7 Signs of Low Emotional Intelligence

Most people don’t grow up learning very much about their emotions — what they are, how they work, or how to manage them well.

This means there are a lot of people out there with perfectly normal levels of academic or social intelligence but surprisingly low emotional intelligence.

You need to recognize the signs of low emotional intelligence because it’s hard to have healthy relationships with these people.

Whether you’re considering going into business with someone, getting married, or hiring a coach, it’s crucial that you’re able to spot the signs of low emotional intelligence early.


1. They avoid talking about how they feel

If you really want to see how much emotional intelligence someone has, pay attention to how they talk about their feelings.

Some people with very low emotional intelligence simply refuse to talk about their feelings. But more commonly, they just aren’t very good at it.

Often they use vague or metaphorical language to describe how they feel — “I’m just a little stressed” or “I’m pissed off.” Sometimes they intellectualize their emotions, using abstract and conceptual language to avoid describing how they really feel — “I’m just kind of overwhelmed.”

On the other hand…

People with high emotional intelligence aren’t afraid to describe their feelings with plain emotional language.

They say things like: “I feel sad,” “I’m angry,” “I feel disappointed and a little annoyed right now.”

2. They criticize themselves for how they feel

Because many emotions like fear or sadness feel bad, it’s easy to think they are bad or that we are bad for feeling them. This often happens to people who were punished or ridiculed for expressing emotion as children.

In any case, a common sign of low emotional intelligence is that people criticize themselves for having difficult emotions. They think it’s bad or wrong to feel afraid. They think it’s shameful to feel sad. They think it’s a sign of weakness that they get angry.

Judging yourself for how you feel only makes you feel worse in the long-run.

People with high emotional intelligence understand that just because something feels bad doesn’t mean it is bad. So they treat themselves instead with compassion and kindness when they feel bad.

3. They try to control their emotions

People with low emotional intelligence think about difficult emotions as problems to be solved. This means that anytime a painful mood or emotion comes up, they immediately try to get rid of it.

But when you constantly treat your emotions like problems, you teach your brain to see them as problems. This only makes you more fearful of your emotions and reactive toward them in the future.

When you treat your emotions like problems, you teach your brain to see them that way.

Emotionally intelligent people see emotions as messengers, not threats. And while you may or may not like the content of the message, it doesn’t make sense to shoot the messenger.

The best way to free yourself from painful emotions is to validate them and let them work themselves out instead of trying to control them.

4. They only notice their loud emotions

While it’s very common to experience more than one emotion at a time, people with low emotional intelligence tend to only notice the biggest, loudest emotion happening.

For example, after getting cut-off suddenly on the road while driving, they describe feeling “mad a hell” but aren’t aware that they’re also feeling afraid.

People with high emotional intelligence have enough self-awareness to see all their emotions, even the quiet ones “behind” their primary emotions.

5. They blindly follow their emotions

Another clear sign of low emotional intelligence is believing everything your emotions tell you.

Emotions often give us useful information—feeling fear when your fire alarm goes off, for example. But they’re just as likely to mislead us—feeling anger when our spouse points out a mistake and asks us to correct it.

Emotionally intelligent people listen to all their emotions but never put blind trust in any of them.

There’s nothing mystical about our emotions. And it can be just as dangerous to overvalue them as it is to undervalue them.

6. They try to ‘fix’ your emotions

You can learn a lot about someone’s level of emotional intelligence by how they handle other people’s painful emotions.

People with low emotional intelligence are afraid of painful feelings in others, so they usually try to make them go away. For example, they immediately start giving you reasons why you shouldn’t feel the way you do or try to problem-solve your bad mood. These are dead giveaways that they’re not very high on emotional intelligence.

On the other hand, if someone is good at validating your emotions and being willing to sit with them without judgment or advice, that’s usually a sign of very high emotional intelligence.

7. They pretend to be happy all the time

I don’t trust people who claim to be happy all the time and never admit or show when they’re feeling sad, afraid, ashamed, or just plain upset. Insisting on being happy all the time is usually a sign of low emotional intelligence.

Because they don’t understand their moods and emotions very well, people with low emotional intelligence live in denial about the emotions they don’t like — the painful, uncomfortable ones. And they hope that if they tell themselves they’re happy all the time they will be happy all the time and won’t have to ever feel bad.

But I don’t care what you read about in The Secret

You can manifest positivity until you’re blue in the face but it’s perfectly normal to experience all sorts of emotions, including painful ones.

Emotionally intelligent people understand that there are no good or bad emotions any more than there are good or bad hair colors. And they’re secure enough to feel bad and show it.


All You Need to Know

Having low emotional intelligence doesn’t make someone bad or unworthy. In many ways, it’s simply a skill deficit. And obviously we all fall into some of these traps from time to time.

But it’s important to see people’s strengths and weaknesses clearly before you get into any kind of serious relationship with them.

It’s easy to be dazzled by a sharp wit or charming personality but neither of those will make up for low emotional intelligence and all the pain that comes with it.

Take it from a therapist, someone who talks to unhappy people for a living:

Learn the signs of low emotional intelligence early and you’ll save yourself more grief than you can imagine.

53 Comments

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I love it! Thank you for sharing this. For years I felt it was wrong to express my emotions and ask my partner to sit down to talk about difficult matters. I would be told “you’re too emotional!” but the tears were mostly out of frustration and disappointment of them for not wanting to listen.

Thank you, Rosa. Yes, it’s easy to end up feeling guilty when really you’re trying to do the right thing in situations like this. Good for you!

dear Rosa, thank you for your response, I understand and so will many other precious Souls, when i felt great happiness and joy; often with struggle to feel and experience that through so many sad things; or great sadness, most recently at missing my youngest Son Alex who lives far away in a wonderful ‘village’ for people with special needs and missing my Love [my husband and me are separated, he was kind an good sometimes, though criminally unkind other times and only living with him again because have nowhere else safe and ok to live, though after trying so much]and i was crying because my Love – after more than 25 years of very unhappy marriage where my oldest Sons were alienated from me and greatly sad by the lost relationships with them, during Lockdown, missing my youngest Son Alex, not going to Mass and no longer going to other places i used to go to my husband could not understand why i was so unhappy except for that i missed Alex so much, and this was after decades of bad times, and i could not help being so sad and could not stop crying though my husband from whom i was separated was kind in some ways, and often when you are emotional people get the wrong idea that you do not think deeply

this is a great article. I’ve been at that place before but after a lot of years of therapy, I can still weep with my emotions! and I do share how I feel most of the time except with my family about origin. who still have for the most part the message we grew up with “you shouldn’t feel that way”
Thank you for this article
Bonnie

Great insight article, I wish my wife would read this learn to open up Express herself emotionally. It’s frustration when challenges on personal subjects she replies “I don’t want to talk about it. ” we live together but apart. I feel sad angry hopeless mad and hoping a change will happen. Hopefully.

That does sound hard, Frank. Often the best thing we can do is try to model these things ourselves and hope for the best.

Is this harmful for someone with a low EQ to read? The overall premise of this article is that such people should be avoided rather than helped or understood which seems to go against your own values.

It’s a good question, Pete. I don’t think the idea that avoiding getting into serious relationships with people with low emotional intelligence and helping them are mutually exclusive…

I agree with the last comment from Pete. Also isn’t it likely that some mental health issues may ‘inadvertently’ land an individual with this weakness.
We have had so little education about emotional health …anywhere…if your family of origin doesn’t teach you about it, or doesn’t know how to express / address emotions, learning doesn’t happen and such an individual is handicapped in life. They grow up not knowing how to communicate well or interact with understanding…
It is a sad state of being for all concerned.
Isn’t the important question – Can EI be learned?

Emm, I think emotional intelligence can defintiely be learned!

But if you’re choosing a spouse, business partner, or other serious relationship, I wouldn’t count on it happening.

Keep these great articles coming Nick. They are so helpful. For years I participated in a group called Emotions Anonymous. It saved my life.

Great article Nick. I agree that it’s important to know a person’s EI status in the same way you would want to know someone’s health, financial, family relationships, etc. Personally, I would’ve definitely saved myself Time, Energy and unnecessary Grief. Thank you to everyone for their comments as it adds more value to the article.

I don’t agree with all u said,happiness and unhappiness is all in d mind,and these can be adjusted by how u choose to feel….u don’t want to let ur emotions becloud ur judgement especially when u are in charge of people who look up to u. So u must rule over it being that emotion is only but a tool for one to use.

I liked the article but couldn’t not refrain from wondering if this is subjective to culture, social constrains and age. Meaning if you lived through a communist era, “emotions” and “feelings” were the least of your problems, therefore, these were put at the bottom of a long “to do list”. This type of thinking affected a lot of generations and of course created illiterate people in terms of emotions and feelings.
So in this setup that I mentioned, low EI people are the norm and not the exception and only through recent years (like 10-15 y.) people started to be more self aware and introspect. So if you say that there is “no hope” for us it seems like a pretty dim future and better results might be seen after many generations to come. 🙂 (I still hope this will not be case)

Thanks, Raluca.

I definitely don’t think there’s no hope for people with low emotional intelligence.

I just think it’s something people should be very aware of when getting into serious relationships.

Thanks for this Nick. This definitely resonates! I spent years married to an abusive, alcoholic, angry man. When I left him, I stupidly bounced into a marriage with an emotionally bereft man, mainly because he felt ‘safe’ because her never got angry and didn’t hit me. Years later I find myself in a loveless, boring life wondering where it all went wrong. I almost preferred the open aggression to the constant judgement and attempts to control my behaviour that I am now subject to.

In response to Raluca, I want to pose the idea that this development then only arrives later in life — I am the child of someone who lived through WWII as a teenager and emotions were not allowed, and I did choose low EI partners when I was young.
Only when I was truly safe again, did I allow myself to express emotions in a healthy manner, while still making mistakes: meaning it may not take generations. There’s hope!
Great content, Nick, thank you for writing about this in such a gentle and clear manner.

Nick – I appreciate how your writings are always so clear to understand.

Thank you for the article, – and all the comments & observations and Nick’s responses – very helpful.

Hey, Nick. It feels to me like you are shaming people who have low emotional intelligence. I am sure you have noticed that most of these people had rough childhoods where it was not allowed to have feelings. Or did you think you were talking to a huge sea of people who have high emotional intelligence?

Hi Laura, that was not my intent. Like I said in the article, low emotional intelligence is not a moral issue, and these are things we all struggle with to some extent.

The article is meant to encourage people to think about emotional intelligence as one (among many) important factors to consider before getting into a serious relationship.

Just like you might think twice before going into business with someone who had poor financial awareness and abilities, I think we ought to consider someone’s emotional intelligence before commiting to a serious relationship with them.

Behind all anger there is fear,..anger is a product of fear and pear is a product of worries.. I’d say behind all anger there is worries..if someone can control there worries they have controlled there anger.

I think overall it may applied to some or most people, but I also think that it can be bias. Culture, race, credo, education, moral, social status, etc. Can be had a deep emotional input into someone’s life.

I don’t think you guys should take this article in context as to avoid people with these things, but as to acknowledge them within yourselves we’re all capable of all these emotions and I think the naysayers are just probably the more guilty of them I think this was a very clear article on how to express yourself and how to read other people in these situations and you guys should probably back off a bit. I myself am guilty of emotional unintelligence but that doesn’t mean I fail across-the-board in emotional intelligence. so tired of people twisting helpful words of encouragement into negativity.

Another great article, Nick. I wonder if it would be helpful for those folks who are not fully understanding your advice to consider a floating emotional expression scale, much like a sex drive or vocabulary use scale. We all seek some compatability in this and other observable traits. You gave us some observable things to gage this with.

Plenty of hope for low emotion types. Find your match. Why would you want to be with a high emotional type anyway? Just a thought. No one is discriminating, just choosing. Thank you for the extra tools.

This is a good article…I am one of the people that says I am happy all the time which I am…I don’t avoid difficult emotions…I learned to work through them even when it’s tough…I enjoy being happy all the time and when the tough feelings come I can through them knowing happiness will be front in center not long after…

Acting happy all the time and not showing or discussing fear, anger, anxiety et al could be the result of an abusive upbringing. Any emotions other that happiness or contentment might trigger the abuser to lash out. The happy face might be a protective adaptation. Labeling such adaptation as “low” emotional intelligence is just more abuse of a vulnerable person.

Great article! I have been married 33 years. My husband was of low EI and I was a much more open to expressing my emotions, maybe too much. 2 years into our marriage he had a serious head injury. Over the last 20 years, what had been tolerable low EI turned into bizarre often violent behavior. Around everyone else he was Mr. Happy. I blamed myself. 2 years ago he got diagnosed with FTD (Fronto-temperal Degeneration) his brain is deteriorating. No one would believe me how cruel he was. I now have CPTSD. I left him in November to save my life. Now I see after your article why no one ever believed me. Thank you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

I have been extremely frustrated and distressed the past two years dealing with a family member who exhibits every single trait you describe. I berated myself for not getting through to him, until I recently realized that others respond to me very differently. Once, as I was sharing certain painful emotions I was experiencing, he put on a detached voice, as if giving an academic lecture, and started talking about a mutual relative’s political views from the 1950s ! An extreme instance of invalidating someone’s feelings.

This article sheds so much light into his persona, and lends clarity to many interactions I’ve had with him. I’ll literally stop gritting my teeth and start seeing him through this new perspective.

Would people who have no empathy and like to think of hurting other people when they are mad be a part of this group? My ex husband would say i dont want to talk about this or i dont want to talk about that. eventually converstions got perpetual like i love you see ya later with not much information about the day or anything else. But looking back maybe he was afraid too much information would get him caught in a lie. he had over 60 affairs in 13 years of marriage. Told me I was the pyscho, but later on I am very happy and fulfilled and found myself very empty and missing love very much in that relationship.

Great article and very timely to read as im in a place now (last place was victimhood) that allows me to feel my emotions as no right or wrong. Today I was going down the rabbit hole of resentment and blame in, not only my thoughts but my energy was zapped by this inner turmoil for something my ex had done and still doing. I decided 1 day was enough and truly sat back and looked within. I was actually sad and angry and it was ok for me to have these emotions going on. When I could name it as sad and angry, I could own it. I was accepting myself.

It’s very true.In my culture as am an African. We were taught no showing emotions such as anger,pain, frustration in my family you had to deal with it on your own,no complaining and it would considered that something is unacceptable and to be avoided .but thankfully as an adult I learned to Express my emotions. I remember venting with one of my sisters about something but she acted like it’s not acceptable, like talking about it not the solution she viewed like talking about it that am complaining,and she wasn’t empathetic she hurt me more and more and she didn’t realize it. For me EI Is very important while getting in serious relationship. Thanks Nick

How do u rate about following incident :

Once after a busiest schedule, i was returning home. Suddenly one govt high ranking officer’s PA called to have a dinner with his boss, for which i was desperately seeking to meet him personally for official matters. Without any hesitation i just nodded and headed straight to the hotel. But on the way got calls from my spouse and daughter (12Y) to return immediately for her birthday, which i forgot. I was extremely confused, now what to do. Meantime many requesting calls from my daughter to return. But after convincing my spouse i headed for the dinner. The high profile govt officer was almost got late by 3 hrs. Still i continued for waiting for him.

The true incident start from here :

The officer entered the hotel alongwith 10 persons (personally i know only 2 out of 10). When i tried to introduce myself, he shouted on me and to his PA that why i had been in this meeting without invitation. (Plz note i am meeting this officer for the first time and there is absolutely nothing in between us). PA tried to explain to him but he was not in a mood to listen anything. For few seconds, i got stunned. Don’t know what to do? Trying to guage all options. To say sorry and left the place, or to explain about the invitation by PA or to sit at another place etc. etc. The hotel is almost 25 Kms from city, no transportation (as came alongwith PA), almost 10.00 pm.

In such scenario….what u will do? Plz guess

I did following:

Finally i decided to sit at the extreme corner of the dinner table, tried my best to avoid any conversations with anyone especially avoiding the officer. Tried to have a peaceful dinner.

The officer, now started noticing that i am extremely upset. Then he was trying to explain, why he is trying to avoid meeting new people. Few from the group also trying to give input from their sides. After few minutes then i started talking, slowly, confidently but at the same time explaining how i truely got hurt not being with my daughter’s birthday. I expressed my emotions freely even i was literally cried in front of all. After knowing the truth, the officer was also a kind hearted man. He said sorry many many times in front of all too. Also he came to drop me at my house where we all celebrated my daughter’s birthday once again late night.

All the points what author mentioned here pertaining to high EI, seems i followed it all.

Thanks to the author.

Unfortunately negative spotlight also blinded the majority of folks
Who have constructed a very successful accepting and then adapting to make significant strides in regulating as in DBT to be below 40 percent.

To focus on being in the weeds labeling these traits are bad.

Finally the correct or incorrect 4 words verses 6 words left little to grasp the “healthy way.

It’s all judgement , very little observation nor kindness.

Lost half my esteem for you , sawfly dark and the picture is disturbing. Guy then looks to be abuser or dangerous.

I really like Nick’s blog but I strongly disagree with the notion in this article and with the notion of low versus high EQ in general. EQ has a few domains -self awareness, self control, people awareness and managing people’s emotions- and they sit on very broad skillsets that in some cases are almost mutually exclusive. For example, You can be extremely self aware but that makes you struggle more with self regulation and managing other people’s emotions because you know them so acutely. Pretty much every ‘sign’ described here is actually a sign of low emotional awareness rather than intelligence- in fact, some of the later dot points are actually signs of purposeful emotion regulation and while those are definitely not advanced EQ strategies, they are still miles ahead from someone Who doesn’t even try to regulate. I also observed that people who are truly good and managing other people/their emotions/highly skilled at ‘cooling down’ situations are actually far from being truly self-aware, in fact they often lack the depth of awareness and often care much less About the situation, which gives them an advantage of better perspective and while it might serve them well, that is far from being truly ‘’high EQ”either. I think low versus high EQ is very flawed notion- at a minimum, you need to think of ALL domains at once to actually assess even the minimum and these sort of assessments are quite hurtful Rather than helpful as they oversimplify a broad concept of EQ.

It’s a shame some readers missed the point. I found your article very helpful. Obviously, our personal life experiences, ethnic backgrounds & cultures shapes us all. But there’s an inherent truth; certain characteristics in an individual can & will impact us negatively & can result in painful experiences/outcomes if we ignore them.
Everyone has the capacity to learn & make changes to improve all aspects of their lives, including EI.
But the likelihood that someone with low EI who doesn’t see any value in becoming more open, self aware and transparent with their emotions will leave you wanting. Much like a Narcissist, you can have a relationship with one, but don’t think for a moment that most of what he/she does, isn’t self serving. Because it probably is. The object of their affection is in their reflection, after all the true Narcissist is all about me, me, me. For sure thefe won’t be much reciprocity in the relationship & you’ll end up with the short end of the stick. That doesn’t make them all bad, but there will be major limitations, & the outcome of the business partnership or relationship may be fairly negative.
A person can only change oneself, so choose wisely, don’t enter into any kind of business or relationship hoping YOU can change them. You can show kindness to anyone, encourage them, share truthfully & offer to help them become more EI, but there’s no guarantee they will change.

Keep up the Good work Nick! I loved all your insights.

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