In the 1990’s, the term “emotional intelligence” was born. Fathered by Yale University professors Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, the underlying idea was that our emotions can actually make us more rational. This sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, since we might immediately assume that strong emotions make us less rational, and that when we are upset, we make bad choices. Surprisingly though, ongoing research continues to show that emotional intelligence, and the ability to monitor both our own feelings and those of others, can guide us towards healthy choices and actions. Emotional intelligence is also referred to by the acronym EQ.

Nature of Nurture: Can Emotional Intelligence be Learned?

Scientific short answer: absolutely. Many people seem to naturally be able to read the emotions of others, or correctly interpret their own. But for people struggling with substance abuse addictions, it is often feelings and frustrations that promote the use of drugs and alcohol. Just as some individuals are natural athletes or artists, others have to study or practice techniques to improve their tennis or sketch a sunset. Emotional intelligence can be improved, and is an excellent tool for relapse prevention.

Approximately 10% of the population has alexithymia, which means a dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relationships. It isn’t surprising that many people with addictions are also identified as having some degree of alexithymia. In a way, they may be set up fair failure from the start, through no fault of their own. Unlike the numeric IQ that is theoretically unchangeable, emotional intelligence can be learned and fostered.

During rehab, some important emotional intelligence work is accomplished:

  • understanding emotions
  • learning to use emotions to respond in a positive way
  • understanding the various meanings and perceptions of emotions
  • increasing the ability to manage emotions

The takeaway: increasing our emotional intelligence is life-changing and, with guidance, available and beneficial to everyone.

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