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The Girl, The Rock and The Boat

Imagine an intelligent, sensitive young girl who is kidnapped and taken to a remote island somewhere among the thousand or so islands in Indonesia - an island inhabited only by her and her male captors.

She is raped daily. She is beaten if she struggles, and laughed at if she cries. She is forced to cook and wash the dishes and clothes of her captors – the very men who are raping her.

She is beaten if she shows any signs of rebelliousness or defiance…even the slightest facial gesture revealing her true feelings. She is also told she will never be allowed to leave the island, and has no reason or hope to believe otherwise.

Imagine that early one morning when the men are asleep and the water is still, she takes some heavy rocks and she puts them in a bag. Then she ties a short rope to the bag and puts the bag into a small wooden boat.

Then she climbs into the boat and paddles it out into the water. When she gets out far enough, she stops and ties the rope to her waist.

Then she climbs over the side of the boat, taking the rocks which are now tied to her. She does this to make sure there is no chance she will be able to swim to the surface if she starts to react from natural fear and instinctively begins to struggle to survive. In other words, she wants to be sure her emotional and physical pain will end, once and for all.

She sinks quickly. Moments later she is dead.

Would you now say that because she took her own life, this young girl suffered from a "deficit in emotional intelligence"?

This is actually what some of the researchers in the field of emotional intelligence seem to believe. In other words, that a more emotionally intelligent person would not have taken her own life to stop her extreme pain.

But I disagree. I have gotten to know many people who are in so much emotional pain that they have considered or attempted suicide. I have also seriously considered it. I know what leads a person to such desperation. I don't believe those who say that someone who considers, attempts, or commits suicide suffers from "deficits in emotional intelligence."

It is shocking to me that intelligent people can complete more than 6 years of study in highly prestigious universities, obtain the title of PhD in psychology and yet not understand something as simple as the relationship between emotional pain and suicide.

To me this is a serious indictment of what is called the higher education system, a system in which millions of people put so much faith.

If these people don't understand emotional pain, self-harm and suicide any better than this, I would strongly suggest we not take as unquestioned truth anything they say about what emotional intelligence is and is not.

S. Hein
June 2006

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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 cloddish 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. Source

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. (source and back up copy)