Emotional intelligence is one of those traits that tends to be woefully underdeveloped in men. Call it part of the toxic masculinity package; when things like “having feelings” are treated as a weakness, men are taught to bottle them up and pretend they don’t exist.
It’s not terribly surprising. After all, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “get in touch with your emotions”? In all likelihood, it’s an absurd image of men sitting in a circle, crying like little girls1 and going through lists of petty hurts and insults. Why the hell would any dude want to do that when they could be spending time with their friends, doing man shit instead?
But what if I told you that low emotional IQ was part of why suicide rates are so much higher in men than in women? What if I told you that having low emotional intelligence is part of why you’re so lonely? Or maybe I might tell you that the more emotionally intelligent you are, the more likely you are to get laid?
Yeah, I thought that might get your attention.
Here’s the truth about understanding our emotions: the more men are disconnected from how we feel, the harder it is for us to connect with others. It isolates us, cripples us and means that we have an even harder time trying to just get a date. Maybe it’s time to stop laughing about “cry babies” and “beta males” and start improving our emotional intelligence.
Emotions Vs. Intelligence: Why You Need Both
Emotions and emotional intelligence tends to be seen as the dump stat in men. Part of it is simply the way that emotion and intelligence get portrayed as oppositional forces. Emotion – so we’re taught – gets in the way of rational thinking and logic. It’s become part of the online discourse; show any signs of an emotional reaction and clearly you’ve ceded the high ground.
Hell, that GIF may be mostly for jokes, but the “emotions ‘r’ bad” meme even infects Star Wars. Feeling too much causes you to fall to the Dark Side after all. Better to repress it all and just live in serene logic at all times. Intelligence is so much better because hey, it lets you see the world as it really is. Reductive nihilism is cool, yo. And really what’s the point of having highly tuned feelings anyway? It just makes you into a pussy snowflake who’s always offended and crying about something, right? Cool, smart guys have super thick skins and don’t get bothered by anything.
(Except, y’know, when McDonalds runs out of their nugget sauce.)
In reality, it’s the opposite. People who claim to be the least emotional and have the thickest skins also tend to be the ones who lose their shit the most. And usually over the stupidest damn things. Why is that?
Well, it’s because emotional intelligence is part of what gives you the capability of handling complexities and nuance. The lower your EQ, you’re more likely to fly off the handle and be unable to, say, deal with petty annoyances.
It may be helpful to think of emotional intelligence in terms of video game consoles. Yeah, this is going to be an absurdly clumsy metaphor but stick with me. The Nintendo Entertainment System, for example, was an 8-bit system. 8-bit, in this case, refers to a processors’ “word size” – that is, the amount of data it can handle, the memory addresses it can process, the instructions it can run, and so forth. An 8-bit system can handle integer values up to 255. A 16-bit system like the Super NES can handle up to 65,535. 32-bit systems even more. 2
The greater the processor capability, the more you can do with it. You have more resources to use, which lets you do more advanced calculations and run more complicated instructions. So having more emotional intelligence is akin to having a 16-bit (or greater) processor.
You can do a decent amount with an 8-bit system – look at beloved games like The Legend of Zelda – but it’s pretty damn limited. Having more processing power means that you can do more. In practical terms, having a higher emotional IQ means that you have more bandwidth to that you can use to process data. You not only have a wider array of emotions and emotional responses, but a greater ability to recognize and respond to those emotional responses.
So, emotionally speaking, we have the difference between The Legend of Zelda and Skyrim.
Having a lower emotional IQ means that you have fewer tools to work with, and the ones you do have are far less versatile. It’s harder, for example, to recognize attraction in someone else when you don’t have much emotional fluency yourself. Making friends is harder when you have limited emotional bandwidth; how do you get someone to like you when you’re not terribly conversant in why we like people? Yeah, you may be incredibly smart… but if you’re another person who mistakes “intelligence” for “being an asshole”, you’re going to have harder time understanding why nobody wants to be your friend. You can’t accomplish as much if you’re not able to connect or collaborate with folks.
Similarly, it’s difficult to deal with your own emotions with limited emotional bandwidth. It’s hard to overcome approach anxiety, because those sensations overwhelm your ability to process them. Rejection becomes that much harsher when you can only devote so much of your bandwidth to managing it. Fights with your partner get so much worse when you can’t connect with them on an emotional level and get to the core of the conflict.
Plus: higher emotional intelligence means that people can’t use your emotions against you.
So instead of living with dueling “u mad?”‘s, it’s time to start investing in your own emotional IQ.
Improve Your Emotional Vocabulary
The first step to raising your emotional intelligence is to start increasing your vocabulary.
No. For real.
You may have seen lists that get shared on Facebook and Tumblr about emotions other cultures have for that English doesn’t have words for. They sound absolutely insane at first… but when you think about it, they make sense. You might be familiar with schadenfreude (the happiness you feel at other people’s misery), but what about backpfeifengesicht (the feeling that a face desperately needs your fist in it). How about iktsuarpok (the anticipation of someone coming to visit that’s so intense, you keep checking to see if there here yet.) How many times have you felt l’appel du vide (the almost instinctive desire to jump from a high space)?
Put a word to it and suddenly everything clicks home. Of course you’ve felt that before. You just didn’t know there was a word for it.
That’s because the better your vocabulary is, the better your emotional vocabulary is. It’s like the old saw about the Inuit having 50 words for “snow” or the way a beer snob has 400 ways to try to explain why IPAs aren’t overhyped garbage.
Like wizards of old understood, words have power and to name something is to shape it and force it into existence. Less poetically – yet still freaking amazingly – language literally shapes how we think and feel. Language changes how we relate to the world around us. For example: people who speak languages that use absolute positioning (north, south, west, etc.) instead of relative positions (right, left), have almost supernatural sense of direction and location. On the other hand, if we don’t have words for the concept or the object it functionally doesn’t exist for us. We become like hosts in Westworld; we can look straight at it, but it doesn’t look like anything to us.
Doubt it? Go to a Home Depot and check out paint samples. How long is it going to take you to see a meaningful difference between bone, ecru and oatmeal? How about lime, mint, sea foam and avocado?
Once you have the words for something, you are better able to understand it. Once you can understand it, the more you can categorize it, anticipate it and respond to it.
But of learning the words is just the start. You also have to feel them.
Confused? Well consider this:
Feel The Complexity Of Your Feelings
Have you ever heard the way that someone who’s really into something talks about the object of their obsession? A vinyl enthusiast will talk about the “warmth” of the sound from analog that can’t be replicated by digital playback. If you’ve ever been to a wine tasting, you may have heard people talking about things like “nose”, “body”, “legs”, whether it’s “jammy” or “green” or “mineraly”. Chocolate tastings may focus on the cocoa solids and the mouthfeel. You may hear a fan of Scotch talk about the smoke, the spice or the difference between a Speyside and an Islay.
You, on the other hand may just think Scotch tastes like burning. What is it that they’re getting out of this that you aren’t? Aren’t bourbon fans just making shit up to feel superior about drinking fermented corn squeezings?
No, those tastes and notes are all there. These fans have just spent more time learning how to pay attention to the subtleties. It’s not just pretentiousness designed to make snobs feel special; there really are variations in flavors if you start taking time to notice them. Even seemingly simple flavors like “vanilla” can be incredibly deep and complex when you stop to savor and explore them.
That subtlety exists in your emotions too. In fact, your emotions are far more subtle and nuanced than you’ve ever realized. Consider: what is the difference between anger and rage? How do you feel when your boss cancels time off despite your having planned your vacation for months? Now how do you feel when someone kicks your dog? It’s more than just intensity; there’re layers to how you feel and why. What are they?
What about the difference in frustration, annoyance and pique? Think of the way you feel when your computer crashes and erases all of the work you’ve done for the last hour. Now think of when you’re running late for work, and you’re almost going to make it on time when your subway gets delayed two stations away from your stop.
Can you tell the difference between depression and melancholy? How many levels are there in negative emotions? Where on the scale does “feeling like hammered shit” fall in relation to “like crap?”
What about positive ones? How much of a difference is there between happy, ecstatic and thrilled? What is the difference in the feeling of the excitement of starting a new relationship and the feeling of seeing a long-term lover at the end of the day?
This may seem like an effete exercise in emotional snobbery. What does it matter if your frustration is tinged with resentment or your anger is layered with disappointment? But there are practical reasons for examining the complexity of your emotions. The more that you can distinguish the specifics of how you feel, the more you can accomplish with those emotions. You can mitigate them, relieve them or even spur them onwards.
For example: you’re feeling depressed. Is it because you’re lonely? Are you dissatisfied with work? Then maybe this is a sign to talk to your boss or to start looking for another job. Are you frustrated with dating? What, specifically are you frustrated by and what steps can you take to relieve it? If there isn’t a specific reason behind you feeling down for so long, then maybe that’s a sign you need to talk to a professional.
On the other hand, when you’re in tune with your emotions, you can anticipate them and head off problems at the pass. You know that specific things trigger feelings of jealousy? Cool, now you can talk about them with your partner before those things cause a relationship extinction event. You know specific behaviors that make you angrier when you’re having an argument? That’s information your partner should know so you can resolve conflicts more effectively.
By the same token, the more that you familiarize yourself with positive emotions, the more you can recognize these feelings in others. Maybe there’s someone you think is objectively attractive but doesn’t do anything for you sexually. Why is that? Because they’re a bundle of negativity? Because they lack a spark of energy or curiosity that you find appealing?
Meanwhile there’s someone who isn’t your usual type but just turns your crank because you can see a level of warmth and caring in them that you crave in your relationships.
Fair warning: doing this isn’t comfortable. Very few of us have ever sat and actually tried to catalog our feels. But it’s that inexperience that’s part of what makes us so uncomfortable with emotional displays, in ourselves or in others. What, exactly are we supposed to do?
But that’s the entire point of sitting and exploring the breadth and depth of how you feel. If you know what makes you feel better after a heartbreak, then you can help your friends instead of just trying to numb them with booze. You can deal with an upset friend instead of silently praying for them to just shut up and stop making you feel weird.
Being aware of the way you feel – in all it’s texture, in all it’s glory – helps you understand and perceive these feelings in others.
So how do you do this?
Tell Me Now How Do I Feel
One of the reasons why men are so bad at connecting with their emotions? Because we never actually examine them. We spend far more time trying to repress them than we do actually sitting with them. Self-examination, after all, is for cucks and betas. Real men accept everything with stoic toughness.
Except for the part where a) you’ve completely misunderstood the Stoics and b) you’re crippling yourself, emotionally.
Denying the depth and complexity of your emotions is like denying yourself the ability to see color because someone told you that knowing the difference between pink and salmon is for cucks. Those people are idiots who are going to die alone because they’ve bottled everything up and cope with their dysfunction by developing peptic ulcers and heart attacks. You, on the other hand, are a sexy emotional Jedi who is one with the Force and the Force is with them.
That is, of course, you learn how to pay attention.
Now there are any number of ways to get a handle on your feels, from talk therapy to mindfulness meditation. But one of the easiest is to simply pause and start to name your feelings. How do you feel right now? Are you content? Are you anxious? Do you feel relaxed or do you feel uptight? Are you stressed? Why are you stressed?
You want to take some time and really get into the weeds with it. What are the layers of this emotion? Is your contentment based on feeling physically cozy and warm on a cool day? Maybe you’ve just finished a large project and you’re indulging in a much needed break. Is it flavored with satisfaction of a job well done or relief that this particular trial is over?
If you’re anxious, how is this anxiety manifesting? Do you feel anxious in anticipation of something or are you waiting for the fallout of previous actions? Don’t neglect your physical sensations; we feel our emotions in our bodies as much as we do in the mind or the heart. Do you feel the anxiety in your heart, or your stomach? Are you shaking or are your muscles taut? Are you more in your head or your torso right now?
So now that you’re starting to get familiar with these layered feelings… how would you describe them? Is there a specific word that encompasses these feelings? Is it something like sonder – the sudden realization that people have as vivid and real a life as you? Can you find a way to describe it in as few words as possible but still maintain that emotional texture?
Now, I get it: this feels like intellectual masturbation. What’s the point of deciding that you feel this particular stress in your shoulders or mapping the exact shape of a headache? Well, I’m glad you asked, convenient rhetorical device…
Turn It Outwards
There are a large number of benefits to be had in raising your emotional intelligence. Being more comfortable and intimate with your own feelings makes it much easier to manage them. When you’re more in tune with how you feel, you can tone down your shyness. You can manage your approach anxiety and build your emotional resilience.
Just as importantly though, you can turn that emotional intelligence outwards. Spending some quality time with self-examination actually improves your life, socially. People who are more in touch with their own emotions and inner lives are better at reading and interpreting the emotional states of others. Being familiar with yourself makes it easier to have empathy for everyone else. If you know that when you get stressed, you start to carry your tension in your neck and shoulders, you can recognize that familiar stiffness in someone else. You know how you act when you’re bored or ready to ditch a conversation. Now if you see someone else making those same expressions, you’ll know it’s time to bow out gracefully and talk to someone else.
Alternately, if you get how you act when you’re shy and flustered, you’re less likely to confuse someone else’s emotional overload for disdain or disinterest. It’s easier to recognize attraction in others when you are more intimate with the ways that you feel attraction.
But there are benefits beyond just being able to recognize emotional states in other people. Being more aware and mindful of your own inner self means that you’re better able to relate to others. Being able to empathize with people and put yourself into their shoes helps bridge the gaps in people and culture. People are less confusing and less intimidating when you’re able to identify with them. After all, it’s far easier to to connect with people when you can understand where they’re coming from instead of treating them like some strange, inscrutable “other”.
It can be a little intimidating at first. You’re going to have to get up close and personal with some not terribly comfortable sensations and emotions. But even that has it’s benefits: confronting negative emotional states can actually make you happier overall.
So it’s time to stop trying to dominate your emotions – or pretend that you can control them. Spend a little time examining studying how you feel… and you’ll be better able to understand how others feel too.