8 subtle signs you’re more emotionally intelligent than you think

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IQ matters, right?

Well, it’s actually not that simple.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explains that IQ predicts your success only up to a certain point. He says that “once someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn’t seem to translate into any measurable real-world advantage.”

Naturally, this is where other factors come into play, such as your socioeconomic background, the opportunities you’ve been presented with throughout your life, or the decade you were born in. These are things you don’t have much control over.

But then there’s emotional intelligence. And luckily for all of us, EQ is something that can be learned and enhanced. It’s also something that largely determines your success in life.

Are you more emotionally intelligent than you think? These are the 8 subtle signs to watch out for.

1) You’re empathetic but you’re not an emotional sponge

According to the psychologist Daniel Goleman, there are five pillars of emotional intelligence:

  • Empathy
  • Social skills
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation

Let’s get the ball rolling with the first one – being able to empathize with others, understand their perspective, and place yourself in their shoes.

Empathy is vital to the survival of societies. If we were all apathetic to each other’s plights, we probably wouldn’t have lasted very long.

And while empathy is something many of us are naturally predisposed to – for example, there are plenty of highly sensitive and empathetic people out there who feel the emotions of others very strongly – it can also be cultivated.

Each time you actively listen to someone else’s story and imagine what it would be like for you, you’re cultivating empathy. Each time you read a book, you’re cultivating empathy. Each time you watch a movie, you’re cultivating empathy.

However, there comes a point when even empathy can be too much. For instance, I used to be so sensitive to other people’s moods that I easily soaked them in and let them influence my mental state.

Over time, this turned me into a huge people pleaser. And as you may have already guessed, not being able to separate your emotions from the world around you isn’t very emotionally intelligent.

So, a subtle sign you’re emotionally intelligent is that you’re empathetic, but not *too* empathetic to let it rule you.

2) You have a good relationship with your emotions

How did I learn to separate my feelings from those around me, you may ask?

I worked on my emotional regulation, which is the second pillar of emotional intelligence. In essence, self-regulation is about the ability to handle your feelings and act in socially appropriate ways even if you’re very angry or frustrated.

However, the common misconception is that having a grip on your emotions means you’re bottling them down.

The opposite is the case. Emotionally intelligent people know how important it is to validate how they feel and give that energy a healthy outlet.

If you’re angry, go to the gym.

If you’re anxious, dance to your favorite song.

If you’re sad, go somewhere private for five minutes and let it all out.

Most of all, a sign of emotional intelligence is that you acknowledge the temporary nature of feelings. A feeling is not you. It is only a state of mind that will eventually pass.

3) You cherish negative feedback

Recently, there was an issue in my personal life that needed dealing with. I asked two friends what they thought about my actions. Let’s call them Peter and Lea.

Peter completely roasted me and said I was making a mistake.

Lea was supportive, and when she heard about Peter’s reaction, she said a good friend wouldn’t act that way.

But I beg to differ. As someone who’s very self-aware, I appreciate all negative feedback because it allows me to look at things more objectively and grow. Peter knows that. He knows I value honesty above all else.

Of course, it’s never nice to hear criticism. I did feel a bit rubbish afterward. But I never blamed Peter and I never wished he’d acted differently; on the contrary, I felt grateful for having such a good and honest friend in my life.

What’s more, I knew his comments weren’t a reflection of my whole personality – he was merely criticizing specific actions. It didn’t wound me. 

Which brings us to…

4) You don’t take things personally

Not taking things personally is the reason I could listen to Peter’s words and nod in understanding without getting angry.

This is yet another subtle sign you’re more emotionally intelligent than you think because it means you can separate your identity from your behavior. Peter wasn’t judging *me* – he was judging what I chose to do.

An action is something you can learn from. It’s something you can avoid in the future.

An identity, though? Ooof.

The moment you start attaching your behavior to who you are as a person, it becomes extremely difficult to respond well to negative feedback and to change for the better.

Because you just take it way too personally. Your emotions go into overdrive, so you’re not self-regulating effectively, and your self-awareness gets lost in all the righteous anger and pain.

The result? Well, it’s usually an argument that goes nowhere. Not great.

5) You’re interested in psychology

I became interested in the inner workings of the human mind when I was around fifteen.

Since then, I’ve combed through countless books, research journals, and textbooks, and if there’s one benefit I’ve gotten from all this, it’s that it boosted my self-awareness a thousandfold.

Humans are extremely complicated. In many ways, the brain is still a mystery to us.

Learning how your mind and body work on a biological and psychological level means you’re gaining a deeper understanding of your own self, which in turn signals higher EQ.

When I say psychology, I don’t necessarily mean reading Freud or Jung, though. Something as simple as learning about the science of building habits can be tremendously helpful in the long run.

(If you’re looking for recommendations on that topic, I suggest you read Atomic Habits by James Clear.)

6) You express yourself clearly

Let’s not forget the fourth factor of emotional intelligence, of course – social skills.

“Expressing yourself clearly” sounds so simple, doesn’t it? In reality, most people struggle with it.

Instead of telling your partner how you want to be loved, you expect them to just know.

Instead of explaining your true intentions behind a specific action, you just shrug your shoulders because you don’t think it’s relevant.

Instead of expressing the immense amount of gratitude you feel for your best friend, you just say “thanks” because you’re worried it’d make things awkward.

Oh, hold on. You don’t do any of that?

Congratulations! It means you’re more emotionally intelligent than you think.

7) You follow through on your goals

When people talk about EQ, they don’t mention motivation as much as the other four pillars.

Nonetheless, being able to kick yourself in the butt and actually get stuff done is an integral part of success, not to mention great well-being.

Do you actually commit to your weekly, monthly, or yearly goals?

If you tell yourself you’ll start going to the gym on Monday, do you actually do it on Monday? Or do you tend to push it into the far-off land of “someday”?

Willpower is really hard to nurture because our brains usually like to choose the path of the least resistance. But the more you integrate specific habits into your life, the easier it’ll become to take the necessary steps toward your goals.

And if you don’t need this advice at all because you’re already on track…you know what I’m about to tell you.

Yep, it’s a sign of high EQ.

8) You like who you are

Finally, an article about emotional intelligence wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of self-love.

When you combine all five aspects of EQ – empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, and social skills – you’ll end up with something beautiful.

Internal cohesion. A sense of inner peace. Confidence. And most of all, a feeling of love when you think of who you are as a person.

When you’re emotionally intelligent, you’re very aware of all the areas in which you still need to improve, but that doesn’t take away any of the love you have for yourself.

Because when you’re in touch with your whole self, you reach a state of flow and acceptance. And it feels wonderful.

Lost Your Sense of Purpose?

In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.

Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.

Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.

With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.

Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.

 

Denisa Cerna

Hi! I’m a fiction author and a non-fiction freelance writer with a passion for personal development, mental health, and all things psychology. I have a graduate degree in Comparative Literature MA and I spend most of my time reading, travelling, and – shocker – writing. I’m always on a quest to better understand the inner workings of the human mind and I love sharing my insights with the world. If any of my articles change your life for the better… mission accomplished.
Get in touch at denisacerna.writing@gmail.com or find me on LinkedIn.

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