Outliers and Emotional Intelligence

I finished reading Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers yesterday, and while I’m not going to get into a full review of the book on this site, I did want to talk about one particular section that, I think, is significant for child abuse survivors.

If you’re not familiar with the book, Gladwell spends a great deal of time looking at the successes of the world, Bill Gates, etc., and peering behind the curtain to try and explain why it was more than just talent and effort that got them where they are today. Not that they don’t have plenty of talent and haven’t worked hard, but lots of other people work hard and have talent without seeing that level of success. One of the chapters deals with the issue of high IQ scores, and whether that translates into success.

In it Gladwell talks about a study done by Lewis Terman, in which Terman sought out the absolute brightest, most intelligent children he could find, and tracked them, assuming thay he would, of course, be tracking the future leaders of the world. In some cases, he was, but in many others, he wasn’t. IQ, it turns out, wasn’t the determining factor in what these kids accomplished in their adult lives. However, looking back on Terman’s findings, we can discover that there is a factor that, in many cases, did help determine those accomplishments, family income. Upon further study and through the use of individual stories, Gladwell then goes on to talk about Emotional Intelligence, or the ability to navigate through life successfully. The kids who grew up in families with more economic resources were involved in more activities, felt more confident and knew how to interconnect with people to get where they wanted to go. Other children, with similarly high IQ’s simply didn’t have those skills.

As I said, this is significant for abuse survivors, not necessarily because of family income disparities, but because so many of us spent our childhood merely surviving, as opposed to learning these emotional intelligent skills. Is it any wonder then, that many survivors struggle to make their own way in the adult world? We are quick to assume that our inability to be as accomplished as others is a sign of needing to do more healing, but it may not really be that. All the healing in the world isn’t going to go back and teach us how to navigate the world. Those are skills parents are supposed to install in their children, but many fail to.

For example, I was one of those “elite” students all through High School. I was in the gifted program, tested with a rather high IQ, and was considered brilliant by most everyone growing up. They probably would have expected me to grow up to work on Wall Street or go to law school.  And then I practically flunked out of college, and even now I don’t have a degree, and have spent years and years working in various tedious jobs before finding a bit of a “calling” working with technology.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about my life, I’m happy, healthy and have plenty. My life could be much, much worse than it is. On the other hand, I got to college with no sense of self, no self-discipline, with no idea how to ask for help when I ran into problems, or even an understanding that I could ask for help. I didn’t know how to make connections with people so that they could help me, etc. My IQ didn’t really help me at all.

Let’s face it, in today’s business world, it takes a combination of being good at your work, and knowing the right people, in order to truly succeed, and abuse survivors don’t grow up with the skills necessary to connect with people. Quite the opposite, usually. I’ve been working hard the last few years to change that, to teach myself how to navigate the world, and to connect with people who I can learn from, but it’s a struggle. I’m 40 years old, trying to learn things that other people learn in their teens, but I’m learning, and I’m getting better. That’s all I can do. I’m not a child, and while I could just give up and whine about not learning the things I should have as a child, it won’t help me accomplish the things I want to accomplish in life. It’s wasted energy.

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  1. Oh thanks for putting that into perspective for me.

    I have trouble relating and connecting with people. I’ve been teaching myself to ask more questions of people and looking people in the eye (I really struggle with eye contact).

    I’ve read up on autism in the past and I’ve felt like I fit into that category, because I don’t connect with others. Of course, having no other tendancies, it didn’t fit. This fits.

    Onward we go, expanding who we are. I’ve learned to stick to writing when I can to communicate.

  2. we often find its harder now we are older to even bother trying to find people we can relate to. its seems far more simple to introvert ourselves, safer is perhaps the word. Our abuse certainly taught us no one can be trusted and unfortunately like many survivors these plaques of bullshit stick.
    Marja invited us here if thats not ok please let us know


  3. Hey new people! Welcome, and hope you see you on the Support Network.

    Mike, under current circumstances I bet you’re glad you don’t work on Wall Street. 🙂

    But once again it’s another accurate post that describes my situation, and when I was restarting therapy after New Year it occured to me that the times I was confident, happy, smiling, making eye contact, was when I was physically fit. So I have to get back to that state to have half a chance of making it at anything I want to do, I didn’t even make it a goal for this year I just identified fitness as a need.

    @ jumpingpuddles/lifesspacings – I get that, in middle age you have your friends and making new ones just seems like too much work. However I think it’s good if you can meet new people, for example during some kind of activity weekend or class/whatever and get on really well with with strangers in a group environment – but not get emotionally attached and down when they leave. I also missed out on those social/emotional growth lessons you learn as a teenager going out with your friends, because I mostly just didn’t, I was a homebody or went to friends’ houses, and that has held me back.

    So now the classes I’m taking get me out of the house and force me to be more social with strangers. No-one’s going to get you out of that rut but you. There isn’t the same issue with childhood schooling with the cliques or popularity BS, so it’s a really good way to help yourself gradually get more confident.

    Enjoy the block and network, hope to chat to you both on the latter soon!

  4. I was similarly struck as I was reading about emotional intelligence, and how much it fits exactly what happens. Like you all have said, there’s a certain sense of “truth” that I could just feel as the idea rattled around in my head. It fits with what I’ve seen and the things I’ve felt like I needed to learn over the last few years, moreso than other explanations.

  5. This is very interesting to me. Yeah, I often feel like I’m just now learning things I should have learned in childhood–at least adolescence!

    I finally got a post up at my blog that talks about the Child Abuse Survivors ning. I want to start inviting folks to join this great, ever-expanding group!

  6. Wow … This was a very eye opening article that really hit home. I often find myself in similar situations, as far as not wanting to reach out, or not knowing how to reach out and ask for help. Social / Emotional Intelligence is very important for survival in this world and especially in the work force. This is something that I battle with within myself when placed in unfamiliar social environments.

  7. Great post! I spent a great deal of time in my forties learning to internalize emotional qualities that I should have learned as a child (and that I didn’t know I lacked when I was younger). Even at 51, I still often have to force myself to nurture myself in ways that should have been built into my internal wiring.

  8. Wow that was great. I noticed that a previous commenter said that they had looked into autism and this is something that I have thought about too. I feel like I can relate on so many levels and there is a huge amount of comfort to be found in that.
    Thank you for the post!

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