Saturday, January 14, 2012

Understanding Emotional Intelligence

“Emotion can be considered in terms of a relation between an individual and the environment based on the individual’s evaluation of the environment (is it pleasant or hostile, for example), disposition towards the environment (am I happy and attracted to the environment or fearful of it?), and the actual physical response to it.” – Human Physiology by Vander et al

The social scientist knows: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure. You can’t measure what you can’t define. And, you can’t define what you can’t understand.” So, in order to manage emotions and develop Emotional Intelligence, we must first understand what emotions are, and define Emotional Intelligence. Emotions are, in essence, impulses to act. The root of the word emotion is motere, the Latin verb “to move,” plus the prefix “e-” to connote “move out” or “move away.” In order to maintain a relatively stable internal environment in the body (homeostasis) for the survival and well-being of our body cells, the brain motivates us to act on our environment to fulfill our bodily needs. But in an environment that is oftentimes hostile, we have to be cautious in getting what our body needs. It is our emotions that guide us when we ‘move out’ to act on the environment to successfully achieve our homeostatic goals.

“Learning is the acquisition and storage of information as a consequence of experience” (Vander et al). Intelligence is defined as ‘the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.’ So, Emotional Intelligence can be said to be the ability to acquire knowledge about our emotions – emotional knowledge – and to apply it skillfully. But if we are to apply this knowledge, we must be aware of it. Our intellect only deals with our consciousness – conscious experiences and our conscious learning or knowledge. So, for our intellect to use emotional knowledge, it must be acquired by us at a conscious level – that is, explicitly. Hence Emotional Intelligence can be defined as the ability to explicitly acquire emotional knowledge and to apply it skillfully.

We learn from all our experiences when we interact with our environment. The things we learn from our experiences by seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting are usually learnt by us explicitly – that is, clearly, with conscious awareness. However, we also learn about the affective aspects of things and situations in the environment. We learn whether the environment is pleasant or hostile, whether we are attracted to it or fearful of it. And, we also learn by experiencing sensations in the body that arise due to the physical responses we make – such as our physical flight-fight-or-freeze responses for avoidance, and our approach responses – when interacting with the environment. However, this affective learning, which builds up our emotional knowledge, is learnt by us implicitly – that is, without our conscious awareness – as we are normally not trained to be consciously aware of our bodily sensations.

When we acquire emotional knowledge implicitly, our brain – what Freud called the ‘Unconscious’ – uses the knowledge to directs our emotional responses, impulsively. But as the implicit knowledge cannot be used by our intellect, we finds it difficult to bring intelligence or rationality to our emotions. This is why our emotional responses often create problems for us. In order to avoid such emotional problems we ought to be consciously aware of our body sensations when we acquire and store our emotional knowledge.

Freud’s theory of the Ego and the Id is the most influential theory in psychology. In brief, the theory states that each of us is born with natural drives – the Instinctive Drive (Id) – which motivate our activities and behavior. However the influence of society and our environment – the Superego – conditions our Id and we develop our Ego, which then becomes the motivating factor governing our behavior. If the conditioning is appropriate the ego remains healthy. If not, the ego starts creating problems in our emotions, behavior and relationships. Freud’s theory has remained influential for over a century because it is based on sound physiological observations, although most psychologists today are not aware of it. Freud, in his Three Essays on Sexuality (1905: 83), had said "The source of a drive is a process of excitation occuring in an organ and the immediate aim of the drive lies in the removal of this organic stimulation." And, in The Ego and the Id (1923: 364), he states unequivocally that the ego “is first and foremost a bodily ego ... ultimately derived from bodily sensations, chiefly from those springing from the surface of the body." So Freud’s theory also suggests that we deal with our ego at the level of bodily sensations. 

We, at Be Happy Foundation, have discovered a set of simple exercises to observe and learn from our body sensations – for developing Emotional Intelligence. We also offer a brief psychoanalysis method to rebalance the Id, and to get rid of anger and resentments – for overcoming negative attitudes and personality conflicts.

1 comment:

  1. The body sensation excises and psychoanalysis mentioned above are explained in my books, 'The Lost Path', and '12 Steps in a Day':
    Also available on