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  • paulinethepsychologist

Learning & Relationships

We know that EQ is just as important as IQ and that we can improve it. Let’s start talking about how! Improving anything is essentially learning. The first place to start: relationships! Huh? I'll say more.

In the last post, I laid out how EQ and IQ are deeply intertwined and how learning and emotions are best buds. Now I want to focus on how all learning actually happens within a relational context.

That means that all learning happens in relationship.

We learn in relationship with our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and partners. We learn in the relationship we have with our bosses, managers, and supervisors. We learn in relationship to larger social, historical, and cultural influences (even when we might not be conscious of them).

We are also always learning in relationship to ourselves.

Hmm, think about that last one a bit. If emotions deeply influence how well we can learn, then how we feel about ourselves and the emotions we experience on a daily basis actually influence our ability to learn and grow and evolve? YES!!!!


My parents didn't really help me with homework.

As a child who moved to the US from Iran at the age of four, my parents’ education was not at all similar to the education I was receiving.

I’d come home with math homework and ask my dad for help. He had a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance. I remember playing this game with him whenever we would order books from a catalogue (yup, this is LONG time ago). 2 books at $4.95, 1 book at $7.95, and so on and so forth. It was a competition. I’d sit there with my calculator adding them all up while my dad did all the additions in his head. EVERY TIME he was faster and more accurate.

I’d come home with math homework assured that my math whiz of a dad could help. Boy was I wrong. Remember that you had to SHOW YOUR WORK (I shiver at this phrase)? How could I show my work when the way the teacher was teaching and the way my dad was explaining things were so different?!

According to Wikipedia (I am aware that this is not a reputable source but for this example, it’ll do the job) ….

In Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, Lithuania, Romania, Turkey, Greece, Belgium, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia, the divisor is to the right of the dividend, and separated by a vertical bar. The division also occurs in the column, but the quotient (result) is written below the divider, and separated by the horizontal line. The same method is used in IRAN, Vietnam, and Mongolia. 
    127|4   124|31,75

Within minutes of sitting down with my dad, he was frustrated with me for not understanding and I was entirely confused at his method and embarrassed that I couldn’t understand. If my grandpa were also present, I’d then hear a whole diatribe about the deficits of the US educational system (my grandfather was very similar to Gus from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" if you want some more context here).

Gulp. Can’t a girl just get some help with her math homework?

Needless to say, his frustration and my confusion/shame/anxiety, meant that we never learned each other’s mathematical languages. The relational context did not help me learn.

Now, I love my dad and he was doing the best he could and I want to acknowledge that he did not have the specific information I needed for those assignments …. AND, he could have helped impart his love of math to me through those moments. He could have helped me get excited about learning a new system than the one he knew and helped me find the self-confidence to ask more questions in class so that I could complete the homework more independently. He could have helped me feel his support and encouragement and belief in me even if he could not logistically help. That would have been HUGE.

In my younger years, I always hated math. A major reason I was hesitant about applying to a PhD program was because I would have to take advanced courses in statistics.

In my PhD program, I met a stats teacher who had the skills, patience, and kindness that did help me learn. I went to every office hour and he would often ask, “Did I explain that in a way that made sense to you?” It felt so empowering to feel like he was adjusting to make sure he was meeting me where it would make the most sense for me, rather than expecting me to understand him. He was willing to adjust to help me learn. With him as a trusted statistical support and with the help of my dear friend Clare, I conducted an experiment with hundreds of participants for my dissertation and used a lot of very complicated statistical analyses.

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Do you know that a great deal of therapeutic outcomes are directly linked to the relationship you have with your therapist (called the therapeutic alliance)?

Therapy is learning. It’s learning about yourself and about others and recognizing patterns in your life and making consistent efforts to change. Much of what you learn in therapy helps you become more emotionally intelligent.

The leading emotional intelligence assessment, the SEI, highlights the eight measurable, learnable skills of EQ:

  • Emotional Literacy: Accurately identifying and interpreting both simple and compound feelings.

  • Recognizing Patterns: Acknowledging frequently recurring reactions and behaviors.

  • Applying Consequential Thinking: Evaluating the costs and benefits of your choices.

  • Navigating Emotions: Assessing, harnessing, and transforming emotions as a strategic resource.

  • Engaging Intrinsic Motivation: Gaining energy from personal values & commitments vs. being driven by external forces.

  • Exercising Optimism: Taking a proactive perspective of hope and possibility.

  • Increasing Empathy: Recognizing, connecting with, and appropriately responding to emotions.

  • Pursuing Noble Goals: Connecting your daily choices with your overarching sense of purpose.

Learning these skills is part of good therapy. And yet, the outcomes depend in a large part to the relationship you have with your therapist .. why?

Because we are hard-wired for connection. That means that all of our functions are intended to help us be deeply connected to others. Even learning, something that we sometimes see as a private, internal, process, is deeply connected to the relationships we have in our life.

When your therapist understands and sees you, when they don't judge you, when they encourage you and believe in you, when they hold onto hope for you even when things are tough, when they genuinely care about you... all of this helps ease your nervous system and prime it for learning.

You see? Learning is destabilizing. It's an uphill climb .. ok, sometimes crawl. When we are connected to our therapist, it helps us soothe ourselves and endure the inevitable challenges, together.

Fun fact: People are statistically more likely to complete college despite adversity if they have ONE TRUE FRIEND at school.

I used to share this fact with the students in my college success courses at a community college in Arizona. I would encourage them to share numbers with their classmates, meet to study, and would even give them extra credit if they emailed a buddy each week with an encouraging message. We learn best in relationship.

When we are seen and appreciated and loved, in all its forms, our brains and our bodies operate at a much higher level. This is when we really soar!!! Whether we're talking about work, love, or family, we learn best in safe, stable, and positive relationships.

So where to start? Well, which relationship of yours needs some extra attention so as to help you learn and grow as a person more?

Probably the one with yourself.

Ask yourself, am I:

Gentle with myself when I am trying something new?
Kind in the way I notice areas I’d like to improve?
Reassuring when I feel inadequate?
Encouraging when I feel like giving up?
Patient with myself about the process of learning?
Realistic about how quickly I can learn something?
Supportive of myself when I am struggling to learn?
Forgiving of myself when I have made a mistake?
Respectful of my own learning needs?
Honoring of my own learning style?

If you’re like the rest of us, you can improve on some/all of the above.

The more you work on being in a better relationship with yourself, the more emotionally intelligent you will be and the more you'll be the kind of person who helps others learn too.

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