Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is something that every college student should harness by the time they graduate. Why such a strong and simple statement? When we live in a world where post-secondary education is more dedicated towards brain development rather than character development, where students go to college believing they will magically discover themselves, and when achievement culture drives Generation Z’s livelihoods, a blunt and a few White Claws later, we find ourselves engrossed in a toxic cycle. So what the hell is emotional intelligence then? Daniel Goleman, the journalist who brought emotional intelligence into the public’s vocabulary, describes EQ as a process where one learns how to recognize, manage, and harness their feelings, empathizing, and handling the feelings that arise in their relationships. So aptly put, EQ can be further categorized into self-awareness, self-discipline, and empathy as all three serve to transform the individual and their relationships.
First, let’s look into the concept of self-awareness, or knowing one’s actions. Dr. Peter Salovey, one of the leading pioneers in emotional intelligence research, is mentioned in Goleman’s book as he breaks self-awareness down into two parts: knowing one’s emotions and managing one’s emotions. Self-awareness is a tricky concept in the sense that you must consider all of the factors that contribute to your emotional response, and that takes time, years even. One of my favorite psychologists of all time, Dr. Faith G. Harper, wrote a book called Unf*ck your Brain, which helped launch her series of 5-minute self-therapy booklets (a modest series at that “*wink wink*”). Her book addresses and uncovers anxiety, anger, depression, and then provides a means of managing them via boundary setting. She explains them in a short, relatable fashion using self-therapy as means of attaining self-awareness. As I put on my corporate shill hat, self-therapy can certainly be a start. In a way, her books and zines provide a means of self-control.
Knowing and managing your emotions is identifying what you are actually feeling, obviously, and identifying where those feelings come from. This can also lead to self-discipline as both intertwine. One way to execute both is through a self-diagnosis. We all know that the human body is a blender for organic chemistry, but to identify the origin of that organic smoothie can be difficult. A lot of times we don’t even know what we are feeling, unless we’re drunk. That’s why Dr. Harper eventually wrote a zine called Unf*ck your Mental Health Paradigm, which helps you identify the traumas accumulated throughout your life. Another example is when I was a sophomore, I self-diagnosed myself as having Aspergers after having pondered why I acted differently from my friends. Three years later, I eventually received an official diagnosis and maintained my friendships better than I ever had before. The world opened up to me as I had finally felt as if I had self-control. The self-diagnosis helped me control my feelings and my actions – or as Robert Greene put it, I turned the irrational into the rational.
My rationality continued to spread. When I would have panic attacks, I had no idea that it was a rush of cortisol (stress) and norepinephrine (nervousness) mixed with shame and self-doubt wombo-comboing me into tears. Anxiety can lead to excessive coping mechanisms, which lead to my binge eating. At the beginning of the pandemic, I found out that loneliness and codependency (excessive reliance) are correlated, especially when you need others to gratify you rather than you gratifying yourself. These are just a few examples of how identifying the ingredients in that organic smoothie is the first stepping stone, and it’s really up to you with how you want to identify your inner feelings. This can be the best way to start mastering and controlling your emotional self.
Now, we move onto empathy: this one is a no brainer. We’ve all been guilty of saying, “Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone practiced empathy.” If only it were that easy. When looking at narcissists as an example, their anterior insular cortex, the part of the brain that deals with empathy, is underdeveloped due to childhood trauma, and such things as cognition, self-reflection, mentalization (advanced term for EQ), and empathy are literally non-existent or half-baked. The worst part is that it is unfixable, but enough with my tangent. Empathy can be difficult even for neurotypical people (ain’t that the truth). Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish wrote a book called, How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk, explaining how we can better our conservations with empathy by tuning into the feelings of another. Goleman even stated: “empathy lubricates sociability (insert innuendo here).” To aid Goleman’s wonderful statement, in her workbook UnF*ck Your Boundaries, Dr. Faith G. Harper even shows how the absence of empathy (tuning into feelings) can obstruct an individual’s boundaries, which are essential to EQ. I even began to notice how when at family gatherings, family members would minimize how I felt, even minimizing each other because avoiding the emotion is so much easier than dealing with it. Them minimizing my feelings unintentionally minimized me. Setting your boundaries, improving your conversations, and viewing people as facts (like I just did with narcissists) can help better your empathetic skills, as empathy is the best thing that humans have to offer, but it is also the hardest to master.
To wrap it all up, it’s a shame that colleges have not yet adopted emotional intelligence into their curriculum, but if you’ve made it this far into the article, hopefully, you’ve learned a little about the intricacies of EQ. Other than being able to wow your friends at the coffee shop, I hope that you, just like me, can start your journey to improving your EQ. Unfortunately regarding the implementation of EQ, there is a national shortage of school counselors who can properly educate students about EQ. Finding funding to provide counselors can prove difficult as well. We need to be mindful of this lack of EQ education, as it is a protective measure from trauma, and schools that are least likely to have counselors are most likely to have the social status of racial minority students who in turn are more likely to have experienced trauma due to poverty, homelessness, and racism.