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Academic and emotional intelligence: correlated or not?

Quite a few times we are surprised when some obviously intelligent people make mess in their own or other people’s lives with their lack of emotional awareness, lack of empathy or by surrendering to unhealthy emotions. It feels natural to expect intelligent people to also be able to understand the complexity of human emotions and relationships, but this is not always true.

Well-used rational intelligence usually includes love for learning, questioning things and ideas, long-term and global thinking, and seeing different perspectives. Ideally, all of that also contributes to increased understanding of human psychology and relationships. In that sense, rational and emotional intelligence are somewhat correlated and can be developed simultaneously. But it doesn’t always happen.

 

Empathy and upbringing

Empathy, the ability to easily imagine how other people might feel, is in the core of emotional intelligence; through empathy we can learn how our words and actions influence other people and how to find balance between ourselves and others. However, human ability to empathize varies from one individual to another; just like other human abilities, our genetic potential and our environments combine to create vast differences.

Some people have less genetic potential for empathy, but sometimes ethical upbringing can make up for it; or some such people can also lack aggressive and dominant urges; or their intellectual development may enable them to rationally understand complex, long-term consequences of their behavior. Therefore even less empathetic people can be ethical in their actions. Ethics does not always mean they would be able to deal with their own emotions in healthy ways, or to anticipate what other people expect of them, but at least good intentions are there. Some of those people find an external set of moral rules – such as religion – and may stick to it in a rather rigid way. The worst situation is innate low potential for emotional intelligence combined with toxic environment.

Some children might be born with more potential for empathy, but their environment can discourage its development; children can have toxic, violent role models, or they can experience so much violence and manipulation that their natural empathy gives way to defensive anger, spite or bitterness. Based on their experience, they might feel that empathy is dangerous; it can make them vulnerable, manipulable, more likely to feel guilt or experience disappointment. They might react to their pasts rather than their present.

 

Self-awareness

Empathy by itself is not enough to warrant emotional intelligence; without certain internal modifiers, empathy can easily turn into lack of personal boundaries and sometimes lack of forethought and understanding long-term causes and consequences. Something more is needed; perhaps a healthy self-image which resists manipulation, observational abilities, seeing under the surface, experience and perhaps some intuition. While empathy is focused on others, emotional intelligence is also based on self-awareness; being able to understand our own complex emotions.

For children to learn about their own emotions, they first have to accept and embrace them. This is not difficult in a supportive, balanced environment.  However, if a family is unhealthy or abusive, children can experience more pain than they can handle. If those children have strong potential for rational intelligence, or if they experience that rational approach helps them diminish or avoid pain, they might learn to use rational thinking as a refuge from painful emotions. While this is certainly not the worst defense they might choose, avoiding emotions means less skill in understanding them; whether their own emotions or somebody else’s.

All is not lost in such a case; getting in touch with one’s emotions is a skill that can be learned. Just like many other skills, it’s easier to learn it in childhood than later in life. Still, it can be done and it can greatly improve your life.

 

“What does this mean for me?”

In practice, you might want to pay conscious attention to notice expressions of emotional intelligence (or lack of it) independently of expressions of logical intelligence. Be aware that emotional intelligence will be much more significant in your relationship with someone than high IQ. You probably don’t want your partner, friend or coworker to be stupid and irrational – but make sure that they are not emotionally stunted, either.

Just published: Emotional Maturity Workbooks series

I’m happy to announce another project finished: 6 short e-books in “Emotional Maturity Workbooks” series. I won’t put exclamation marks here because they would probably just misrepresent what I want to express, but I definitely feel that one big step is done.

After I published my first book on Amazon, I noticed, based on reviews of some other books I looked at, that many reviewers didn’t seem to have much time to read or simply preferred to be finished with a book quickly, so they were praising short books basically for being short.  As a book lover, who wants a good book to last and last, I was confused at first, but not everybody has to be like me, I guess. So I thought it might be a good idea to make something for these people: short and focused on very specific topics.

I chose 6 topics: anger, jealousy, fear, shame and guilt, parenting and falling out of love. The idea was to give a theoretical overview of often hidden emotional patterns which many people never learn about, followed with 5 or 6 exercises focused on reaching the subconscious mind and working with it. It took me close to 2 1/2 years – 2 years longer than I expected – but then, there was a lot of other unexpected work in the meantime, including moving house, starting a new garden and orchard, and many house renovation projects. Anyway, that’s all done and now the workbooks are done, too.

Here is a short excerpt from “Resolve Jealousy Workbook”, just because I like it:

If you are jealous, you might have an exaggerated, idealized mental image of your partner. You might expect your partner to be “pure”, devoted, unconditionally loving and accepting … in other words, to behave as a perfect parent. This is another indication of bonds created in childhood.

“If you idolize your partner as a parent replacement, every deviation from your expectations might trigger fear, confusion and defensive anger. You might feel that your partner owes you undivided attention. You might feel dependent of your partner’s love, focus and devotion, just like you felt dependent of your parents as a child. You might believe that you deeply love your partner and that a break-up would mean losing your sense of meaning of life.

“The truth, however, may be that you do not love your partner as who they are. You are in love with the idealized image in your mind. Unintentionally, you are willing to sacrifice the personality, independence and self-esteem of your partner to that black and white, infantile image. The strength of your emotions might make you believe that you have the right to do so.”

Out of the 6 workbooks, I decided to make one free to download and share, and I chose “Resolve Anger Workbook”.  So, download it, spread it around, share it with friends, enemies, whoever you like. The links to this and other workbooks are:

Resolve Anger Workbook (free, also available as free download on Smashwords, not yet on Amazon, but I hope soon I can make it free there, too)

Resolve Jealousy Workbook (Amazon and Smashwords)

Resolve Fear Workbook (Amazon and Smashwords)

Resolve Shame And Guilt Workbook (Amazon and Smashwords)

How to Fall Out of Love Workbook (Amazon and Smashwords)

Mature Parenting Workbook (Amazon and Smashwords)

If you get one or more of the books on Amazon or Smashwords, I would very much appreciate if you’d leave a review, even if just a sentence or two. Reviews are essential for a book to gain credibility, and therefore hopefully success. Thanks and enjoy the books!

Difficult decisions

Many times, resolving immature emotions, internal conflicts, and toxic beliefs can make  difficult decisions much easier. You might recognize, for example, that your partner is not your child and it’s not your responsibility to make them happy. Or you might resolve toxic emotional bonds which made you fall in love with an incompatible person.

Sometimes, however, even if your emotions are adult and appropriate, life can make you face a decision that is painful in some way no matter what you choose. Some situations you cannot control and you can find yourself with divided loyalties, or trying to choose between your own and your children’s happiness, for example. Perhaps no matter what you choose, you are going to lose something or someone.

If there was a simple answer, a fool-proof guide in such situations, there would be no reason to call them difficult decisions. Those are the choices that reality makes painful, not your own beliefs and emotional patterns. Sometimes it’s about societal rules you cannot change, disease and old age, or financial circumstances, rather than “right” and “wrong” choices.

The advice I can give that could make such decisions at least a bit easier is: make the choice which reflects more of your integrity, more of the kind of person you want to be. You might not be able to avoid pain, but at least that pain will be “cleaner”. Pain fades away with years, but a sense of “cleanliness” stays. Years and decades into future, when you remember your choice, you will have less to criticize yourself about and any happiness you built in the meantime will be less tarnished by guilt. Even the regret you might feel for what you missed will be “cleaner”. There might be other chances for happiness, but not so many chances, perhaps, to choose integrity.

Once I was chatting with a guy about what defines an asshole, and he said, “If your actions create more problems for other people than they benefit you, you are an asshole.” This is rather oversimplified, of course, but it’s worth considering when making an important decision.

Make sure, though, that what you call integrity truly comes from your healthy values, rather than standards imposed by your family, society or religion. Are the problems and pain you might cause other people to experience real or imaginary, inevitable or possible to solve? Make sure that you are not under influence of toxic, unrealistic guilt (or anger) from childhood. You should be able to do that if you are familiar with your inner world.

Are you able to face pain?

Unwillingness to face emotional pain makes us shallow. We might avoid experiences, especially if they are unfamiliar or a bit risky. With every experience we avoid, we deny ourselves learning and wisdom, as well as liveliness and sense of wonder.

If we are not willing to face pain, we will look for instant solutions for our emotional and relationship problems. We might believe manipulative promises that offer magical benefits without effort and thus waste enormous amounts of time, money and energy. We won’t be willing to learn, challenge ourselves and grow step by step.

Yet such “magical” solutions are not like taking aspirin for a short term headache. They are much more like taking a painkiller to avoid toothache; the more you ignore it, the worse the problem might become.

Some people might even avoid compassion, as compassion is sometimes painful. That might lead to hypocrisy, victim blaming and outright selfish behavior.

Unwillingness to face emotional pain might make us try to control our lives and external circumstances. We might be intolerant to our own and other people’s “mistakes”. We might try to manipulate people into doing what we want. We might criticize and condemn whatever challenges our preferences. Our efforts to avoid pain might cause pain for us or others (such as with people who abandon others so that they wouldn’t risk being abandoned).

Avoiding pain might have different roots. Perhaps you experienced so much pain in childhood that you blocked all of your emotions because it was too much to bear at the time. Parts of you might be unaware that you are not a child anymore and that such emotions are not likely to overwhelm you as if you were a toddler.

Perhaps your family set an example of avoiding pain, whether by pretending that everything is rosy and wonderful when it wasn’t, or by overprotecting you and discouraging you to face challenges. If children perceive parents as afraid of pain, pain becomes much more powerful in their imagination than it actually is.

Perhaps you are afraid of mistakes and punishment. Imaginary punishment might appear worse than the pain you already know. Some people might avoid even a change for the better, even if they pay a high price for their current behavior (such as toxic relationships, arguments, anger…). Subconsciously, such a person can feel that if they try something new, they might make a mistake – and mistakes are unforgivable and create a feeling such as “I’m a bad person!”.
Such beliefs are usually learned in childhood and carried on a deep, instinctive level. They might be obviously unrealistic; they might cause obvious suffering to ourselves and people around us. But if we are conditioned to avoid mistakes, it might feel like a posthypnotic suggestion; we don’t really know why we do things, but we feel unable to resist the urges.

Yet pain can sometimes motivate you more than anything else. It can make you understand other people. It can make it obvious what is truly important to you. Sadness can motivate you to search for what is missing in your life. Even guilt and shame mean that you have learned a lesson and will know better next time. Growth is almost impossible without some pain. And when you allow yourself to feel pain, you will probably discover that it’s much more tolerable than you thought it was.

If you can support yourself through pain, you build the kind of relationship with yourself that can carry you through any challenge. It can give you courage to take risks. With willingness to take emotional risks, you can open yourself to experiences that will make your life worthwhile. You might end up “on the top of the world” instead of hiding in a cave.

 

 

Diet, stress and anxiety

A danger in any therapy practice is if a therapist only focuses on one aspect of the problem – usually the one (s)he is specialized in. While most emotional issues have at least some psychological components that can be addressed through therapy, it’s important to notice other possibilities that should be taken in consideration as well.

Our physical bodies and emotional lives are not independent of each other – physical issues can create or enhance emotional problems, as well as the other way around. A common example is when people under physical stress are less able to control their immature emotional urges. Did you experience being tired, hungry or sleepy, and lashing out at people around you? Even such common, everyday stress can deplete our bodies of energy needed for suppressing immature emotions or keeping them in line.

What happens if the stress is less easy to notice and recover from? PMS in women is one of the obvious examples – and there are many others that might not be so obvious. I worked with a couple some years back; the woman complained that the man was irritable, disinterested and lacked focus. We worked on some of their disagreements in values, expectations, communication and underlying transference, and while it certainly did bring improvement, the real breakthrough only happened when the man went to a health check. It turned out his thyroid was malfunctioning. After receiving medication, his emotional balance returned quickly and easily. This didn’t resolve all of the issues in their partnership, but it certainly made them much easier to work with.

Another client, who carried huge emotional burdens from childhood, reported great improvements after therapy – and an extra important improvement happened when she removed processed sugar from her diet. She told me that her moods were much more stable now, and while childhood issues were certainly important to work with (and we continued to do so) it was easier to deal with them when her body was also more balanced. Food allergies and sensitivities can have emotional consequences too.

Lack of nutrition or other physical imbalance can also cause or enhance emotional symptoms. Your body might feel in crisis even if you wouldn’t consciously notice. Modern extreme diets, which often remove whole groups of foods from one’s diet, usually bring temporary relief (which I’m convinced is mostly due to eliminating processed foods – something that every diet has in common), but after a while, nutritional imbalance causes huge stress for the body – and that stress can show as emotional symptoms.

This is equally true about vegan diets and very low carb diets (which often remove not just bread and pasta, but even fruit, legumes and root vegetables from one’s menu) – to name just a few. Vegans might develop anemia, for example, which can worsen in menstruating women. Such women can experience anxiety and depression on top of physical symptoms. Low carb diets might cause glucose imbalance, which in turn can lead to thyroid and adrenal problems – both strongly related to emotional symptoms. That’s what happens when we trust very limited, one-dimensional research data or even just other people’s theories rather than our own bodies.

Some people keep “pushing their bodies around” in search for a perfect body; from one diet to another, from one strict exercising regime to another, with occasional unhealthy binges on processed food in between. I can easily imagine that years of such bodily stress might cause chronic anxiety and other emotional symptoms. I will not advise you to just accept unhealthy weight if you have it – it’s always better to strive towards health than to give it up – but, by all means,  keep some sense of balance and treat your body with respect and kindness. Nature is all about constantly re-creating complex balance. We humans keep on thinking that we can cheat and “hack” nature by one extreme practice or the other – but nature always wins in the end.

If you are a therapist, you might feel that it endangers your practice and income if you warn people about potential solutions that have nothing to do with your area of expertise. Well, perhaps you will lose a couple of sessions a month – but there are more than enough family imbalance and childhood trauma floating around to keep you busy. And everybody who acts with integrity, makes the world just a little bit better. It always makes me feel warm inside when I see articles on internet that radiate thoughtfulness and respect for people rather than manipulation and confidence without competence. I strive to be one of such authors. I never had cause to regret it.

 

Lessons from the past

Working with some young clients lately got me thinking about myself in the same age, when I just arrived to a big city to study. More and more often these days, I see those memories as if looking at somebody else rather than identifying with my younger self and seeing things through her eyes. In my mind, I see a little bookworm who is finally starting a relatively independent life after years of longing for it, bright eyes full of hopes and dreams, and I think: Boy, I was green. I was greener than spring in Ireland. There is no word to adequately describe that shade of green except maybe fluorescent. Just a little bit more, and I could have ended up as 50 shades of green.

Growing up in a relatively small community and meeting a limited number of people, I did experience some bullying and injustice, but still within certain limits. Most of it could have been explained as either temporary egotism of childhood or misguided projections of adults with toxic backgrounds. I also spent more time with books than people.  At every meal break in my school, I would run into the school library to drift off in fantasy. After school, I would often go to the town library. Occasionally, the library cleaner had to brush dust off of me. While all that reading helped develop my thinking and awareness of my feelings, it certainly didn’t prepare me for the real world. In the books, there is always some pain and injustice, sure, but it’s usually temporary and relatively swiftly overcome (Game of Thrones wasn’t published yet). Lead characters are usually decent people, and the others are more like a blur.

By age of 18, I have already read quite a few popular psychology and self-help books, and was convinced that “any aggression is a cry for help” and that if I’m nice to others, others will be nice to me, sooner or later. I had a lot to learn.

So there I was, joyful about my new-found freedom and eager to start new friendships and perhaps get a part-time job. There was no internet yet, no forums or social networks to give me some idea of what to expect. I wanted to give the whole world a chance. Whoever approached me in the streets or in a city park (reading, of course) I would give them a chance. (After all, all the stray encounters in books are followed by interesting developments!) If they would act a bit weird, I would give an internal shrug and think “I guess they have some reason for it.” Well, they did, but not in the way I imagined.

I couldn’t really imagine people seeing me as an object rather than a person. In the small community I grew up in, most people either knew me, or vaguely expected I might be either related to or at least friendly to somebody they knew. With the anonymity of a big city, some people unleash their inner beast. Welcome to the world of sexual predators.

When online discussions come to the topic of sexual harassment and rape, many people lash out angrily at anybody who suggests teaching young girls reasonable caution. They say, “Girls shouldn’t have to learn to be cautious, men should learn to see them as people and control themselves!” I agree with all my heart. But at age of 18-19, what I desperately needed was somebody to teach me how the world is, not how the world should be.

Those men who approached me perceived my friendliness as a signal that I knew and agreed to what they expected. Most of them couldn’t possibly imagine somebody as naive as I was. Not a week after I arrived to the city, I was chatting with a guy who appeared friendly enough. After a while, he asked me, “Would you want us to spend time together here and there?” I thought he meant to have a coffee together, so I said, “Sure, why not?” He put his arm around my waist. I moved it away. He said, “But you just agreed to…” I said, “I didn’t agree with that!” His jaw dropped: “Well, what did you think I meant?” My jaw dropped.

Some days later I was in the car of a guy who invited me to make a trip to the nearby mountain. On the top of the mountain, he tried to kiss me. I refused. On the way back, he swerved to a forest path and threw himself at me. I scrambled for the door, managed to open it and ran away into the forest. It was dark by then. I ran, hid behind trees, then walked until I found a small restaurant and asked some people to drive me back to the city. The guy phoned me next day (yes, I gave him my phone number before chaos ensued. Yes, I was naive. We already established that.) and claimed that he thought I would like it. I told him not to call me ever again. Of course he called. He gave up after a while.

Next episode (yes, there was a next episode. I know, I know.) was with a guy who offered me a part time job. It sounded interesting enough, so I agreed that he would drive me to his supposed shop where I would be working. He drove in silence. Somehow, I felt something was off. I still have no idea what did I sense – smell? Posture? Expression? – but my heart started pounding. My body was screaming, “Get out of here!” At the next red traffic light, I opened the door and left without a word. He didn’t seem surprised. He barely looked back. I trusted my instincts, finally. How many girls didn’t? Or were too polite to leave?

Luckily, I never stumbled upon somebody truly aggressive, or a stalker. Perhaps even such people were shocked into inaction by my naivety. People I met those days weren’t overly skillful in manipulating, either; by the time I met some such people, I was slightly less naive. Anyway, I stopped responding to men approaching me in the park. That was easier said than done. Slowly, I stopped going to the park altogether.

If I could go back in time and give advice to my younger self, I would tell her: “Listen to your instincts. They are not there for decoration only. They have a purpose. You are in a jungle, even if it’s grey rather than green. Observe carefully. Open your eyes and ears wide. And don’t sit in the car with strangers.”

I still generally trust people. It turns out well most of the time. But I’m much more discerning now and my criteria are way higher. I was lucky enough to come out of those experiences unharmed. But how many girls (and boys) weren’t so lucky?

Some people say that teaching girls to care for their safety means blaming the victim. I don’t understand such black and white attitude. If you said to a child, “Don’t sit in the car with strangers” and the child was kidnapped anyway, would you blame the child or the kidnappers? Teenagers might have more developed brains and more experience than small children, but they are not nearly experienced enough. They cannot easily imagine all kinds of different people out there. Even adult people can never be totally prepared for anything that might happen. Teach your children about finding balance between caution and freedom. And yes, teach boys to see girls as people, too. There are too many toxic models that teach them the opposite.

What would you advise to your younger self if you could write a letter to your past? Share in the comments!

Hello world!

Welcome! My name is Kosjenka. I’m a special education teacher and a  psychotherapist. I am fascinated with human behavior, especially self-sabotage and its origins. For me it’s a kind of detective work. Do you notice that you act childish when angry, afraid or in love? Or do you notice other people acting childish from time to time? There are good explanations for all of that – and they are not in present time, although many people can’t imagine differently.

I like recognizing – and resolving – patterns: what kind of behavior people repeat and why; how we sabotage what we believe we want; why some people keep falling in love with wrong types of characters… While many parts of our behavior are based in biological instincts, I find that our early family influences us even more, in much more subtle ways. If you are confused with your own self – or others – sometimes, I hope to help you find some of the answers. Perhaps I can help you make friends with some monsters, too.

I’ve written quite a few articles on my web-site, the book “Emotional Maturity in Everyday Life” (available as e-book and paperback) and more e-books are in progress. I started this blog as a more interactive way to explore topics for new articles, an ongoing commentary of new discoveries and ideas, as well as the place to publish all of those stray thoughts that are just too short to make an article out of them. Or, indeed, anything I want to write in a more relaxed tone rather than carefully professional. I hope this blog will be interesting and helpful to you! Comments are welcome, presuming that they contribute to a constructive discussion.