There are many times in my work with gifted students that the question of emotional intelligence emerges as well as the deliberation over whether a strong EQ is favourable over a high IQ and the influence one might have on the other. Teachers and parents will often comment on the intensity of emotions that they observe and wonder about their child or student’s emotional intelligence. This sometimes leads to a conversation around the over-excitabilities (of which one is emotional over-excitability) which are considered gifted traits. So how do the over-excitabilities relate emotional intelligence, especially when it appears as thought the child is struggling with regulating their emotions?
Let’s start by defining emotional intelligence. In their seminal 1990 paper entitled Emotional Intelligence, Salovey and Mayer concluded that “emotionally intelligent people accurately perceive their emotions and use integrated and sophisticated approaches to regulate them as they proceed to important goals”. They warned that people who do not learn to regulate their emotions “may become slaves to them” while stating a common ailment “may involve people who cannot recognize emotion in themselves and are therefore unable to plan lives that fulfill them emotionally.”(p.17)
Borrowing from this work, Daniel Goleman, brought the term emotional intelligence into popular culture and put into motion what the Harvard Business Review in the late 90’s called “a ground breaking, paradigm-shattering idea” and as such it has become embedded not only in our educational conversations but business as well. One cannot help but see the imperative of engaging further in research that could potentially offer so much to so many and thus the field has since evolved to include new models and dimensions along with tools designed to measure EQ. In addition to this, several programs to teach emotional regulation have emerged, including spark*, The Zones of Regulation and SCERTS.
But what counts as a lack of emotional intelligence and is this an accurate descriptor for our over-excitable gifted students? If we look at it from the perspective of an emotional dysregulation diagnosis, early psychological trauma, brain injury, bi-polar disorder and autism are just some of the some of the factors that could contribute to a variety of exaggerated and sometimes aggressive outbursts. How might this differ from our over-excitable gifted students?
To start with, many parents of my students have reported that their children are able to regulate their emotions very well…until they get to a place where it is safe to express them, when they get home. Understanding and having a “safe place to land” can make an enormous difference with these children and when they have decompressed, trying to find the source. Then there are those who struggle with the fact that others do not share the same emotional sensitivities or intensities as they do and are confused when those same others do not see or react to perceived injustices or slights. Sometimes these situations result in tears or rage, but often can be resolved when the situation inciting the reaction is acknowledged and addressed. I have found many children to be relieved when they realize that they might have a different emotional experience than others. There are also my challenging or twice-exceptional students whose emotional outbursts can be alleviated by appropriate curriculum, recognition of gifts along with supportive and understanding adults in their lives.
So do these examples show a lack of emotional intelligence or inability to regulate? We need our emotions to draw awareness to an unmet need and these examples show what some of those unmet needs might be. In fact, I often wonder if we were in a rush to regulate whether we might create additional stress if root issues are not recognized and/or addressed for what they are.
But then there are those, whose anxiety, perfectionism and complexity of emotions can be debilitating and interfere with their success. To support these individuals it is important to acknowledge the intensity of their emotions and how they might experience emotions differently. From there it is important to begin cultivating strategies to address how some these emotions are being manifested. Resources I have used and shared with parents and teachers include Sharon Lind’s article at SENG.org on Over-Excitabilities and the Gifted, as well as the book “Letting Go of Perfect” by Jill Adelson PhD, and Hope Wilson PhD.
But a good question might be whether or not we could all benefit from strategies designed to assist those who struggle with varying degrees of emotional regulation? Those who experience emotional outbursts aside, there may be a great number of individuals struggling internally who could benefit from strategies that are taught. Growing awareness and understanding around our emotions sounds like a good thing as long as we remember that emotions are complex and provide us with valuable information with which to negotiate our world. The teaching regulation strategies would need to acknowledge this. At present our school district is beginning to work with the Zones of Regulation in many of our classrooms and I look forward to seeing how it helps students and influences the culture of the classroom.
For more perspectives on Emotional Intelligence, follow this month’s blog hop at Hoagie’s Gifted or click on the icon below.