What is Emotional Intelligence and How Does Interoception Come into Play?

Emotional intelligence (or EI) is a phrase people are throwing around a lot these days. But what exactly does EI mean, and how does it impact our lives on a daily basis? Plus, what does “interoception” have to do with emotional intelligence?

In a recent video, I explain the beginnings of what you need to know about interoception, emotional intelligence, and how they work together.

Click Here to Read the Video Transcript

Want to Learn More About Emotional Intelligence or Interoception?

To learn more about interoception, check out the current library of interoception publications that I’ve written. You can also access the online courses, as well as free online resources to help guide you or a loved one through interoception.

If you’d like to schedule a workshop or presentation, feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

Send a Message

Video Transcript

Hi everyone. I’m Kelly Mahler, and I am an occupational therapist. And I’m super excited to be talking about the new science behind emotional intelligence. And emotional intelligence—it’s such a buzzword right now. Many people are familiar with emotional intelligence or EI, but EI is just our ability to really understand and manage our own emotions, as well as to understand the emotions of other people.

And we know that EI has vast benefits to so many different areas of life. We know that people that have higher levels of emotional intelligence, they’re better able to deal with stress and anxiety; they’re more resilient and can bounce back from adversity quicker or faster. We also know that people with higher levels of EI or emotional intelligence are better performers at school or on the job. And we also know that people that have higher levels of EI, they have better quality—or higher-quality—relationships.

So, my goodness, EI is so important. And over the last decade, there has been new science emerging about an underlying influence that really contributes to having a stronger sense, or a stronger level, of emotional intelligence. So if you’re someone that is interested at being top of your game or helping your child be the top of their game, we really need to work on, “how do we improve EI?”

You would need to know about this new science, and this new science is something called “interoception.” And what in the world is interoception, right? Many people are not familiar with this term, but interoception is a sense within your body. And we all have this sense within our body—it’s just similar to our sense of sight or sound. But what interoception’s job is, is to help us to feel our body—our body signals.

And so you have a whole variety of receptors for this sense—for interoception—located extensively throughout your body. So you have interoception receptors located in your heart, in your lungs, in your stomach, in your bladder. You have these receptors located in your skin, and your muscles, and even the whites of your eyeballs. And these receptors are continually pulling in information about how your body is feeling. And so this information is pulled in through these receptors, and it’s sent to your brain, and your brain can use this incoming information as clues to your emotions.

So, for example, maybe the receptors in the lining of your stomach are pulling in information about how your stomach is feeling. What is the condition of your stomach? So maybe your stomach is feeling…it’s like growly and empty, and that information is sent to your brain, and your brain uses that information as a clue that you are hungry—you are feeling

Hunger. Or maybe the receptors in the lining of your stomach are pulling in information that your stomach is like, has that butterfly, tingly feeling in it, and your brain uses that as a clue that you are feeling anxious or nervous. So there’s a very tight body-emotion connection.

So, what we know is that interoception directly underlies emotional intelligence. It is like step one. It is the foundation. It is where we need to start if you want to enhance your emotional intelligence or the emotional intelligence of someone—maybe your child or your loved one. So it is step one, it is where we need to start at introception. And let’s just kind of talk about three aspects of emotional intelligence, and how interoception really is, how it influences these aspects of emotional intelligence.

So first of all, let’s talk about we need to be aware of our emotions within ourselves. And interoception is what kind of fuels that ability to be able to clearly identify your emotions. We know from science that our body-signals, those clues coming from your body—maybe it’s a racing heart, or a tingly stomach, or tense muscles, or maybe it’s goosebumps on your skin—all of those body signals are clues to your emotions, so we need to be very in tune with our bodies.

Noticing our body signals, in order to be able to then connect that to the meaning. So we need to notice the tense muscles in order to be able to identify that we are feeling frustrated. Or we need to be able to notice the goosebumps on our skin to be able to identify that we are feeling cold. Or we need to be able to notice that racing heart, that tingly stomach, in order to be able to clearly identify that we are feeling anxious. And so there’s a very, again, that tight body emotion connection. We need to notice our body signals and then be able to connect them to the meaning, to the emotion.

So, interoception, step one of being able to really be aware and identify exactly what emotion we’re experiencing. And that leads to another component of emotional intelligence, and that’s our ability to be able to regulate or manage our emotions. And so you have to be really clearly in tune, or clearly aware, of exactly what emotion you’re experiencing in order to manage it effectively. So you need to know that you are feeling anxious in order to be able to seek out that action that helps you to manage your anxiety most effectively. Or you need to be able to identify that you are feeling hunger in order to be able to, or be urged, to use an action that helps you to regulate that emotion of hunger.

And so our bodies are so…they’re designed to be internally motivated to, to be motivated by this discomfort within our bodies, and it urges us to act. It urges us to regulate and manage our emotions. But you need to be very clearly aware of what exact emotion you’re experiencing in order to be able to manage it or control it effectively. And how do we clearly identify our emotions? Again, it’s that interoception piece—you have to be able to notice your body signals and connect them to the emotion. And that is what, in turn, leads us to be able to regulate or manage our emotions with an action that is appropriate. And so interoception underlies our ability to identify our emotions and manage our emotions.

And then let’s look at one other aspect of emotional intelligence, and it’s all about really being able to identify or be aware of the emotions of other people. And the science behind interoception, it’s really interesting. And what scientists are finding is that not only does interoception help us to be aware of how we’re feeling, it also helps us to be more aware of how other people within our lives are feeling.

And they’ve [scientists] done a lot of really neat research looking at this area, but what they have found, is in order to be able to understand how someone else is feeling, we recreate our own interoception experiences. We recreate how we would feel in that situation within our bodies in order to connect with someone else, to be able to really understand how someone is feeling in that moment, to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, so to speak.

So we need to be clearly aware of how we feel, and then we are primed and ready to understand how other people feel because we recreate our own interoception experiences in order to understand how someone else is feeling in that moment intuitively. So working on your own emotions, working on that ability to notice your body signals, connects them to that emotion, will, in turn, allow you to also be more in tune with other people’s emotions according to this brand new science of interoception.

So what could you do to improve interoception? There’s a lot of things that you can do, and first of all, the best thing to do is really just take time out of your day to stop and to notice what’s going on within your body. What body signals do you notice in your body? And if you’re someone that is on the go, we live in a culture that’s go-go-go, and

with lots of screentime, our attention is constantly pulled outside of our body, away from our body, so many of us are not in tune with our body signals. So what we need to be able to do is stop and really tune in. And if you’re someone like I said—you’re go-go-go, you’re so busy—set an alarm on your phone to go off four or five times a day, and just take one quick minute to scan through your body and do a body check. And like, really check in with different body parts and notice how each of those body parts are feeling. And do so out of curiosity. No judgment. If you notice tension in your shoulders, okay—no judgment. It’s really important to be able to check-in, to start noticing the way your body is feeling. And so those body checks are really, really, really helpful.

Sometimes it can be easier to start doing body checks when you are doing something that is evoking a stronger feeling in your body. So do a body check maybe when you’re out jogging, or when you’re lifting weights, or when you’re cuddling with a loved one or a pet. Doing these body checks when you have stronger feelings within your body can be very helpful to do.

If you want to take a deeper dive into interoception, please visit my website. We have lots of free resources on my website. It’s www.kelly-mahler.com. We even have an interoception curriculum, which is a step-by-step framework for improving interoception if you’re someone that wants to take a deeper dive into this work. We have lots of very exciting research coming out, showing the effectiveness of the interoception curriculum. And these resources can be very valuable to you.

So good luck improving your interoception. Have fun with it. Be curious about your body and know that you are doing something. You are doing step one to get you closer and closer to that high level of emotional intelligence. Until next time, bye.