Everyone wants to be more emotionally intelligent (EQ), right? After all, there's so much to gain from learning to be more empathetic, regulating our feelings and boosting our communication skills. 

In fact, research shows EQ is one of the most in-demand skills in the professional world. Plus, people with high EQs are proven to experience lifelong benefits like higher salaries, improved personal relationships and enhanced well-being. 

And yet, for all the plus points of a strong EQ score, a growing body of evidence indicates that having a high one isn't always all it's cracked up to be.

Here's what you need to know. 

Too much of a good thing? 

The hallmarks of a high EQ include emotional awareness, sensitivity and interpersonal understanding. Sounds great on paper, but the ability to seamlessly build affinity with others has been proven to have some drawbacks in the workplace. 

As Harvard Business Review research found, people with high EQs are more likely to struggle with bold innovation. Because they're so focused on nurturing harmony and understanding, they're less likely to push boundaries, challenge their colleagues and take risks. 

Another study from Northumbria University in the UK echoes these sentiments. It found that managers with excessive emotional intelligence sometimes lead poorly. The paper noted that high EQ individuals can be so acutely aware of how their actions impact others that they avoid putting their subordinates under pressure or giving negative feedback. 

But in aiming to keep the peace, they do themselves, their colleagues and their business a disservice. After all, feedback is vital to growth and deadline pressure is a given in almost any industry. Plus, for the individual with a high EQ, failing to share out work can easily lead to feelings of overwhelm and even burnout. 

It's not just in the workplace that a high EQ can cause trouble. That same focus on keeping the peace and tending to others' needs easily can lead to difficulties in personal relationships. 

While to their friends and loved ones, people with high EQs are often thought of as laidback and easy-going, they may actually withhold their innate wants and needs because they're so focused on pleasing the people around them. In the long term, this can lead to feelings of resentment and dissatisfaction in romantic relationships and friendships. 

High EQ, poor mental health? 

One study from 2016 even drew a surprising link between high EQs and increased propensity to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. While the research itself doesn't indicate why, another experiment does.

Scientists in Germany asked students to give a presentation in front of judges who were told to demonstrate stern, displeased facial expressions. They measured the students' cortisol levels before and after giving the presentation. The students who tested high in emotional intelligence were found to experience more stress during the meeting – and it took them a long time to return to normal cortisol levels after that. 

It seems, then, that people can really be too emotionally aware for their own good. Being so attuned to others can lead individuals to take on excessive responsibility for their feelings, leading to unpleasant emotions like anxiety and worry. After all, how other people feel is beyond anyone's control. But when a person is so hyper-aware of shifts in tone and body language, this can be hard to realize.  

Maybe it's not EQ but an unbalanced one that's to blame

While these studies certainly show EQ in a less-than-desirable light, it's fair to say they don't paint a complete picture. You see, EQ is about more than just empathy and other awareness. As you'll find in our test, it also incorporates capabilities like self-awareness, emotional regulation and tending to one's own needs.

Our take is that these studies focus on one aspect of EQ – namely, empathy. But empathy, without emotional regulation and self-awareness, is a recipe for sacrificing one's own needs, people-pleasing and self-doubt.

Rather than channeling authenticity, integrity and living in accordance with their values, overly empathetic individuals may be so afraid of 'rocking the boat' that they swallow their intrinsic desires.

But this isn't the core of exceptional emotional intelligence. EQ isn't just about understanding others. It's about understanding yourself too. It's a careful balancing act between intra and interpersonal awareness, underpinned by good self-esteem. 

When someone has a truly great EQ, they're both assertive and understanding, compassionate and confident, helpful and determined. They have excellent people skills and know how to connect with other people. But they don't lose themselves in trying to win approval or worrying about what others think, because they know that their feelings and goals matter just as much as other people’s. 

Ultimately, then, it's not an overly high EQ that is to blame for these issues but an unbalanced one. 

Luckily, EQ is a skill, not a steadfast trait. So, if you relate to the descriptions above and find yourself often putting other people's needs before your own, know that you can learn to become more assertive and confident. 

How? By training your EQ muscles. The best way to start is by knowing where you are now. Take our EQ test to discover where you fall on the five aspects of EQ. Then check out these expert tips to help you improve your emotional intelligence. Good luck!

Hannah Pisani
Hannah Pisani is a freelance writer based in London, England. A type 9 INFP, she is passionate about harnessing the power of personality theory to better understand herself and the people around her - and wants to help others do the same. When she's not writing articles, you'll find her composing songs at the piano, advocating for people with learning difficulties, or at the pub with friends and a bottle (or two) of rose.