EQ and the IQ Connection
by Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

(Based on a presentation made at the May, 2000, Wallace Symposium)

My presentation concerns my theory, probably not unique to me, that emotional intelligence (EQ), rather than being an inborn ability, is a skill that needs to be taught and facilitated in individuals who deviate significantly from the norm in their intellectual intelligence (IQ). It is here theorized that when children's mental ages are considerably different from those with whom they must spend the majority of their time, their opportunities for effective and rewarding social interaction are minimized. If interventions, purposeful or serendipitous, are not available, effective communication and interpretation of social cues cannot be developed. The theory holds that highly intelligent individuals who are not made aware of this source of their emotional and social difficulties enter adulthood with weak self-esteem and defensive behavior designed to ward off uncomfortable and unrewarding personal interactions. Loneliness and feelings of isolation are common features of highly gifted people who have not been facilitated in bridging the emotional and social gulf between themselves and the majority population.

Examples of positive and negative experiences related to the learning of social and emotional interactions that are popularly considered to indicate people's emotional intelligence (EQ) were taken from the written case study reports of 125 highly gifted adults between the ages of 20 and 83. The paper presents an evaluation of items from the childhood and adulthood questionnaires completed by the subjects during the early to mid `90s that relate to social connections and interactions in the family, school and workplace. Subjects were also evaluated for emotional maturity based on the theories of Maslow, Erikson, and Dabrowski. Subjects who showed the most self-actualization and emotional maturity had either found a way to cultivate and increase their emotional quotients (EQs) or had been raised with the opportunities to do so. Excerpts from the case studies will be presented to illustrate and support the theory.

My conclusions following my case study research are that often the opportunity to practice and hone social skills takes place in an environment where the individual's vocabulary, sense of humor, complexity of thought and interests are similar to others around him or her. Children who are very different, by virtue of their intellectual level, from their same age classmates often experience that their comments, observations, and questions annoy classmates. Others can view the highly gifted person as inappropriate or odd. If such a child is seldom with like-minded others, social and emotional adjustment are likely more difficult to attain.

The following selected excerpts from the case studies reveal how often the highly gifted subjects did not receive helpful input about the way they naturally were.

Gene, a 56-year old scientist with an IQ of about 175 described what others thought of him: “Thought I was ok, but somewhat off-beat, if not strange. Likeable, cheerful, smart. Popular? No. I was friendly enough, and sociable, but never part of the `in crowd.' Somewhat of a loner, by choice.”

Gene had had two close friends, one at a time, throughout his childhood. He felt loved and encouraged by his parents although they did not verbalize their love or support. When asked if he “fit in” he responded:

I was aware, but thought it more of a strangeness than a qualitative difference, thus thought of myself as not fitting in. Nevertheless, it was not an extreme isolation, just a sense of being peripheral to the mainstream…felt not ahead or smarter, just different.

Gene said that no one ever took a personal interest in him and he wishes now that they had. He had no idea that he was intellectually so different from most other people and no one ever gave him that information.

Took Mensa test when I was 25 and for the first time knew my IQ. That gave me confidence. I had previously flunked out of the Naval Academy, although I returned and finished the following year. Now I know why I'm “different!”

Sandra, age 43 with an estimated IQ of about 150, experienced an extremely abusive and difficult childhood that included her mother's suicide when Sandra was 3, living in an orphanage for a few years when her father's drinking was too bad to allow him to raise his children, and then an abusive step-mother who hated her.

I was aware of not fitting in, especially in the early grades. At the Home, they quickly squelched any sense of pride in my unusual achievements by frowns at my mention of getting better grades, also that I was always showing off by singing [extremely talented singer]. I received lots of mixed and conflicting messages. In upper elementary and secondary school there were a large number of high ability kids in my class…I felt like I fit in.

Candace, a 47 year old woman whose IQ is above 150, also came from a very abusive home. She started school early and had teachers who wanted to skip her further in her middle elementary years, but her mother said no. Her case study makes it quite clear that her parents really did not like her. While Candace was in junior high her mother and teacher had a big fight over some issue related to Candace's sister. The mother pulled Candace out of any classes this teacher taught and that meant Candace was no longer in classes with her gifted peers. She experienced tremendous confusion over her value, her abilities, and certainly what people would think of her. It isn't too difficult to conclude that her emotional intelligence was tremendously impacted by the way her parents and teachers treated her.

I was nothing but a disappointment. I was a girl- I was supposed to be a boy. I was inquisitive which both parents interpreted as rude and challenging to their authority. I was smart so they confused my ability to learn with a capacity for understanding my actions in a greater context. Therefore they attached adult motivations to even the simplest question of a 4-year old. By the time I was 7 or 8 my life had become a painful existence. I knew God had made me wrong and I could never be right.

Fortunately, Candace had two different friends in her late teens and in her 30s who helped her find herself. She also devoted herself to counseling for a number of years. She evolved into one of the most evolved, self-actualized people in my study who has a select number of close friends and a number of casual level acquaintances. She is also very happily married to her second husband.

Arnie, a 43-year old man with an estimated IQ of about 150, said that he was not aware of being exceptional, didn't fit in, and has never been able to make friends. “Father always called me `stupid.' Taking Mensa test in 1975 ended confusion.”

I tend to think that Arnie's inability to make friends may have started with the poor, emotionally abusive parenting he received at home. Often children who are emotionally abused have difficulty at school and do not engender tender feelings from those who might come to their rescue at school. In my study there were more boys than girls who found little solace at school.

An unusually successful businesswoman, 45-year old Marlene had an IQ of over 180. Although she, too, came from an emotionally abusive family (about half my subjects reported high levels of emotional abuse), she described her own confusion over why she did not feel comfortable with herself or others as follows:

I was thought of as bright and a loner. I think everyone just thought I was different. I remember people saying `she's smart' when they thought I wasn't listening. I was always listening. My reputation was as one who is quiet. Yes, people knew I was smart. My family could not deal with it. The schools were shocked and I don't think knew how to deal with me. College was wonderful. At last freedom and people I could talk to.

Ben, a 46-year old with an IQ near 150, wrote, “I never fit in. I thought I was stupid.” He also was the object of much bullying and wondered in his study surveys why nothing ever seemed to be done about it. Despite the bad and confusing treatment he wrote,

For a brief time (weeks, perhaps) I discovered I could hit smaller kids and get away with it. Shortly after I discovered that I felt like shit when I thought about it. End of my bully phase. I tend to find myself in arguments and debates when I have strong feelings about a subject. When I don't have a stake in something I tend to be a peacemaker, and have developed a modest skill at achieving compromise.

Personally, I find it amazing how many of these subjects have found their way into being at least modestly emotionally intelligent. Most of them have achieved far more. In fact, there were only about 5 people from my core study with 41 subjects who remained hostile and bitter as adults and who still had no friends. I could go on and on about how little helpful feedback highly gifted people get about how they are different and how they are still good and valuable people. I propose that a system of identification that includes a recognition of the real differences people at different levels of giftedness feel and experience would be extremely helpful to them in better understanding themselves and developing their emotional intelligence earlier in life before so much confusion and pain have been experienced.

Copyright © Deborah Ruf, 2000. All rights reserved.