Low Emotional Intelligence: A Risk Factor for Depression

In 1990, psychologists Peter Salovey (now president of Yale University) and John Mayer wrote a seminal article on Emotional Intelligence (EQ), defining it as "the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions." This concept was popularized by Daniel Goleman's very successful books on the topic.

There is no doubt that EQ is crucial to success in life. During one interview, Dr. Goleman related a story about a high school reunion where it was discovered that the most successful man in the group had not been the smartest or hardest working boy in school but the nicest boy who knew how to make everyone feel relaxed and comfortable with him. In the workplace, you may also have noticed this phenomenon: It is not always the best workers who receive raises and promotions but the workers with the best social and political skills.

Research substantiates this simple observation. A 40-year longitudinal investigation of 450 boys found that IQ had little relation to life success. The most significant predictors were being able to handle frustration, control emotions, get along with other people. Another study followed 80 scientists over the course of forty years and found that that social and emotional abilities were four times more important than IQ in determining professional success and prestige. Even more surprising, a study of retired National Football League players found that emotional intelligence predicted 62% of the variation in life success. And finally, a 2011 survey of 2,600 hiring managers found that 71% of them valued EQ over IQ.

What is EQ?

EQ can be defined as the ability to know and interpret emotions and to recognize their significance and relation to problems, including their causes and solutions. However, probably, the best definition of EQ is still the accepted definition of Salovey & Meyer: the process of dealing with emotions including the ability to have appropriate responses to show emotions and expression, both with the same person or with others. All this happens while trying to improve the level of life through the acquisition of the capacity to adjust to those emotions. It is one of the forms of social intelligence, which includes the ability to recognize and discriminate between your and others' feelings and utilize this knowledge in your intellectual, emotional and physical behavior.

Individuals differ in the level of skills that will help them to understand their feelings and the emotions of others, and then organize these sentiments and excitements and make use of them in raising the level of cooperative behavior. The organization of these skills and putting them into a practical framework is called "emotional intelligence" (Salovey & Mayer). Pellitteri has designed a conceptual model that is composed of three key elements of EI:

1) Emotional awareness, refers to the ability of the individual to know his/her emotions and reactions of others, being aware of them, and the ability to distinguish between negative and positive expressions of others.
2) Emotional self-regulation, refers to the ability of the individual to control and use his/her behavior and the meanings and expressions of others.
3) Emotional knowledge, refers to the individual's understanding of his emotions and others'. It also includes the use of emotions and emotional knowledge to draw attention to and to focus on the important area of social life, to develop creative and flexible views as well as to maintain the level of motivation to achieve positive goals.

In addition to these three components, Richburg and Fletcher added two dimensions: First, the ability to control the emotions and management. This is key to increasing the level of self-awareness, and aims to acquiring the skills that help in dealing with fears, anxiety, anger, and sadness. The second dimension is social skills, and dealing with others; it means the ability of the individual to maintain social relations.

When EQ Works Right

When EQ works the way, Goleman had in mind, it is a beautiful thing to behold. People use their EQ to achieve prosocial ends. They use their awareness of their own emotions and those of others to achieve prosocial ends—proverbial win-win outcomes in which everyone benefits.

Per nationally recognized relationship expert and executive coach Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, emotional intelligence is a key predictor of children's ability to develop suitable peer relationships, get along at home, develop a well-balanced outlook on life, and reach their academic potential at school. He uses the term EQ to encompass five abilities:

1. Self-awareness: knowing your emotions, recognizing feelings as they occur, and discriminating between them.
2. Mood management: handling feelings so they're relevant to the current situation and you react appropriately
3. Self-motivation: "gathering up" your feelings and directing yourself toward a goal, despite self-doubt, inertia, and impulsiveness
4. Empathy: recognizing feelings in others and tuning into their verbal and nonverbal cues
5. Managing relationships: handling interpersonal interaction, conflict resolution, and negotiations.

People who have these skills are the people you want in your corner and in your life. They are capable of not only reading your desires and fears, but they also respect them and help you achieve your goals.

Because EQ is so crucial to success across the board—in personal relationships, in school achievement, in workplace success—developing good EQ skills is equally crucial. As Dr. Tali Shenfield, an expert in school and child clinical psychology, points out, emotional intelligence in children develops, as a result of their interaction with parents. In some families, emotions are dangerous and shameful things that must be denied even to oneself. In such an environment, it is difficult to learn how to identify and manage one's own emotions, or how to effectively respond to the emotions of others. Accordingly, Dr. Shenfield urges parents not to ignore, dismiss, or repress children's emotions, particularly negative emotions. Instead, parents should empathize, accept and acknowledge them, and encourage their children to talk about their feelings. Doing so, teaches them that feelings are important and deserve attention. This approach also reduces their guilt over experiencing "bad feelings”, such as anger and jealousy because they learn that other people experience these, too. Grasping this simple concept helps children manage their social interactions more smoothly.

Emotional Intelligence as Factor for Depression

People with various symptoms of depression generally have lower emotional intelligence scores. Several studies have shown that emotional abilities are tightly correlated with the psychological health and wellbeing. Since emotional intelligence includes the ability to perceive emotions, use emotions to facilitate thought, understand emotional information, and regulate emotions, people with depression are definitely affected by the related characteristics.

Depression is a mood disorder. Patients have problems in experiencing positive feelings and pleasure. They show low levels of positive affect (mood) and often report states of sadness or fear. As compared with non-clinical controls, depressed patients had substantially lower overall emotional intelligence scores than general population. Especially, they scored lower on understanding emotions. It seems that the depressed patients are characterized by reduced sensitivity to changing emotional contexts.

This matches the fact that their information processing is usually negatively biased or one-sided. Depressed patients also tended to be less skilled than non-clinical controls with respect to using emotions to facilitate thought. This is in according with the prototypical symptom that depressed people attend specifically to negative emotions. That suggests that people with depression are not generally worse at perceiving emotions, they even seem to be overly sensitive to positive ones. They may not have general deficits, but suffer from difficulties in managing negative emotions.
The relationship between EQ and psychological disorders and their impact on adjustment and the level of psychological and physical health had been studied in adults and adolescents. There are four models or EQ factors associated positively with satisfaction in life. Many studies which examined
the relationship between EQ and depression, indicated that the individuals who scored high degrees on the dimensions of the EQ scale showed higher levels of satisfaction with their life, a high level of consensus, and low depression levels. Most of this research indicates that there is a clear impact of prominent EQ in the success of the individual professionally and socially. On the other hand, people who have demonstrated a low level of EQ showed weak skills in consensus in social, emotional, and professional life.

Therapy to Improve Emotional Intelligence

Therapy can be helpful when a person wishes to better understand and further develop emotional intelligence. In therapy, a person can become better aware of their emotional strengths and flaws and improve on the ability to recognize, understand, and cope with emotions. Some people who enter therapy seeking treatment for conditions such depression or social anxiety may discover that they also experience diminished emotional intelligence. With the help of a therapist, they may become more aware of their own emotions and begin to build emotional intelligence, and some may find that increased emotional awareness leads to an improvement in mental health.

Self-awareness can play a major role in emotional intelligence, but being aware of the emotions of others is also important. Some therapists provide training designed to help individuals become better aware of what others around them are feeling, to better relate to other people. A therapist may use emotional intelligence training to teach a person specific social skills such as reading body language, empathizing with the feelings of others, and providing appropriate feedback.


So, what comes first? Depression decreases the emotional intelligence skills of the affected patients, covering all the surrounding with negative atmosphere? Or, poor emotional intelligence, cause the “rougher and tougher journey” through the social environment (school, job, family, friends) can be considered as a reliable predictor of the depression later in life? Probably, both statements are true. Helping to detect and address the low EQ in your kids will help them to be happier, more depression-proof, more successful in adult life.

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