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.