I’m often asked about how one goes about increasing their emotional intelligence. In short, it’s by allowing ourselves to feel our feelings and cultivate healthier boundaries that allow us to understand what our feelings are telling us. From there, we can healthily self-soothe and manage our emotions, but we can also live our life in a way that emotionally supports us.

Our emotions offer clues about what we need, our emotional state and our surroundings. They help us understand what’s going on or sense what might happen. Emotional intelligence, then, is using our emotions to orient and push us to take action. 

Our level of emotional intelligence helps us recognise our and other people’s emotions. We then use this information to navigate our world, create healthy boundaries, live by our values and, yes, interact in and manage our interpersonal relationships. 

Using limited, outdated or incorrect intel causes us to distrust ourselves and experience Groundhog Day in relationships and situations. We need, for instance, our feelings to sense our boundaries. We also need access to our feelings to let us know when something (or someone) isn’t a fit. When experience has repeatedly taught us that something leads to pain, we also need to change course. If we plow ahead or label, for instance, anxiety as us being ‘too sensitive’, we can’t act in our best interests.

Unlike our IQ, which is largely static once we get into adulthood, we can develop and increase our emotional intelligence.

Feeling our feelings without letting them own us strengthens a deeper connection with ourselves. 

In essence, to feel safe, secure and able to constructively and consistently utilise our emotional intelligence, we need to be conscious, aware and present. 

Part of why we might recognise that we need and want to increase emotional intelligence is awareness of how the past currently influences our thoughts, feelings and actions. This is especially when we’re struck in frustrating patterns of thinking and behaviour. 

When we live in the past, adopt a child role in our relationships, or struggle with having healthy boundaries, we can’t behave in an emotionally intelligent manner no matter how much of a genius we might consider ourselves to be. 

A trap many humans fall into is conflating intellect with emotional intelligence. 

It then becomes But I’m really intelligent and accomplished, so I shouldn’t have these problems. Or, They have several masters, are highly respected, etc. Why are they saying or doing something that’s harmful to me/our relationship? Or, They’re super intelligent so it means they’ll be really good at relationships. And then we beat ourselves up for things not being as we expect and assume.

Being shut off from our emotions or always relying on brute-force logic to navigate life means we’re highly likely to misunderstand ourselves, others and situations. 

To increase emotional intelligence, we must distinguish between the past and the present.

We must stop treating our perception of our feelings as stone-cold facts, especially when we keep hurting ourselves. Many of us think we’re feeling our feelings when we’re actually telling stories about our feelings. That’s not the same thing. In fact, telling stories and criticising ourselves can actually be our way of avoiding feeling our feelings.

When we recognise where our baggage shows up or where our mislabeling of feelings and situations misled us previously, we get to update the relationship we have with our emotions. We can feel out what’s going on within us and our surroundings.  Hmm, that seems a bit off. Or, Hmm, the way I’m responding doesn’t reflect who I am in the main. 

By distinguishing, not just between the past and present but also us and others, we can also recognise when we’re over-empathetic and projecting on to others. e.g. I can see that [this person] is very het up and triggered right now. I mustn’t have been pleasing enough! becomes recognition that they have emotional baggage too. Rather than stewing that someone won’t bend to our will or be like us, we stay in our lane. Sure, if it were me, I’d do things differently, but they’re their own person. It’s not about me.

Having ‘high(er)’ emotional intelligence requires us to be aware of ourselves and others without losing ourselves in other people’s stuff or even the narrative in our head. 

Our emotional intelligence can and will evolve… if we allow us to listen to ourselves. We don’t, however, need to strive to understand ourselves perfectly. A crucial part of increasing emotional intelligence is allowing ourselves to use the intel gained from our mistakes and disappointments. Yes, this means that effing up is part of becoming discerning. We don’t know what we don’t know. Discovering who we are also involves discovering who we’re not.

High(er) emotional intelligence means that even when we inevitably err, how we feel afterwards and also what we know of ourselves and life helps us to reconnect to our emotions and decipher us, the situation and our world so that we can gain more intel and move forward.

Emotional intelligence isn’t static. If you become curious instead of shaming yourself, then you are always evolving your emotional standpoint. In turn, you positively impact your relationships and experiences.

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