Emotional Intelligence & Attachment

Our emotional intelligence is associated with our attachment styles – but how exactly does an insecure attachment style influence our ability to relate to the important people in our lives?

There are certain people who always seem to be able to tell what’s on others’ minds – without the other person even uttering a word. These people have the ability to sense feelings – and no, it’s not a psychic ability. It’s a form of emotional intelligence, and our levels of such have a significant impact on the success of our relationships. 

What many people don’t realize is that our levels of emotional intelligence are strongly linked to our attachment styles. Meaning that an insecure attacher may struggle to manage problems in a relationship due to their emotional intelligence. 

To help you understand how emotional intelligence and attachment styles impact our relationships, this article covers:

  • What emotional intelligence is
  • The association between emotional intelligence and attachment styles
  • How emotional intelligence (and attachment styles) affect relationships

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

In a nutshell, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, manage, and use our emotions to our advantage. Children, due to their age and lack of experience, often have low levels of emotional intelligence. So, if they’re told that they’re not allowed to play for another hour, they may throw a tantrum because they feel sad and disappointed. They lose control of their emotions instead of recognizing them as a reaction to a temporary situation. 

In contrast, adults typically have more developed levels of emotional intelligence. Therefore, an adult in a similar situation (such as having to return to work after their lunch break) would more than likely regulate their emotions. They would do so because they understand why they have to go back to work and where their emotions of disappointment or frustration come from. Plus, they know that free time will come again later in the day. 

Just to clarify –  emotional intelligence has nothing to do with our general intellect. In fact, you can have a very high intelligence quotient (IQ), but still have a low emotional intelligence quotient (EQ). Interestingly, it’s often those of us with a particularly high IQ but low EQ that tend to especially experience relationship problems. This may be because people with high IQ but low EQ sometimes feel like they are superior to others and thus know more than them. What’s more, they may disregard their own feelings and emotions. So, empathy and healthy communication are difficult skills for someone with a high IQ and low EQ to master. On the other hand, people with high emotional intelligence (regardless of IQ) actually enjoy showing empathy and communicating openly with their loved ones.

Emotional Intelligence & Attachment Styles

Studies have consistently found that attachment styles predict levels of emotional intelligence. To break the findings down, secure attachment predicts higher levels of emotional intelligence, in regard to the ability to detect our own and others’ emotions. Insecure attachment, however, is associated with lower emotional intelligence in relation to both our own and others’ emotions.

Don’t know your attachment style yet? Take our free Attachment Style Quiz and discover your attachment style within minutes!

Emotional Intelligence and Secure Attachment

In general, people with a secure attachment are better able to recognize and deal with their emotions than people with insecure attachment styles. This ability is likely due to secure attachers’ early years. As they felt valued, accepted, and safe as children, secure attachers developed healthy levels of self-esteem, confidence, and self-awareness.  

What’s more, people with a secure attachment style are better able to manage personal stress due to their high levels of emotional intelligence. This means that secure attachers confront stressful situations without feeling despair and they don’t lose control of their emotions. They remain calm and in control. These skills bestow a secure attacher with a level of confidence in themselves and their problem-solving skills within relationships. In contrast, an insecure attacher may confront a stressful situation in either a passive or aggressive manner – so either avoiding or inflating the issue.

Emotional Intelligence and Avoidant Attachment

People with the avoidant attachment style are more likely than secure attachers to have low levels of emotional intelligence. This is especially the case when it comes to other peoples’ emotions. It is thought that these low levels are to do with avoidant attachers’ positive view of themselves, but a relatively negative view of others. Since avoidant attachers often experienced rejection in their early years, they are less likely to establish close relationships as adults. Meaning that they’re also less likely to develop certain social skills with ease. Therefore, avoidant attachers often have trouble with social awareness and maintaining relationships – all factors which can affect emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence and Anxious Attachment

Although people with the anxious attachment style are often hypersensitive to the emotions of other people, they also tend to struggle to adapt to shifts in other peoples’ emotions. What’s more, anxious attachers may lack a certain amount of self-awareness in regard to their actions and how they impact others. In opposition, people with a secure attachment style usually have high levels of adaptability. This difficulty adapting means that anxious attachers, in general, are less flexible in relationships and may have difficulties with problem-solving.

Emotional Intelligence and Disorganized Attachment

Although studies have primarily focused on attachment anxiety and avoidance, the disorganized attachment style is known to alternate between the traits of both of these styles. So, people with the disorganized attachment style are likely to have the emotional intelligence traits of both the anxious and avoidant attachment styles. For this reason, we can assume that a disorganized attacher may have difficulties with social awareness and maintaining relationships due to their avoidant traits. However, they may also have issues with self-awareness and adaptability due to their anxious characteristics.

Does Emotional Intelligence Affect Relationships?

Based on the differences between securely and insecurely attached individuals’ levels of emotional intelligence, the important question for many insecure attachers would be to know how this might affect relationships.

Unsurprisingly, emotional intelligence unequivocally has an effect on relationships. Research has shown that the higher the levels of emotional intelligence, the more likely people are to be satisfied in their connections with others. This finding may be largely due to the link between lower emotional intelligence and tendencies to have problems accepting criticism, lack of self-awareness, and unawareness of peoples’ feelings. Because of these tendencies, people with lower emotional intelligence often find it hard to feel accepted and appreciated by others. Furthermore, relationships where both partners have low emotional intelligence, have been found to be less successful than ones in which at least one partner has a high level.

But as we’ll discuss later in this article – low emotional intelligence is not the end of the world. There are steps that we can take to improve emotional intelligence at any stage of life. 

The Impact of Emotional Intelligence and Attachment Styles on Relationships

Securely attached individuals, in general, foster better relationships than insecurely attached ones – largely because of their high levels of emotional intelligence. For example, people with a secure attachment are more likely to be satisfied in their marriage than those with an insecure attachment. This finding can be explained by the fact that secure attachers tend to have healthy self-esteem and confidence. Therefore, they usually problem-solve with comparative ease by using strategies like healthy and clear communication. Skills that lead to an easier marriage and more healthy relationships in general. 

On the other hand, the low levels of emotional intelligence, and lack of self-confidence and self-esteem associated with attachment anxiety make relationships harder in the face of common issues. People high on attachment avoidance may be misattuned or oblivious to the emotions of others, which often leads to frustration and disappointment on behalf of partners. What’s more, all of the insecure attachment styles’ low levels of emotional intelligence are linked to a lack of trust for others. Which can also make holding down a satisfying relationship more difficult.

The really interesting finding from the research is that emotional intelligence only seems to impact relationships when someone has an insecure attachment style. Meaning that not everyone with low emotional intelligence may feel dissatisfied in their relationships. This could be because emotional intelligence is a useful tool for dealing with conflict and stress in a relationship. If someone is already prone to experiencing relationship troubles and also lacks emotional intelligence, then they’re more likely to struggle with managing these conflicts in a healthy way.

Can I Improve my Emotional Intelligence?

The great news is that yes, we can improve our emotional intelligence. One of the best indicators of this is that emotional intelligence typically approves with age. But as much as it can be seen as a “natural gift,” emotional intelligence is also a learned skill. However, it takes motivation, practice, and feedback to really ensure that we adopt new emotional intelligence expertise. 

One potentially useful form of therapy for improving emotional intelligence is a type of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), called Mindfulness-Based Emotional Intelligence Training (MBEIT). MBEIT relies on language to promote positive change. While ACT uses mindfulness skills as a base for developing behaviors that are consistent with personal values, MBEIT takes these practices further to understand what our “mind language” is. This method is based on using our own life experiences as a guide, taking advantage of metaphors to express and illustrate certain thoughts and experiences. Moreover, it encourages stepping “outside of language” to mindfully understand how our mind expresses information.

Final Words on Emotional Intelligence and Attachment

If there is one piece of information that you should take home from this article, it’s that emotional intelligence is a useful tool for successfully navigating relationships. Knowing and understanding ourselves, as well as successfully reading the emotions of others, is perhaps the most valuable skill set for improving our connections. 

Acknowledging that we have a certain attachment style combined with a lower emotional intelligence isn’t a life sentence. It’s actually one of the best ways to move towards both more secure and emotionally intelligent behaviors. We may not be able to change our genetic makeup or our personality, but we can certainly learn from ourselves and others to foster more healthy relationships.


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