How Social Emotional Intelligence Affects Your Relationships
Most discussions of intelligence focus on thinking abilities such as abstract reasoning or logic. However, another form of intelligence known as social emotional intelligence is just as important when it comes to forming and maintaining relationships. Your social emotional intelligence refers to your ability to navigate social situations and develop socioemotional attachments with other people. This helps others feel like they belong as well as making you feel more connected to other people. Having high social emotional intelligence can reduce feelings of loneliness, promote healthy relationships, and improve your overall health.
Although Loneliness is Normal, It is Associated with Poorer Health
It seems that Americans are lonelier than ever. In fact, a 2015 article in Time magazine posited that loneliness might be our next major public health problem. Despite greater connectedness through social media, an estimated 1 in 5 Americans report that they are persistently lonely. Social media may actually be making the loneliness problem worse. If you feel unconnected from other people, viewing social media showing others having fun or hanging out with friends can exacerbate your own feelings of loneliness.
Humans are social beings, meaning that we are sensitive to changes in social status or frequency of socializing with others. Occasional feelings of loneliness are totally normal. After moving to a new city or not seeing your friends for a few weeks, it’s completely normal to feel a little blue. However, persistent loneliness is a psychologically unhealthy state that can also have serious consequences for physical health.
Feeling lonely causes physiological stress, which leads to the release of stress hormones such as cortisol. Although some cortisol is helpful for mental acuity, persistently high cortisol levels elevate your risk for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, immune system dysfunction, systemic inflammation, and mental difficulties. Additionally, high cortisol and inflammation levels are associated with a high allostatic load. Allostatic load is the “wear and tear” your body experiences when you are feeling persistently or chronically stressed. A chronic stressor like loneliness can dramatically increase allostatic load, putting additional pressure on organ and tissue systems that are already nearing exhaustion.
Taken together, these scientific findings mean that feeling lonely significantly increases your risk for chronic disease. Plus, lonely people without rich social networks often do not have the resources that help to promote healthy living. This is why a 2015 study found that feeling lonely increases your risk of dying by 26%, while living alone or being socially isolated increase mortality risk by 29 to 32%.
Social Emotional Intelligence Affects Feelings of Belongingness
If loneliness is on the rise and contributing to elevated risk for disease, then we need to find ways to combat it. The opposite of loneliness is a feeling of belongingness. Belonging refers to feelings of connection, being seen by others, and true acceptance of yourself as a person. Like loneliness, belonging is a subjective state. You might have an objectively large number of friends and acquaintances, but if you do not feel like anyone really “gets” you, you may still feel like you do not belong. In other cases, feeling stressed or overwhelmed by a difficult situation can make it challenging to use your social network effectively. In those situations, many of us simply shut down and block people out.
So how does social emotional intelligence affect feelings of belongingness? Your social emotional intelligence — and that of your friends — contributes to how connected you feel to others. People with high social emotional intelligence are good at making other people feel like they matter. They may also be better at seeking the type of help that facilitates their own belongingness.
For instance, think of a time when you were feeling a large amount of stress at work or in your personal life. Did you have someone you could rely on for help? What did this person do? Did they make you feel like they truly understood what you were going through? A person with high social emotional intelligence would be able to empathize with your situation and discern what might help you relax. Basically, it is a person who makes you feel better and more connected, even when you are stressed out.
How to Increase Your Social Emotional Intelligence
Unlike your intellectual abilities, which are relatively static, social emotional intelligence is changeable. Consider the following tips to develop your social emotional intelligence:
- Listen to others. Sure, you are probably hearing what other people say, but do you truly listen? Focused, intent listening allows you to understand the subtext of a person’s conversations. For example, if you ask your partner how he is doing, he might say, “…okay, I guess.” Rather than taking that statement at face value, a person who truly listens might probe for more information to see if something is amiss.
- Meet face to face. Social media is a great way to keep up with distant friends and relatives, but nothing beats a face-to-face meet-up. This also allows you to observe your friends’ body language and responses to your conversation. Meeting in person can dispel feelings of loneliness or disconnection.
- Reduce personalization of negative reactions. Sometimes, we receive social cues that make us feel rejected or more alone. A person with high social emotional intelligence is more likely to avoid personalizing those cues. For instance, rather than thinking, “I can’t believe Kathy hung out without me. Maybe she doesn’t really like me after all,” you might think, “Wow, I haven’t seen Kathy in far too long — we must have both gotten busy. I should call her to catch up!”
- Be assertive. When you need emotional or social support, just ask! Communicating clearly and assertively about your needs will help to increase your feelings of belongingness.