Emotional Intelligence, EQ, certainly helps explain a lot of the problems I have
faced and have seen people with substance abuse problems face. I have spent most of my
life feeling like an outsider, like I didn’t quite fit in. In school I was always picked last for
teams, I was teased relentlessly, and was not one of the popular. I finally found a place
where I felt ‘normal’ when I started attending AA meetings. I have tried to explain to
friends, family, co-workers, and anyone that was interested what it is like to be an alcoholic
and or drug addict, but unless you have been one it is very difficult to understand this social
and emotional tightrope I have always felt I was about to tumble off. Especially if they
have been raised with emotional balance. I, being raised in an extremely dysfunctional
alcoholic home, had no basis to determine if my behavior was what was acceptable or not
because for me everyday what was acceptable changed.
My boss for example is always asking me what caused me to become alcoholic, and
how it feels and all kinds of questions like that. I try to explain it but he still looks at me
with that deer in the headlights look. Like Goleman (1997) says, “Every strong emotion
has at its root an impulse to action; managing those impulses is basic to emotional
intelligence” (p. 143). So basically my alcoholism doesn’t have a reason behind it other
then that I felt different and drinking, at first, helped break down that barrier and made me
feel like I fit in. So I used as an impulse reaction to emotions I could not understand within
myself and for me AA has helped me manage those impulses and recognize the emotions.
I took an EQ test online after I read this book and I scored 75 out of 100. Twenty years ago
I would have been surprised to score 30 on that test. I just wasn’t very in tune with myself
However my upbringing has given me some positives. I am very capable of
motivating myself in many difficult situations, I have total impulse control and am able to
delay gratification and am able to regulate my moods and usually can control my thinking.
This did not come easily and it did not come fast. I had to spend the last five years
working on these areas. When I was using or drinking everything was a difficult situation
and there was no control over impulse or thought. If I wanted to do something I did it
regardless of the consequences. I was very self-absorbed, self-centered and thought
everything bad that happened was someone else’s fault. I have learned through AA that
what I have been through has been a life lesson to better prepare me for helping others with
substance abuse problems. I have learned to have balance. I recognize today that I can
have feelings and accept their significance but I don’t necessarily have to act right away on
them. I can use my rational thought to counter balance the impulsive thought processes I
have, which are usually wrong.
I have to change my thinking in order to deal with life and all its little upsets. The
things that most people take for granted I usually have to consciously think about the
alternative outcomes and use rationality to decide the right choice. It gets easier but
sometimes it is still a struggle. What is considered by most people to be right is dependent
on whether it is felt in the heart or the head and most people can figure that out fairly
easily. I however seem to have to try to figure it out, it take’s me longer I think because I
didn’t have it as a child. I believe this will help me in counseling because I know what
many of my clients are feeling, like the misfit. It should help me to better empathize with
them and better able to help them take responsibility and be accountable for their actions. I
will be able to build a better rapport with the clients.
I have a very keen ability to read non-verbal’s, always have when someone is not
feeling right, and this should give me the ability to be better in tune with my clients, to
better understand what they are really trying to say not so much by what they are saying
but how they are saying it.. I learned that at a very early age it was not what my father
yelled or said but the tone of his voice, the look in his eyes or the way he was holding his
hands that told me what was going on.
According to Goleman the factors of EQ are:
1. Self awareness—knowing and recognizing your own emotions as they happen.
2. Mood management—handling these feelings in the appropriate context of the
3. Self-motivation—using these feelings to attain a goal.
4. Empathy—the ability to recognize feelings in other people.
5. Managing relationships—ability to handle these feelings as they occur in
relationships and conflict (p. 43).
I am better able to do all these things since I stopped drinking and became affiliated with
Erikson’s theory contends that having a negative outcome in any one of the stages
has a profound effect on all subsequent stages. However he thinks that one can overcome
the negative later in life and be productive. Goleman also believes this to be true as do I.
Goleman quotes Stern, “An imbalance at one point can be corrected later; it’s an ongoing,
lifelong process” (p. 101). This is referring to the way an infant learns not to rely on its
caregiver, to not trust as Erikson would put it. But I think even in this first stage if trust is
not established it can be repaired later in the life process. For example, I did not develop a
trusting relationship with either of my parents. My mother worked and my father drank.
So in my household dysfunction was the norm. I stuffed emotions so as not to draw
attention to myself and become the target of my father, my mother also did this to try to
keep the peace and my brother did as well for the same reasons. Not developing trust early
in my childhood did hinder many relationships I have had over the years but now I can
look back and realize that in some ways not developing that trust actually helped me
survive. It kept me from trusting people who would have hurt me, I intuitively knew not
all people were kind or helpful and could protect myself.
In response to EQ being able to be learned well I would say definitely yes it can. I
am a prime example. I have experienced first hand the problems of not being emotionally
in tune with others and yourself. It has destroyed the life I thought and dreamed I would
have, but learning to be more emotionally in tune has given me another life, another dream.
I very much liked the concept of ‘flow’. I have experienced this many times. It is
like floating without a care in the world and being in total focus. The concentration is
palpable. Other people tell me that when I am playing pool sometimes it is like I am in a
trance, they try to talk to me but I don’t hear them. I rarely miss when in this zone. But it
is like Goleman talks about, “a state of self-forgetfullness” because I often forget I am in
public (p. 91). I talk to myself out loud and don’t realize it until I get back to my
teammates and they ask me what I said and I usually can’t tell them because I don’t
I used to have a lot of negative self-talk, but learned in undergraduate how to use
positive self talk to help me attain a goal. I was in speech class and had to give a speech. I
had never done this before and was terrified, but the instructor gave me a book about
positive self talk and I read it and figured I could do that. Goleman talks about this when
he talks about optimism and hope being abilities that can be learned (p. 89). You are onto
this same thing in your self-efficacy study. I used the positive self talk to develop my
competence for talking in front of people and now it doesn’t usually bother me at all. I
have often thought that in school (kindergarten thru 12th) we should be taught not only the
basic skills of reading writing and arithmetic but also the basics of living--how to deal with
our emotions, rationally so they don’t control us.
I used to worry about everything, the bills, a paper I had to write, my car, my
daughter, the cat and on and on. I would keep myself up at night trying to figure out how
to deal with this problem or that one and all it did was make me tired and less able to deal
with what I had to deal with. It is like a vicious circle, worry; once you start it can cascade
into a spiraling tunnel out of which it is hard to escape. I ended up with depression, mild,
but had to take medication for a few months to get out of it. It was like a self-fulfilling
prophecy that Goleman discusses, “Rumination can also make the depression stronger by
creating conditions that are, well, more depressing” (p. 71). If I worried about it long
enough it would happen. Well of course it did because I was too tired and brain frazzled to
stop it from happening. If I worried about forgetting to pay a bill I would be tired and
forget to mail the bill with the check in it then I’d get a disconnect notice and ta-da my
worries were founded.
Anxiety can produce positive and negative outcomes for me. In high school
because of all the tensions at home and my inability to handle my emotions, relationships,
etc., I did not do well academically. I had the capability to be an A student I just didn’t
have the energy. All my time was spent trying to walk on eggshells, not get into too much
trouble a school or dad would find out and that would not be good. But once I was out of
that environment and on my own I could harness the anxiety over a paper or a test to help
me to motivate myself to study. Now I sort of like the anxiety that comes with school
work. Anger also seems to have the same effect on me. When I first stopped drinking I did
it because people said I couldn’t-so just to show them I stayed sober. This is an example of
how anger or anxiety can motivate someone to do something and make it positive from a
This also helps in the area of delayed gratification. Goleman talks about a study that
suggests, “The ability to delay gratification contributes powerfully to intellectual
potential…IQ cannot be changed…ample evidence that emotional skills…can be learned”
(p. 83). I always want what I want and right now, but through learning to regulate my
emotions and have patience I have learned that sometimes patience means a better pay off
then immediate satisfaction. In my schooling this is especially helpful. I am able to break
projects down into manageable pieces so I don’t get overwhelmed. I am able to pace
myself and complete tasks on time. I believe this will help me in counseling because in that
field a counselor needs to work independently and meet deadlines. I think this will help me
with clients because in this field one doesn’t always see the results right away. Some
clients take more motivating and need more assistance so patience and tenacity are helpful
Being in touch with my own emotions was a huge hurdle for me once I got sober. I
was usually able to figure out what other people were feeling because of my upbringing. In
my house if dad was happy we all had to be happy if he wasn’t you learned to be in
whatever mood he was in for survival. So learning to be in touch with my emotions was
difficult. I also liked Golemans statements about health being tied to emotional balance. I
knew I was not good at relationships so I would avoid getting close to people. Well all that
did was isolate me and I would get sick, physically. In my first three years of sobriety I
was at the doctors probably 10 times for bronchitis. In my next three years of sobriety,
after I started AA and got into the fellowship and developed some friendships, I have only
been to the doctors twice and neither time was for bronchitis. I definitely believe in the
whole body approach to health, it is not just mental or physical or emotional. I think it is
all inclusive, body, mind, spirit, emotions, and outside and internal.
I understand the books intention of wanting to teach children to deal with emotions
and not let them rule you, but I am not quite sure how to teach that when a child is in a
situation like mine. I mean I am much better now but I am not sure it can realistically be
taught in a classroom, it may be something that has to be learned in the world as I learned
it. If the home life is dysfunctional how will you get the parents involved? Perhaps helping
the child deal with their emotions will help, but it will still be hard to overcome those
negatives. Teachers and the faculty at schools can only do so much. Other relatives are
usually so confused with the situation they may not be much help. I think this is a great
idea just a little too utopian in the real world. Golemans says, “Emotional lessons—even
the most deeply implanted habits of the heart learned in childhood—can be reshaped.
Emotional learning is lifelong” (p.214). I think he is conveying the same sentiment, that
this is a great idea but may need to be taught through life’s lessons rather then a schools
curriculum. But I liked the book and that is one of the reasons I am going into this
profession, to help as much as I can; so I think I will incorporate some of the ideas from
this book into my work with clients.