What causes low emotional intelligence?


Emotional Intelligence or Emotional Quotient (EQ) is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions. People with high Emotional Intelligence:

  • have a high level of self-awareness
  • can understand their moods and emotions
  • can regulate their emotions
  • can empathize with others
  • can comfort others
  • can influence people
  • have excellent social skills

In contrast, people with low emotional intelligence:

  • lack self-awareness
  • are unable to understand their moods and emotions
  • have difficulty managing their emotions
  • can’t empathize with others
  • can’t comfort others
  • can’t influence people
  • have poor social skills

Examples of low emotional intelligence

Low emotional intelligence manifests in everyday behavior in a variety of ways. If you see most of the following behaviors in someone, it’s a good indication that they lack emotional intelligence:

  • Difficulty talking about emotions
  • Regular emotional outbursts
  • Difficulty accepting criticism
  • Unable to express how they feel
  • Indulging in socially inappropriate behaviors
  • Not being able to ‘read the room’ and emotional cues from others
  • Difficulty moving on from failures and setbacks

Low emotional intelligence causes

This section will explore the common causes of low emotional intelligence. Low emotional intelligence could result from a medical condition like alexithymia or autism. It can also be a consequence of a mental health condition or addiction.

However, in this section, I want to discuss what causes low emotional intelligence in otherwise normal and healthy people.

1. Lacking knowledge about emotions

Most people aren’t taught anything about emotions. Our society and educational systems place a much higher emphasis on developing students’ Intelligence Quotient (IQ) or academic intelligence.

The result?

Many people have difficulty expressing and understanding their emotions. They can’t name them or point out what causes them, let alone manage them.

2. Low intrapersonal intelligence

Intrapersonal intelligence is the ability to understand your inner life. People who’re in tune with their thoughts and emotions tend to have high intrapersonal intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is a natural consequence of high intrapersonal intelligence.

The deeper you can look into yourself, the deeper you can look into someone else. At a very fundamental level, humans are the same. They have the same fears, hopes, concerns, and dreams.

3. Lack of practice

It isn’t enough to know about emotions. Once you understand what triggers different emotions in you and other people, you need to practice emotional intelligence.

Like any skill, emotional intelligence can be improved with practice and feedback.

Say you behave in a socially inappropriate way. Others around you complain that your behavior is bothering them. If they have high emotional intelligence, they’ll tell you exactly how you’re making them feel.

This is negative feedback for you. You’re able to see what you did wrong and put yourself in their shoes. You make a mental note to not repeat this behavior.

Little things like these add up, and your emotional intelligence improves over time.

4. Upbringing

If you were brought up in a family where talking about emotions was discouraged or punished, you’re likely to have low emotional intelligence. Children copy parents most of the time. If parents handled their emotions poorly, children pick up on that.

Many parents are under-invested in the emotional lives of their children. They ask their children about grades and all but rarely ask them how they’re feeling. As a result, they grow up in an environment where they think it’s unsafe to talk about feelings.

They’re left to deal with their emotions alone. Like their parents, they have little or no understanding of their emotions.

5. A negative view of emotions

What comes to mind when you hear the word “emotions”?

Chances are, the word has negative connotations. Emotions are seen as the opposite of logic, something our society highly values. In many ways, emotions are the opposite of logic. When we’re under the grip of strong emotions, we’re less likely to be logical.

But, but, but…

It’s easy to forget that emotions have a logic of their own. When we get logical about our emotions, we can better understand and manage them.

Our society values logic because it has given us so much. We’ve used logic to understand natural phenomena and master them.

Because emotions are seen as the opposite of logic, many people fail to apply logic to emotions. Instead of treating emotions like any other natural phenomena that need to be understood via reason, we disregard emotions as something to which logic can’t be applied.

We’re encouraged to push emotions under the carpet and try to be more rational.

Emotional intelligence, as the name suggests, is all about applying logic or intelligence to emotions. Seeing emotions as something that’s outside the scope of logic is a recipe for low emotional intelligence.

6. Not being detail-oriented

Intrapersonal intelligence is about being detail-oriented about oneself. It’s noticing slight shifts in your moods and energy. It’s pinpointing what caused those shifts and managing those shifts.

Emotional intelligence is not only being aware of these shifts in yourself but also being sensitive to the small, emotional shifts in others. It is paying attention to their body language, voice tone, and energy levels.

Being detail-oriented about others helps you understand them better. You notice the small shifts that occur in them and understand what causes them. Developing and honing this skill lets you connect with them at a deep, emotional level.

7. Selfishness

Humans are wired to be selfish. Self-centeredness is the highest in children, but as they grow up, they learn that other people also have a mind of their own. They understand that other people also have thoughts and emotions.

This realization plants in them the seeds of empathy. As they interact with more and more people, the experiences they have typically strengthen their empathy.

Despite this, it’s easy to revert to our primal, selfish selves. People with low emotional intelligence disregard the needs and emotions of others. They have a selfish, win-lose mentality.

In contrast, mature people with a high level of emotional intelligence don’t disregard the needs and emotions of other people. They have a win-win mentality.

The most successful work and romantic relationships are the ones where the people involved have a win-win mindset. Developing this mindset requires the highest level of emotional intelligence.