Emotional Intelligence: The Ability to Know Ourselves and How to Interact With Others
by Joanne Fisher
Emotional intelligence is often abbreviated as EQ. It is our Emotional Quotient which measures our ability to understand one’s own emotions and is the attunement to emotions of others. Where IQ measures academic intelligence and the ability to learn new concepts, EQ is the ability to know ourselves and how to interact with others. This is a crucial skill for leadership, group collaboration, and ability to have successful relationships in general. It is now recognized that a strong EQ is a better predictor of success than IQ. EQ encompasses self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy, and social skills.
The foundation of EQ is developed during infancy. As an Infant Sleep Educator, I study how different factors affect neural development during the first three years of life where 85% of brain growth occurs. Babies and toddlers are building one million new neural connections PER SECOND, forming the architecture of the brain. Circuits that are used often create the dominant pathways. During this crucial stage of development, it is vital to make sure the experiences that are wired in are ones that support long-term mental health and emotional regulation. EQ is developed by healthy co-regulation of emotions, validation of emotions, and mirroring of the appropriate behaviours by the primary caregivers.
The need for adult co-regulation is an area that is not widely taught to parents. We are led to believe that babies should learn to “self-soothe.” The skill of self-soothing is referring to the ability to regulate one’s own emotions, which is a developmental milestone with its own timing. Children under three do not have the prefrontal cortex development to be able to regulate their own emotions and turn off stress states. It is physically impossible for children under three to rationalize and deal with strong emotions and unmet needs. The last part of the brain to mature is the neocortex or prefrontal cortex; it is the rational or analytical part of our brain that enables us to assess a situation and choose our response. This is why young children rely on their parents to externally regulate their emotions for them until they are capable of doing it for themselves. When a baby cries, it is crucial that the majority of the time (70%) someone responds promptly with love and affection to co-regulate them and shut off the raging cortisol levels. Skin to skin contact, eye contact, and being held chest to chest is especially beneficial for this.
You cannot teach a child self-regulation. It is a developmental process that must be experienced in co-regulation with an adult. Hundreds of thousands of hours of practical training—and included in that is developing emotional vocab and awareness of feelings, which requires the adult to have this level of EQ themselves, and the ability to keep themselves emotionally regulated and attuned. Many of us are numb to our feelings and repress them. We were left to deal with our big feelings alone. “Crying babies go to bed” is a phrase I remember growing up with. Being left alone without co-regulation results in avoidance or shutting down. Stress can look like fight, flight, or frozen.
Babies under stress will freeze or shut down. When overwhelmed, overstimulated, or in fear, it can look like they are going to sleep on their own. This can develop into a behaviour called “learned helplessness” or “shutdown syndrome.” In less severe cases, it can be that the emotions are too overwhelming, and you learn to just stop feeling them. Numb to your emotions, which creates an imbalance in the brain where the cognitive, rational, non-feeling regions of the brain become dominant. Neuroplasticity means that these imbalances can be changed at any age, but prevention through responsive parenting day and night is easier. Time-ins to support and co-regulate the big feelings, instead of time-outs. The science shows that if we can shift the culture to one that supports co-regulation of emotions, we will prevent depression, anxiety, addiction, and long-term mental health issues—plus it will give us a generation of emotional intelligent children. Win-Win. The science shows that responsive parenting and strong attachment bonds result in greater independence and ability to be interdependent. It is supporting others through their big emotions that creates the strongest bonds.
The second element is developing emotional vocabulary. Emotions are “Energy in Motion,” they need to move and not get stuck inside. I like to think of emotions like a big wave; they wash up, and if you give them the space and awareness needed, they wash back. If we can stay on the beach and observe the emotions without jumping in and drowning in them, we are processing and releasing them. When a child or adult can name what they are feeling, they become an observer and are staying on the beach. “Name it to tame it” is a main tool in EQ. Somatic experiencing, recognizing where in the body you feel emotion, is another main tool. Consciousness is the key to healing. If we are struggling to recognize our feelings, we get overwhelmed and the consciousness is not there to deal with them. You can’t cope, your emotions and experiences get repressed, which physically impacts the body and your well-being. Working to increase your EQ is the best thing you can do for yourself. BodyTalk can support this.
Joanne Fisher is a Certified BodyTalk Practitioner and Infant Sleep Educator. She teaches EQ as part of her Personal Evolution class and loves to help parents improve their EQ with BodyTalk so they can better support their children. Having no ability to feel her feelings when her oldest child was young, she learned firsthand the importance of adult EQ in parenting and how much easier it is to parent when your children have emotional vocab and strong attachment. For more information and to contact her, see the display ad on page 17 of the 27.1 May/June issue of the WHOLifE Journal.