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Emotional Intelligence

Childhood Emotional Neglect Hampers Emotional Intelligence

Emotional neglect slows kids' absorption of emotional intelligence skills.

Key points

  • Emotional intelligence, EQ, has been found to contribute more to life satisfaction than IQ.
  • Those who grew up with emotional neglect have a diminished opportunity to learn five EQ skills as children.
  • The process of healing emotional neglect teaches you the five skills that raise your EQ.
9dreamstudio/Adobe Stock Images
Source: 9dreamstudio/Adobe Stock Images

We live in a society that greatly values intelligence. Many parents and their children are focused on getting good grades and attending college. And this is great! Intelligence and knowledge are vital tools for life.

However, research has shown that the intelligence quotient (the score collected in IQ tests) is not the end-all-be-all to intelligence. Your IQ is focused on your mental abilities—specifically, how well you reason. And this fails to measure multiple other essential human capabilities needed for a successful life.

Your emotional quotient (EQ), or emotional intelligence, measures what the classic IQ test does not. It measures your understanding of emotions and how they work in yourself and others. EQ has been shown by research to be extremely important in life. If you have a high EQ, you probably have good leadership ability, productivity, life satisfaction, and relational success. Put simply, if you have high emotional intelligence, you are more likely to be happy in your life.

There are five key skills to emotional intelligence. Think about your own abilities as you read about them below.

Emotional Intelligence: 5 Core Skills

1. Emotional Self-Awareness

This means that you are able to recognize when you experience a feeling, identify what feeling it is, and think about why you might be feeling it. Emotions have a place in your life, and you don’t ignore them or push them away.

Example: “I feel overwhelmed because I have a report due tomorrow and I haven’t started it yet.”

2. Emotional Regulation

You can only regulate your emotions if you have emotional awareness (skill 1 above). Once you know what you are feeling and why, you are in charge of what you do next with these feelings.

Example: “I’m going to spend the evening working on my report and keep in mind that I need to manage my time better. If this continues, I’ll have to talk to my boss about the overwhelm I’m feeling with this workload.”

3. Empathic Abilities

To have empathy, you need to have the two skills above. This skill requires you to recognize what others might be feeling, understand why they might be feeling that way, and help them manage their feelings. It’s crucial to have empathy so that you can connect with others around you. Whether you’re a parent, a partner, a boss, an employee, or a friend, this skill will help you develop and maintain relationships.

Example: “You seem sad today. Is everything OK?

4. Internal Motivation

When you have internal motivation, you are directed by your own preferences, desires, and passions. You are driven by what inspires you because you’re in touch with your emotional landscape. You don’t make decisions based on others. Because of this, you are probably someone who motivates others around you.

Example: “I’m going to practice my culinary skills every day because it’s a passion of mine to become a chef.”

5. Social Skills

Using all four skills above, you’re more apt to tackle complex social interactions. Perhaps you have a spat with your partner, need to mediate tensions at work in your managerial position or recognize a friend is struggling. Social skills allow you to manage these scenarios from a place of authenticity. In turn, the people you are around trust and respect you.

Example: “I’ve been noticing that Rochelle is keeping to herself lately. I recognize this is quite a difficult time of year for her after the passing of her father. I’m going to talk with her and see how I can support her.”

You might be wondering why some people have a higher EQ than others. You might also be wondering why some people can have a high IQ but greatly lack in their emotional intelligence skills.

In my experience as an expert in childhood emotional neglect, it is astoundingly clear to me that low emotional intelligence is directly connected to childhood emotional neglect.

Childhood Emotional Neglect: The Setup for Low Emotional Intelligence

When a child grows up in a family that does not acknowledge, recognize, respond to, or validate emotions enough throughout upbringing, that child experiences childhood emotional neglect.

Unfortunately, there are many families who live an emotion-intolerant life in our society today. That being said, these families can be well-intentioned and loving, but they just never learned the imperative nature of emotions.

As a result, children who were emotionally neglected become adults without access to their feelings. This wreaks havoc on their lives in a variety of different ways.

They are unable to identify or name, accept or validate, connect, or be directed by their feelings. Because of this, they may very well have trouble connecting with themselves and others. Perhaps they have difficulty making decisions or are guided by external factors rather than their own internal compass. They may feel unfulfilled, empty, and disconnected without an understanding of why.

Bottom line: Growing up with childhood emotional neglect prevents you from learning the five core skills of emotional intelligence.

But hope is not lost. Yes, childhood emotional neglect sets you up for a lower EQ. The good news is that you can heal your childhood emotional neglect and raise your EQ. I have seen hundreds of people do this in my counseling office and through my recovery program, Fuel Up for Life, which means you can do it, too.

Building Your Emotional Intelligence

  1. Emotional Self-Awareness: The first step to gaining emotional awareness is chipping away at the wall that stands between you and your feelings. While a focus inward may be challenging at first, over time you’ll be more likely to identify and accept the emotions you experience. Working with a therapist can be a great help toward gaining awareness and overcoming blocks that have been with you for quite some time.
  2. Emotional Regulation: As you begin to notice your feelings, you’ll soon recognize that you have lots of them! Regulating your emotions will be necessary: Listen to your feelings and what they’re telling you, manage and direct them, soothe yourself, and implement coping skills that work for you.
  3. Empathic Abilities: When you are emotionally attuned to yourself, you inevitably become more emotionally attuned to others. You’ll notice what other people in your life might be feeling, and conversations can transform from superficial to meaningful.
  4. Internal Motivation: With the emotion skills above, you’ll begin to align more closely with who you truly are. Your feelings guide you to make choices that are right for you. You’ll feel more passionate about life and what gives you purpose.
  5. Social Skills: Working on these skills opens you up to your emotional world. Here, you’ll find meaningful relationships, an authentic sense of self, and motivation toward your goals. As you heal your emotional neglect, your social skills can noticeably improve.

What if we became a society that greatly values emotions? If this ever happens, I’m willing to bet that people everywhere will be more connected, fulfilled, and joyful.

What do you say? Do you want to do the work to become more emotionally intelligent?

When you’re ready, just focus inward, and listen.

© Jonice Webb, Ph.D.


To determine if you might be living with the effects of childhood emotional neglect, you can take the free Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. You'll find the link in my bio.

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