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Unlocking Emotional Intelligence: The Key Role of Family

Family dynamics and interactions significantly shape and foster emotional intelligence, especially in early development, which is a vital factor in personal growth and social well-being. Before delving into the concepts of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and family, it is necessary to make a distinction between IQ and EQ as the point of definition. If we talk about the familiar concept of IQ, it is a measure of cognitive levels that encompass perception, deduction, comparison, analysis, and decision-making. The IQ level, determined through various tests, indicates the utilization and clarity of mental activities. Although it is often presented as the ability to use one's mind, it is known that IQ does not solely encompass this, and emotional intelligence known as EQ also plays a role in this ability (Pott, 1996).

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a type of intelligence that involves a constructive, interpretive, perceptive, and holistic approach to the realm of emotions. EQ encompasses a person's ability to manage, perceive, and express their emotions accurately. In fact, it has been revealed that many skills and elements attributed to IQ are within the scope of emotional intelligence. For example, the ability to speak fluently and express oneself by controlling excitement is a talent derived from EQ. It can also be mentioned thinking without losing touch with reality, effective communication, and emotional judgment as characteristics of EQ (Salovey and Mayer, 1990).

Figure 1: IQ vs EQ (ewfinternational, 2022)

The Neuroscience of Emotional Intelligence: The Role of the Amygdala and Brain Connectivity

The area of the brain that deals with human emotions, the amygdala, expands when the EQ is improved, by forming new axons or connections (Perlman and Pelphrey, 2011). The amygdala is the brain’s center for emotional memory and emotional reactivity and helps us be resilient when dealing with emotional distress. Emotional intelligence requires effective communication between the emotional and the rational centers of the brain. So, the higher the EQ becomes, the more connective tissue is formed, giving an improved brain (Salzman and Fusi, 2010).

Fostering Emotional Intelligence for Personal and Social Development

Various types of intelligence that stimulate the functioning of the mind directly influence our lives, such as cognitive intelligence (IQ), emotional intelligence (EQ) or social intelligence. Of course, this impact can provide a positive and lasting reflection on life not through the contribution of a single type of intelligence but when they work together. Therefore, increasing our knowledge and practices regarding different types of intelligence, controlling our self-awareness, and developing the characteristics of different types of intelligence would be appropriate. Especially, developing the characteristics that fall within the scope of emotional intelligence is necessary for an individual's social and personal development.

The increase in our knowledge and practices regarding different types of intelligence would help with enhancing our overall capacity to understand and manage emotions effectively. For example, improving our cognitive intelligence can enhance our ability to analyze and reason about emotions, while developing our creative intelligence can provide us with innovative ways to express and process emotions. Social intelligence allows us to navigate social dynamics around others and empathize with them, which are crucial components of emotional intelligence. By controlling our self-awareness and actively developing the characteristics of different types of intelligence, we would be able to create a solid foundation for the enhancement of our EQ. This integrated approach allows us to cultivate a holistic understanding of emotions, regulate them in a healthy manner, and navigate social interactions with empathy and effectiveness. Ultimately, this development of multiple intelligences contributes to a well-rounded and comprehensive emotional intelligence that positively influences our personal and social interactions.

Figure 2: Limbic system (sciencephoto, n.d.)

Family as the First School of Emotional Learning

Family serves as our first school, providing us with essential lessons in emotions. Within this school, we learn how to perceive ourselves within close relationships, how others will respond to our feelings, the available options for response, and how to understand and express our hopes and fears. These emotional lessons are transmitted not only through the actions of parents but also through how they express their own emotions, manage them, and reflect them to the child. Parenting styles can significantly impact a child's emotional development. In general, when it comes to emotionally inadequate parenting styles, we can categorize the most commonly encountered ones into four groups (Benoit, 2004).

First of all, infants with insecure-avoidant attachment have caregivers who are unresponsive or dismissive of their needs. These infants learn to suppress their attachment behaviors as they have learned that their attempts for closeness or comfort are met with rejection or indifference. They often appear independent and may avoid seeking comfort from their caregivers. Secondly, infants with insecure-resistant attachment have caregivers who are inconsistent in their responses. Sometimes they may respond sensitively, but other times they may be intrusive or dismissive. As a result, these infants become anxious and uncertain about whether their needs will be met. They often display clingy and demanding behaviors, seeking closeness but also resisting comfort. In third place, infants with disorganized attachment have caregivers who display frightening or abusive behaviors, creating a disorganized and unpredictable environment. These infants are caught between seeking comfort from their caregivers and being afraid of them. They may exhibit contradictory behaviors, such as approaching their caregiver while looking fearful or freezing in their presence. These findings emphasize the critical role of parents in understanding and effectively responding to their children's emotions to support healthy emotional development. Lastly, secure attachment refers to a type of attachment relationship between infants and their caregivers that is characterized by consistent responsiveness, sensitivity, and emotional availability.

The Power of Secure Attachment: Building Emotional Resilience and Empathy

If a warm, secure, and strong bond is established between parents and children, children will not only learn to cope with their emotions but also learn to control their anger and develop empathy. This will give them a chance to live with these skills not only in the present but also in the future. This is a significant influence that will last a lifetime. The type of attachment which would give this chance to the child is secure attachment, in which infants have caregivers who are consistently responsive, sensitive, and emotionally available. These infants feel secure in exploring their environment and seek comfort from their caregivers when needed. They trust that their needs will be met and develop positive beliefs about themselves and others.

Figure 3: Picture of Happiness (Dino, n.d.)

For parents, in order to be educators who can assist in enhancing their children's emotional intelligence skills, it is crucial for them to first grasp the foundations of their own emotional intelligence. For example, a parent who cannot discern their own emotions cannot help their child express their feelings in response to events. Parents with sufficient emotional capacity can assist their children in learning the fundamental aspects of emotional intelligence, including recognizing and expressing their emotions, controlling their emotions, empathizing with others, and managing emotions that may arise in relationships.

The Affective Representational System: Unlocking Emotional Understanding

The system required for obtaining these qualifications is the affective representational system. It refers to the internalized emotional experiences and representations that individuals develop throughout their lives, shaping their emotional responses and behaviors (Bird and Viding, 2014). This system represents the current affective state of the self. It is likely localized in the insular cortex and anterior cingulate cortex in our brain (Salzman and Fusi, 2010). This representation may not always be conscious, but it can be consciously accessed. It provides the empathizer with an understanding of their own emotional state.

Figure 4: (Gencraft, n.d.)

When parents possess a well-developed affective representational system, they can effectively teach their children the fundamental aspects of emotional intelligence. This includes recognizing and expressing emotions, regulating emotional responses, empathizing with others, and managing emotions within relationships. By modelling healthy emotional expression and management, parents with strong emotional intelligence serve as role models for their children, fostering their own emotional development.

The Critical Window of Early Development: Emotion Competence and Self-Regulation for Lifelong Success

Neuroscientific advances have shown that early childhood, specifically the age range from zero to five, is a critical window for both learning and teaching. During this period, it is important to focus on the development of emotional competence and the growth of self-regulation as a foundation for long-term academic, personal, and social success. By promoting mental health and well-being through the cultivation of these skills, individuals can set themselves up for a lifetime of achievement (Mayer, 1997).

Recent findings suggest that emotional competence and self-regulation emerge from the co-regulation of empathic social and emotional interactions between a caregiver and a young child (Housman, 2017). Therefore, it is crucial that parents take on the responsibility of fostering these interactions to promote healthy development in their children. This can be achieved through a variety of methods, such as engaging in positive social and emotional interactions with their child, modelling appropriate emotional responses, and providing opportunities for their child to practice self-regulation skills. By prioritizing emotional competence and self-regulation during this critical window of development, individuals can lay a strong foundation for future success in all areas of life.

Bibliographical References

Benoit D. (2004). Infant-parent attachment: Definition, types, antecedents, measurement and outcome. Paediatrics & child health, 9(8), 541–545.

Bird, G., & Viding, E. (2014). The self to other model of empathy: Providing a new framework for understanding empathy impairments in psychopathy, autism, and alexithymia. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 47, 520-532. ISSN 0149-7634.

Ford, T., & Capstone (2021). Education in Emotional Intelligence: An Arts Therapies Based Method.

Housman, D.K. (2017). The importance of emotional competence and self-regulation from birth: a case for the evidence-based emotional cognitive social early learning approach. ICEP11, 13.

Mayer, J. D., & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence? In. Salovey & D. Sluyter (Eds.), Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Educational implications, 3-31. Basic Books.

Perlman, S. B., & Pelphrey, K. A. (2011). Developing connections for affective regulation: age-related changes in emotional brain connectivity. Journal of experimental child psychology, 108(3), 607–620.

Pott, H. J. (1996). Emotional Intelligence - why it can matter more than IQ [Review of D. Goleman. Recensie].

Salovey, P. & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional Intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9, 185-211.

Salzman, C. D., & Fusi, S. (2010). Emotion, cognition, and mental state representation in amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Annual review of neuroscience, 33, 173–202.

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