Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) plays an essential role in maintaining healthy relationships, whether personal, professional, or parental, because EI is foundational for creating connection, understanding, and respect.
Yet, for many of us, emotional intelligence was not a skill that was taught or modeled by our parents or caregivers. And so, we live our lives often unaware of the root cause of our stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, or our inability to establish healthy relationships.
By sharing my story and what I have learned through developing my EQ, I hope to shed light on the reality that YOU oversee your destiny regarding the quality of life and relationships you choose to lead. And I hope that you will be able to reduce the level of anxiety, depression, defeat, and loneliness when navigating through your relationships.
I am the middle of five girls. My father was an abusive alcoholic, and my mother did all she could to ensure we were taken care of. Back then, my mother seemed like a hero with the amount she could accomplish, her level of tolerance, and her ability to show up for us.
Mental, emotional, verbal, and physical abuse significantly impacted my understanding of healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. It was not until my late twenties that I could perceive and distinguish genuine intention from insincere and manipulative communication and connection.
As an adult—who has had years of coaching & therapy—I now see how unhealthy, codependent, and lacking emotional intelligence our family dynamic was.
We can learn about our behaviors and patterns by observing and connecting ourselves to our past and present relationships.
If you exhibited any of the following behaviors as a child (or currently), your emotional intelligence was likely not nurtured:
You shut down when others want to discuss concerns or issues.
You are quick to defend your point of view.
When frustrated, you act out, yelling, hitting, throwing/breaking things.
You have difficulty admitting when you are wrong or apologizing.
You struggle to communicate how you are feeling.
You may tell yourself that your essential things do not matter or people do not care.
You lack respect for yourself and participate in risky sexual behavior or substance abuse.
As an adult, if you experience any of the following, it is likely that you or others in the relationship would benefit from strengthening your emotional intelligence:
Continual resistance, arguing, fighting, and criticism.
A struggle to feel connected in your relationships.
Harmful/unhealthy habits like excessive drug, alcohol, tobacco use, or compulsive shopping.
Consistent and moderate levels of anxiety and depression.
Rejection of seeking help, acknowledging a problem, or putting energy into the relationship (therapy or coaching).
When our EQ is low, we can fall victim to our feelings as if we have no control over our emotions, reactions, and interactions with others. We may find it difficult to trust others and keep ourselves from sharing our feelings and concerns. When we feel a lack of control, we tend to put our energy and time into blaming, shaming, and becoming defensive, which can resort to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
A lack of emotional intelligence can easily blind us to the false narratives and negative self-talk we generate in our minds like, ‘I’m not loveable,’ ‘relationships aren’t forever,’ or ‘I’m not deserving of such a kind person.’
This leads me to the three things my childhood taught me about the value of Emotional Intelligence.
1. Strong emotions tend to evoke strong reactions
We are emotional creatures and often reflect how we feel in our reactions and responses. Try these emotional intelligence strategies to help check in with yourself before you react. When viewing the intense reactions of others, realize that there is something deeper they too are feeling and are failing to address effectively.
Instead of labeling emotions as either good or bad, realize they are neutral and elicit the feeling of either comfort or discomfort. This perspective will allow you to view them with curiosity instead of contempt.
Get into the habit of checking in with yourself and how you are feeling. Connect with your thoughts that lead to your feelings and reactions.
Tip: It is best to start developing this habit and skill during neutral emotional states so that you can tap into this awareness during high stressed conditions.
Remember, emotions provide information about what someone is experiencing. Reactions can change at any time, and wisdom/understanding can be received. Looking at every reaction as a data point on what is internally going on or being experienced will guide us to feeling more connected and understood. This practice goes hand in hand with not taking things personally.
2. You get better results when you lower your voice and listen to understand
Have you ever noticed that when one person raises their voice, the other party is quick to raise theirs too? Mirroring is a natural and subconscious human behavior where we mimic or match another’s tone, body language, or expression. Several studies have shown that if someone is yelling and the person being yelled at lowers their voice or listens, the other person is likely to follow and lower their voice.
You cannot effectively listen and understand if you formulate a response while another is speaking. Be present and aware—pause versus interrupting. Get Curious. Ask questions.
Pay attention to what your or another’s body language is communicating. Would it serve you to mirror another’s body language (to build empathy and trust) or adjust your body language to invite others to reflect more neutral or relaxed gestures or a posture?
Evaluate your mindset and take ownership of your thoughts and feelings. Are you actively listening and engaging in understanding? Are you validating? Is there something you can apologize for?
3. Connection is driven by awareness of self
It is tough to connect with others if you lack the awareness to connect and understand yourself—hence why self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence.
Emotions occur for a reason; by connecting with your emotions—instead of avoiding or suppressing them— you gain knowledge about yourself, your beliefs, fears, state of mind, thoughts, and a greater sense of your passion and purpose in life.
Acknowledge your willingness to connect. Are you engaged or disengaged? Are you coming from a place of connection (empathy) or protection (defensiveness)?
Gain insight into what your relationships mirror back to you about you. If you are critical of others, you are critical of yourself. Show yourself compassion and grace to give others the same compassion and grace.
To start bringing some awareness and accountability to your role in your relationships, answer the few questions below.
What traits of another make me feel safe in a relationship?
What might I be doing (or thinking) to hinder myself from experiencing love?
What do I most want to experience in my relationships that my loved ones have the most trouble helping me experience? How might I find this within myself?
Tip: When we give others what we wish to receive ourselves, it will often be reciprocated. If not, we have the freedom to choose what and who is worth our energy.
Everyone is capable and deserving of healthy relationships. But until we have compassion for ourselves and develop our awareness and emotional intelligence, our relationships will reflect our lack of these traits.