What is Emotional Intelligence?

 In Resources, Toronto Therapist

What is Emotional Intelligence?
This is part one of two posts discussing the importance and benefits of developing emotional intelligence

Meaning: Emotional intelligence describes the ability of an individual to handle and control one’s emotions, and possess the ability to recognize, empathize and have an understanding of the emotions of others.

In other words, it is an individual’s ability to relate to the feelings and experiences of other individuals, as well as one’s own.

Description: Emotional intelligence is an essential skill in an understanding of oneself (personal development), relationships, social and professional situations and leadership.

Emotional intelligence is a learned set of competencies, and is strengthened and improved with practice, application and growth over time.

Benefits of Emotional Intelligence

Individuals with greater emotional intelligence have a better understanding of their own emotional and psychological state of being, which can translate to lesser psychological and mental health struggles (such as handling stress, anxiety and depression more effectively).

Individuals with greater emotional intelligence have an easier experience of forming and maintaining social, personal and professional relationships and discover it simpler to form and preserve social relationships and are also more at ease in group settings.

While there are a number of models to define Emotional Intelligence, I will be using the model as described by Daniel Goleman who categorizes it into five primary aspects: Empathy and Compassion, Self-awareness, Motivation, Self-regulation and Social Skills.

Let’s break down each component briefly:

Empathy & Compassion

Empathy and compassion are similar traits in that you possess the ability to relate and understand the feelings of another individual.

A researcher defines empathy as:

Empathy involves a sense of genuine understanding and unconditional acceptance of another person’s emotional experience without needing the other to reciprocate the empathic response.

While another researcher defines compassion as:

Compassion is defined as the emotional response when perceiving suffering and involves an authentic desire to help.

Researchers have begun to understand the biological roots of compassion and its evolutionary function. There is research emerging that shows that when compassion is felt, the heart rate decreases, there is secretion of the “bonding hormonal agent” oxytocin, and the areas of the brain connected to caregiving, empathy, and feelings of enjoyment light up. This often results in our desire to care and take action for other individuals.


Self awareness is to have an understanding and be able to acknowledge your motivations and moods, and the impact of these aspects of you on others.

In addition to being emotionally aware, self awareness is also the ability to assess yourself accurately, which would mean that you have a measured understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.

To cultivate this, you would require an understanding of emotions, and be able to identify your own feelings and emotional state.

Wikipedia provides the following definition:

Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals.


Self regulation is to possess the ability to manage your emotions proportionately and appropriately.

While self awareness is the ability to identify and understand your emotions, the next step is to be able to manage and regulate them, and as a result, yourself.

Being able to manage moods and emotions, such as impulsivity or reactivity, it is then possible to have a sense of control and choice over how you experience your world, as well as how to react and express yourself.

It is my belief that cultivating self-regulation can be one of the most empowering, and game-changing, skills that anyone can have.


Inner motivation is what drives us to work toward and accomplish our goals, gives us a sense of personal pride and is what pushes us to achieve a better quality of life.

As defined by Wikipedia:

Motivation is the reason for people’s actions, desires and needs. Motivation is also one’s direction to behavior, or what causes a person to want to repeat a behavior. An individual’s motivation may be inspired by others or events (extrinsic motivation) or it may come from within the individual (intrinsic motivation). Motivation has been considered as one of the most important reasons that inspires a person to move forward. Mastering motivation to allow sustained and deliberate practice is central to high levels of achievement e.g. in the worlds of elite sport, medicine or music.

Social Skills

These are skills that are used to engage interpersonally with others. Social skills are what allow us to communicate properly and develop stronger, more significant relationships.

Social skills are a significant factor in emotional intelligence, as it involves how we are able to understand others, what they may be feeling, and our behaviours and actions with them.

It also covers a broad range of competencies, a lot of which involve self-esteem and developing a sense of self confidence.

By establishing social skills, we become more engaged and conversational, a better listener, more trustworthy, and more charismatic to others.

When we have more meaningful connections with others, this often results in improved self-confidence. And confidence makes it easier to have a better sense of ourselves, improved self esteem and a more positive internal perspective of ourselves.

How to Develop Emotional Intelligence

People who have a high degree of emotional intelligence have a way of handling difficult scenarios evenly.

They show a capacity to look at an issue and discover productive options. They’re exceptional at discovering choices, and they know when to trust their intuition.

These individuals also show the ability to assess themselves honestly. They take criticism well, and they understand when to learn, integrate and utilize them effectively.

People like this understand themselves extremely well, and they’re likewise able to have an understanding of the emotional states of others.

Are these skills you would like cultivate for yourself?

There are many ways in which to learn about and strengthen your emotional intelligence.

There are countless resources online from articles, posts and videos providing valuable insights and tips. Just type in “how to improve emotional intelligence” on Google to get started.

If a more indepth approach to learning is more your style, there are many books devoted to the subject whether you decide to go to your local library, bookstore, order from an online retailer (Amazon or Indigo, here in Canada) or an audio book from a provider like Audible.

You may be looking for a more experiential approach, in which case, a conference or MeetUp of likeminded individuals could also be possibilities.

Daniel Goleman, whose model of and work on emotional intelligence that I based this post on, has books, hosts conferences and offers online certification program specific to emotional intelligence.

Additionally, if you are looking for a more personalized approach with direct feedback, you could also consider engaging in coaching or psychotherapy.

In the next post, I will be covering in more detail how psychotherapy can help you develop and strengthen your emotional intelligence.

If you are interested in meeting for a reduced fee initial session to discuss how psychotherapy can provide you with a personalized approach to developing emotional intelligence to benefit you in your relationships, improved mood, work performance and more, please contact me here.

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