Perhaps you've read about Emotional Intelligence or heard that "EQ" is essential to life satisfaction, relationships, and success. (Omg you've stumbled upon my most favorite topic ever: humans and their emotions. I ask you, what could be more interesting??)
Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of, understand, and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. There are a lot of books out there on EQ and how to increase your own (for example Emotional Intelligence 2.0).
But why do people struggle with emotions in the first place, you might wonder. How does that happen? Along comes Jonice Webb.
Webb is a psychologist who noticed over years that even though her clients presented very differently demographically, many of them had the same pattern of symptoms:
"Here is the pattern I noticed: A deep feeling of disconnection from self and others, feelings of emptiness, extreme independence, low self-knowledge, low self-compassion, excessive self-blame and shame, low emotional awareness, and struggles with self-discipline." (Jonice Webb)
In working to understand what had happened in their childhoods to cause this similar collection of symptoms she realized: it wasn't what had happened to them. Instead, it was what had not happened to them.
The "what didn't happen" was that each of her clients had grown up in families that somehow were not attentive or responsive to their feelings enough. The reasons were many and varied, from parents with addictions, to abuse, but also included well-meaning, loving parents who provided for their children - but just didn't have the emotional skills themselves to be able to nurture and model an emotional language, or way of being, in their children.
That makes it rather invisible, doesn't it? You can begin to see how neglect, or something that didn't happen, would be pretty hard to describe ("What didn't happen to you yesterday?").
Emotional intelligence is built in the brain primarily through attunement by parents; the caregiver has to notice the child's emotions and respond to them. (Johnny walks in the door after school looking sad because something upsetting happened in school. Does anyone notice?)
The problem is that when parents themselves suffer from emotional neglect they don't know they're missing this essential skill and therefore can't teach it to their children.
Webb: "It’s hard to believe that a non-experience like this can lead to such significant effects, but believe me, I and many others have now seen that it does."
The good news is that people can absolutely recover from childhood emotional neglect. Research in neuroplasticity, books like Webb's Running on Empty: Overcoming Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, and working with a therapist who understands CEN are some of the things that create hope and healing.
What's to gain from working on your emotional intelligence? A life filled with emotions is the difference between feeling alive and connected to others - versus the feeling that you're missing out on something that you see others experience, while you just go through the motions.