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Insecurity and Emotional Intelligence - The Story of the Missing Group

One problem with the popular models of emotional intelligence is that they attribute too much to either having EI or not having it. Here is an example from my own life of a situation where my emotional insecurity distorted my emotional intelligence. (From 2006)


Here in Salta, Argentina where I am living now, there is an English conversation group, organized by Alex from the UK. It meets every Wednesday night. One night I went to the usual meeting place around 8:40, thinking the meeting started at 8:30. When I arrived, there was no one there. I felt confused. I decided to sit at a table outside and wait for a while. As I waited I wondered if maybe Alex had changed the meeting place and not told me, but had told everyone else because he or someone else didn’t want me there.

This might sound totally irrational, but this is what I actually thought. This is how the mind of an insecure person functions, or dysfunctions, as the case may be. The insecure mind invents things, forgets things. It distorts reality. And I will add "the abused mind". If you didn’t know, I was sexually abused when I was 18 by a male university professor. I was also physically abused by two teachers who hit me with boards between the ages of about 11 and 13, And I was psychologically abused by my family, being raised to be overly afraid of rejection and disapproval.

That night at the table, had I been just a little more insecure and afraid of rejection, I would have left and never even called anyone to ask what happened with the meeting. When I feel rejected, even if it is an irrational fear based on distorted thinking or false assumptions, I typically just leave quietly, like a dog who slinks away. But that night I tried to think logically. Eventually I remembered the meetings start at 9:30 and not 8:30.

I went back around 10:00 and found that there still was no one there! Again my mind started inventing scenarios. But a waitress quickly noticed me and told me they had moved to another location. I then went there, found the group having its usual meeting and enjoyed myself, all the while still feeling a bit foolish for thinking that the whole group had conspired against me.

My point is that we can not evaluate a person's emotional management skills without taking their level of insecurity (and many other factors) into account. If I were to have left the meeting, decided that there was no point in living because everyone was always going to reject me and then killed myself, would it be fair to say it was because I suffered from a deficit in low emotional intelligence? This is what Salovey and Mayer implied in their 1990 paper and what they still seem to believe based on Jack Mayer's current website information.

I don't think it would be fair to say I killed myself because had low EI. I believe my suicide would be more a factor of my insecurity and past rejections, real and imagined. And I believe the insecurity itself is due to way I was raised and the abuse I've suffered, not because of an innate deficit in emotional intelligence. In fact, I believe a person who is emotionally intelligent and abused can be expected to do irrational and self-destructive things because they both think and feel more intensely.

Steve Hein
Salta, Argentina
June 21, 2006


Here is what Peter Salovey and Jack Mayer wrote in their first important paper on EI in 1990:

Many problems in adjustment may arise from deficits in emotional intelligence. People who don’t learn to regulate their own emotions, may become slaves to them. Individuals who can’t recognize emotions in others, or who make others feel badly, may be perceived as clodish or oafish and ultimately be ostracized. Other peculiarities of emotional deficits exist as well. Sociopaths, who are impoverished in their experience of emotion, seem to over-regulate mood in others for their own purposes. A far more common ailment may involve people who cannot recognize emotion in themselves and are therefore unable to plan lives that fulfill them emotionally. Such planning deficits may lead to lives of unrewarded experience lived by individuals who become depressed, even suicidal.

Salovey, P. & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 185-211.

And here is what Jack currently says on his website:

The high EI individual, relative to others, is less apt to engage in problem behaviors, and avoids self-destructive, negative behaviors such as smoking, excessive drinking, drug abuse, or violent episodes with others. Link

Related article on new site about suicide and the Mayer Salovey model of EI

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