lack of Emotional Intelligence, the act of disregarding or numbing “feelings” may be evidence of a necessary, and one might even say clever, survival technique.  Any stressful environment will, over time, contribute to the creation of an apparent lack of Emotional Intelligence.

So if we are to manifest greater Emotional Intelligence, let us consider that the lack of it is usually not a lack of the ability to comprehend the bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation.  The lack of Emotional Intelligence is far more likely to be a symptom of long-term exposure to shame, stress, and other psychological injuries.  The real fix is to address the root causes and heal these injuries, and thus allow the natural flow of emotional energy instead of suppressing it.