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How to Start Developing Emotional Intelligence

If surrender and stopping drinking are the turning point, then developing emotional intelligence is the key to putting real distance between yourself and the last drink (and the next one). In 12-step work, the process is described in terms of spiritual growth, but even Bill Wilson, AA’s cofounder, admitted that he was lacking in emotional sobriety, regardless of the step-work he had done.

Researchers Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer stated a working definition of emotional intelligence in 1990 that is as follows:

“. . . the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor ones own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

Salovey and Mayer identified four components of emotional intelligence:

  • Perceiving emotions—Initially, it is important to notice and identify emotions. Sometimes this includes awareness of non-verbal cues like body language and facial expressions.
  • Reasoning with emotions—Emotions play an important role in how we prioritize what we pay attention to.
  • Understanding emotions—Emotions are triggered by perception, and understanding the perception gives insight into the emotion. If your spouse is angry, it may be that you did something disagreeable to him or her, or it may be that some other circumstance is upsetting.
  • Managing emotions—Developing emotional intelligencemeans nurturing an ability to regulate one’s own emotions and respond appropriately. It also means responding appropriately to other people’s feelings.

Alcoholics and drug addicts, having spent years suppressing emotions by self medicating, often find themselves emotionally raw in early sobriety, and ill equipped to deal with their own random and wild emotional fluctuations, let alone the feelings of others.

Developing emotional intelligence means becoming aware of and deliberately outgrowing impulse control problems, boundary problems, the suppression of feelings, a tendency to be manipulative, and a host of other symptoms that interfere with emotional well-being and the ability to develop healthy relationships.


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