After decades of research following the outcomes of children into adults, it has been shown that social and emotional competence is one of the greatest predictors of lifetime success across a wide range of health, social, and economic measures, and life satisfaction. That means how well you are able to identify, name, and express your feelings, needs, and wants to others, and listen, validate, and understand someone else’s needs, is one of the most important skills you can learn. The higher emotional and social competency you have, the more likely you are to live longer, be physically healthier with fewer infectious diseases, feel happier, and report a more satisfying life with close friends and community.
Unfortunately, many people do not come from families in which the importance of naming and talking about emotions, validating them, and communicating your needs are role-modeled or practiced. Often people need to do this work in their adult years. Even-though parents are doing the best they can, given the skills, awareness, and knowledge they have, many are emotionally immature themselves. Emotionally immature parents are often focused on themselves and their own problems, unable to prioritize the emotional needs of their children. Children all need to feel important through love, quality non-electronic time and play, validation of their feelings, and being shown that the world is in general a safe place filled with people who care about them. When these basic needs are not provided, developmental milestones might not be met and negative internal dialogues of low self-worth, anxiety, inadequacy, and hopelessness can form.
This does not make these parents bad people; it means that is all they are capable of because they have not done the work to heal their own childhood wounds caused by not getting their emotional needs met from their caregivers. However, children are not able to understand this and often internalize their caregiver’s shortcomings as shortcomings within themselves. Everyone has self-growth and learning to do in this lifetime. Some more than others. We don’t get to choose the family we are born into and raised by. But as adults we can choose how to treat ourselves and heal from the unmet childhood needs we each have.
There is hope. Through extensive self-work, growth and healing can happen.
What might the steps to this process look like?
Identify the need for growth: Break denial patterns around thinking you don’t have work to do, blaming others, or thinking emotions are not important or helpful to talk about.
The focus in this article is improving emotional intelligence. So the first step here would be to accept that you would benefit from improving the ability to identify, name, and express your emotions. Understanding that these skills will help you improve your relationships, improve your ability to communicate with co-workers, create relationships, and maintain them is important. Emotions are the pathways to increasing closeness in relationships. Having close relationships is the best predictor of life satisfaction and improves mental and physical health outcomes over a lifetime.
Create and write down an actionable plan. Break it down into small, realistic steps.
A first step might be to buy a self-help book; download a self-help app, podcast or audible on your phone; or make an appointment with a therapist. If you choose to make an appointment with a therapist, I recommend you ask for a free 15-minute consultation with them first to see if it is a good fit. Therapist-client relationship quality is the most reliable and powerful predictor of positive outcomes in therapy.
If you are wanting a few self-help books, here are some suggestions to help improve emotional intelligence:
Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Dr. Lindsay C. Gibson
How to Do the Work by Dr. Nicole LePera
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Dr. John Gottman
Focusing by Dr. Eugene T. Gendlin
Do the work. Go to therapy, read the book, listen to the podcast, do the homework, integrate what you learn into life; practice, practice, practice. New habits practiced consistently over time become part of your personality. Make the changes you commit to. Keep moving forward and taking action. Take breaks. Be kind to yourself if you fall back into old patterns; non-judgmentally become aware and get back on track. Self-compassion is key in successful growth processes.
Quick tip: Print out a list of emotions and put this list up on your refrigerator. Every time you pass it practice identifying what you are feeling in that moment. Bonus: Practice identifying where in your body you feel that emotion and describe what it feels like.
Ask for help and support as needed. The more we feel connected to others, the better we feel. Asking for help is a strength. As long as our relationships are, in general, equal in providing and receiving help, then this is very healthy.
What step are you willing to take to start your journey toward a happier and more fulfilling life?