NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, November 7, 2022

How to Develop Emotional Intelligence

What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, attune to, and manage your emotions in healthy ways. 

When you have emotional intelligence, you're able to recognize your own emotional state as well as the emotional states of others.

Developing Emotional Intelligence

In many ways, emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), is even more important than intelligence quotient (IQ) with regard to being attuned to yourself and others. When you're attuned to your own emotional state and the emotional states of those around you, you're more likely to build successful relationships in your personal life as well as in your career.

Emotional intelligence includes 
  • Developing self awareness, 
  • Managing emotions
  • Picking up on social cues 
  • Maintaining relationships
  • Developing self awareness: When you're self aware, you recognize how your emotions affect your thoughts and behavior. You know your strengths and challenges and you feel confident.
  • Managing your emotions: Part of emotional self management is being able to manage your emotions, thoughts and behaviors in a healthy way. You don't behave impulsively. You're able to take charge, when appropriate. You're able to keep your commitments. You're also able to adapt to changes in your environment, which is so important in our ever-changing world. 
  • Picking up on social cues: Emotional intelligence enables you to pick up on social cues in your environment. You recognize your needs as well as the needs of those around you. You feel comfortable in most social situations. You also recognize the social dynamics in personal and work-related group settings.
  • Developing and maintaining relationships: Emotional intelligence allows you to develop and maintain personal and work-related relationships, communicate well with others, influence people, manage conflict, and interact well in group settings. More than ever, businesses are now evaluating their employees on the basis of their emotional intelligence at work.

Ideally, emotional intelligence is a set of skills that you learn as you're growing up. However, depending upon your particular circumstances when you were growing up, you might not have learned to develop these skills. 

As a result, this could be causing significant problems in your personal and work-related relationships. 

But it's never too late to develop these skills, and many people come to therapy because they have had problems related to one or more areas where they lack emotional intelligence.

Clinical Vignette
The following scenario is a composite of many cases with all identifying information removed. This vignette illustrates how someone who has not developed emotional intelligence can learn to develop these skills in psychotherapy:

Bob was a man in his early 30s. When he began psychotherapy, he had just received his annual performance review at his new company, and he was very disappointed to learn that his boss, Gregg, was not pleased with how Bob interacted with others at work. 

While Gregg praised Bob for his technical skills, he told Bob that he needed to improve how he interacted with his colleagues and senior management. He felt that Bob was too aloof and isolated at work, and he was not a "team player."

Gregg told Bob that this was not just his opinion--he had also received this feedback from Bob's peers and other managers at the company. He told Bob that his potential success at the company depended on Bob learning to develop emotional intelligence on the job. He recommended that Bob read Daniel Goleman's book, Emotional Intelligence

Gregg also told Bob to consider getting emotional help to overcome whatever emotional barriers might be getting in Bob's way from forming good interpersonal relationships at work.

Bob was also experiencing difficulty forming personal relationships. He recognized that this was a lifelong problem, but he didn't know what to do about it. 

Whenever he tried to form personal relationships, whether they were friendships or romantic relationships, they never lasted beyond a brief period of time. This left Bob feeling very lonely and lacking in self confidence. He had a couple of buddies that he went with to sports events, but he didn't have any close relationships.

Bob often felt that there was "something missing" in him that caused him to have such difficulties in his relationships, but he didn't know what it was. 

Until his boss mentioned the term "emotional intelligence," Bob was completely unaware of this concept. But as he started reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, he realized that he lacked these interpersonal skills, and he very much wanted to develop them.

When Bob began psychotherapy, he had very little awareness of his emotional state at any given time. He grew up in a household where his parents demonstrated very little in terms of their own emotions, and they didn't talk about emotions at all. 

Education was very important to them, and they encouraged him to do well in school. When Bob's teachers told his parents that Bob had problems forming friendships, they dismissed this as unimportant. As long as Bob got excellent grades, they were happy and they told him not to be concerned about friendships.

Bob's therapist began by helping Bob to recognize his own emotions. When he started therapy, Bob had only the vaguest notion of his emotions. 

Generally, he recognized when he felt "good" or when he felt "bad," but he couldn't distinguish whether "good" meant that he felt content or elated or if "bad" meant that he felt sad or angry.

Bob's therapist helped Bob to distinguish his emotions based on what Bob was feeling in his body. 

For instance, he learned to recognize that when his stomach was clinched, he often felt fearful. He also learned to identify other emotions based on what he was feeling physically. Gradually, he began to distinguish fear from anger or sadness. He also recognized that sometimes he felt more than one emotion at a time, which was confusing to him at first.

Bob's therapist also worked with him to begin to pick up on social cues in his work environment. Prior to this, Bob didn't pay attention at all to the emotional environment at work. 

He was emotionally disconnected from the environment and from how his colleagues were feeling at any given time. 

Over time, working with his therapist, Bob began to learn how to read "body language" with individuals and at staff meetings. This helped him to negotiate his relationships at work. It also alerted him with regard to the appropriateness of timing and others' receptivity with regard to introducing new ideas.

In addition, he learned to take an interest in his coworkers. Prior to starting therapy, it never would have occurred to Bob to ask a coworker about his or her weekend or a vacation. 

After he began working with his therapist on developing emotional intelligence, Bob began taking his first tentative steps by engaging in conversation with coworkers. 

To his amazement, his coworkers began to take more of an interest in him as well. He discovered that several of his coworkers would go out for lunch on Fridays, and they started inviting him to come along, which pleased Bob.

He recognized that his coworkers were beginning to like him. While this was gratifying to Bob, he also began to feel the sadness of so many years of not having this in his life, and he realized that this was an important missing piece for him.

Socializing in his personal life was more of a challenge. Even though Bob was very lonely, he felt very awkward in social situations, and he tended to avoid them. 

He would often turn down invitations from his sports buddies to attend parties where he could have, potentially, made other friends or met a woman that he could date.

Although he was very anxious about getting out more, Bob was determined to overcome his fear. So, when an opportunity presented itself for him to attend a party, he accepted the invitation. He and his therapist had several sessions to talk about his anxiety and to work on how he could improve his interpersonal skills in these types of social situations. 

Even though he was starting to feel more comfortable socially with his colleagues, he was anxious about socializing on a personal level. He felt that, at least in his work environment, he could talk to his colleagues about work. But with new people where he did not have this in common, he felt very unsure of himself.

Bob and his therapist worked on various role plays where he practiced how to start a conversation in a social setting. They talked about all different types of scenarios and what social cues Bob should notice among those around him with regard to people's relative openness to engaging socially. 

They decided that it would be easier for Bob to start by asking the hostess to introduce him to some of the people at the party. They also decided that, to start, Bob didn't have to stay for the entire party if he was too uncomfortable, so they talked about how he could negotiate this socially with the hostess.

Fortunately for Bob, the hostess at this party was an emotionally astute woman. She recognized that Bob was anxious in social settings, and she started by introducing him to other people in his particular field of work. 

Although Bob was very nervous at first, once he began talking to these people, he felt more comfortable. One person confided in Bob that he also felt anxious at parties, and Bob felt relieved to know that he wasn't the only one who experienced social anxiety.

Working diligently with his therapist, over time Bob was able to develop emotional intelligence in his work environment and in social situations. But 

Bob also felt proud when Gregg approached him one day and told him that he was pleased to see that Bob had improved his interpersonal skills at work. 

This positive feedback motivated Bob to continue working on this issue in his therapy. 

In addition, Bob was starting to date women, and he was surprised and pleased to realize that there were women who liked him.

What Can You Do to Develop Emotional Intelligence?
If you're experiencing a lack of emotional attunement to yourself and to others, you could benefit from developing or improving your emotional intelligence skills.

Daniel Goleman is a psychologist who has done a lot of research on the topic of emotional intelligence. I recommend that you read his book, Emotional Intelligence.

While reading a book about emotional intelligence is a good start in terms of acquainting yourself with basic concepts, reading alone won't help you to develop emotional intelligence. 

Very often, it's helpful to also develop these skills in the context of your own personal therapy with a licensed psychotherapist who helps clients to overcome this problem.

Contrary to what you might think, you'll discover that you're not alone, and many people, who struggle with this issue, are able to develop these important skills to become more emotionally attuned to themselves and to others. 

You'll also discover that developing emotional intelligence will contribute to the success of your personal relationships and your career.

Getting Help in Therapy
Emotional intelligence is critical to maintaining relationships in all areas of your life.

You can learn to develop emotional intelligence by working with a licensed mental health professional.

Life is much more fulfilling when you are self aware, you can manage your emotions, pick up on social cues and maintain relationships.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing, and Sex Therapist.  

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to develop emotional intelligence so that they can lead more fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.