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Being able to identify what you are feeling, what those feelings mean, and how those emotions impact your behavior (and others) are essential skills in addiction recovery. This is called emotional intelligence (EI). Unlike cognitive intelligence, which is one’s ability to learn and remember, emotional intelligence has a huge impact on your ability to stay sober.1
Although it sounds simple, developing emotional intelligence takes time, persistence, and, most often, professional help along the way. Below, we’ll take a closer look at emotional intelligence, the role it plays in recovery, and how you can become more emotionally intelligent to bolster your sobriety and maintain long-lasting recovery.
What is emotional intelligence?
Mental Health America defines emotional intelligence as, “the ability to manage both your own emotions and understand the emotions of people around you.”2 An essential part of being emotionally intelligent is being able to:
- Identify your own emotions
- Manage your emotions and help others manage their emotions, too
- Harness your emotions and apply them using different tasks, like thinking or problem solving
In doing these three main things, you’ll reap the benefits in many different areas of your life. Your relationships will be better, you’ll function better at work, and your mental health will improve.
Why is emotional intelligence important for addiction recovery?
Your emotions can be powerful and they have the ability to derail your sobriety if you allow them to. While you were actively addicted, you may have used drugs or alcohol to mask difficult or negative emotions. But once you’re sober, you are forced to face those feelings and choose what to do with them. Emotional intelligence is a skill that will help you do that.
In recovery, you use emotional intelligence to develop long-term skills and strategies that will help you maintain your sobriety. For example, in rehab you’ll learn to:
- Choose what you become emotional over.
- How you behave when you become emotional.
- Maintain mindfulness to put some distance between yourself and whatever it is that’s making you feel emotional.
After rehab is over, you’ll continue applying these skills in daily situations as you adjust to a sober lifestyle. For example, if a loved one does something that makes you upset, you might feel tempted to go have a drink. Instead, you can put your EI skills into practice and stop to think about what you’re feeling, why, and how you can respond in a healthy way instead of giving into the urge to drink. Research even shows that a higher level of emotional intelligence is associated with lower levels of alcohol and drug abuse.3
In essence, practicing and maintaining mindfulness is a core element of regulating your emotions and preventing relapse in the future.
How to build emotional intelligence
The process of becoming more emotionally intelligent is one that takes time and continual effort. It won’t happen overnight, but there are five main components of emotional intelligence that you can work to strengthen and develop in your life.4 In turn, with persistent effort and professional guidance, these efforts will bolster your sobriety and help prevent future relapse.
Developing self-awareness involves learning to recognize your emotions and their effects on yourself and others. To do this, you must also have a guiding awareness of your values and goals and be able to accurately assess your strengths and limitations. Being confident about your self-worth and capabilities helps too!
Becoming more self-aware sounds like it would be easy, but it can actually be very difficult due to individual biases and unhealthy ways of thinking. One of the best ways to become more self-aware is to participate in individual or group therapy. A counselor or therapist can help you view yourself more objectively and give you valuable feedback.
With this guidance, you can build your self-awareness and become more reflective and open to feedback, new perspectives, and self-development. As you improve your self-confidence, you’ll also be more able to make sound decisions, despite any pressure you might feel.
To self-regulate means you can manage your disruptive emotions and thoughts and take responsibility for your behavior. It also requires that you know how to cope with emotional challenges, create healthy routines for yourself, and have the foresight to mitigate emotional risks, which are all essential for ongoing recovery. Of course, self-regulating also means doing the things you know you should do and avoiding doing the things you shouldn’t.
Since challenging emotions are typically what drive substance abuse, learning self-regulation is a key part of addiction treatment and recovery. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you learn self-control and establish trustworthiness by acting ethically and being reliable and authentic. A big part of this is being able to admit your own mistakes and stand firm in your beliefs, even if they are unpopular.
Additionally, learning how to self-regulate will also help you manage multiple responsibilities, priorities, and demands as you adjust to a sober life. This skill will empower you as you learn to adapt to change, solve problems, and take on new perspectives with an open and adaptable mindset.
Although recovering from addiction is difficult, you’re likely to be most motivated early on in sobriety, when the process is new and fresh. However, as you continue living a sober life, things may start to get boring, stale, or you might even feel like you’re not progressing fast enough. All these feelings can challenge your motivation.
Learning how to motivate yourself is tricky, but it helps to have a clear view of your values and goals. When these are more important to you than the temporary comfort of drugs or alcohol, you can fall back on them to overcome many challenges in recovery.
Creating healthy habits and routines for yourself can improve self-motivation and make healthy behavior automatic, instead of something you have to think about. Additionally, having social support is key to staying motivated! You’re human, so there will be days and times when you feel unmotivated. But when you have friends, family, and a 12-Step group that all have your back, it’s more difficult to give up, knowing you’ll disappoint them. Borrowing the motivation of others can get you through hard times and sustain you.
Being socially aware means you have the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those with varying backgrounds and cultures.5 There are several different aspects of this, including:
- Empathy: Being attentive to the emotional cues of others, listening, showing sensitivity, and understanding others’ needs and feelings
- Service: Caring about what other people are experiencing, offering appropriate help, or giving your time and resources to help develop and mentor others
- Acceptance: Respecting the differences and worldviews of others and challenging bias and intolerance
When you work to develop these skills, particularly empathy, you’ll be better able to navigate relationships because you’ll be able to put yourself in someone else’s place and be more compassionate. And the more connected you feel to others, the easier it will be to stay sober.
Similarly, social skills will help you improve your conflict resolution skills and, in turn, relieve a lot of the stress that comes from interpersonal conflict in relationships, which may be a relapse trigger.
Working to improve social skills like communication will go a long way in improving your relationships and eliminating conflict. For example, listening well, reflecting, and reiterating what you feel a person just told you are great practices that will improve your communication and conflict resolution skills.
Social skills are important for all the same reasons developing empathy are, and the result will be better overall relationships and enhanced connection with others. As a result, you’ll be more likely to achieve lasting sobriety and be more equipped to work through recovery-related challenges.
Sober living and recovery support services can help you develop emotional sobriety
While we all are born with emotional intelligence, some people may have more than others until they learn to develop it. Maintaining healthy habits and having social support are some of the most important aspects of a recovery plan and can help improve your emotional intelligence.
If you are lacking these things in your life, Eudaimonia Recovery Homes can help. Our sober living Austin, TX, Houston, TX, and Colorado Springs, CO provides safe and structured sober housing for men, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals in recovery. Through our individualized recovery support services and certified peer recovery support program, we can also help you stay accountable and establish and maintain healthy habits. As a result, you’ll be empowered to build your emotional sobriety and maintain long-lasting recovery.
For more details on our sober homes and recovery support services, please contact us online or call (512) 580-3131 to speak with an admissions representative today.
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