If we want to combat violence, we need to break the cycles of violence with non-violent methods – we need to cultivate emotional intelligence.


When looking at human history, violence seems to be an omnipresent part of it. Peace builder, Dr. Scilla Elworthy, and conflict resolution specialist and psychotherapist, Gabrielle Rifkind, developed the ‘cycle of violence’ model, which helps to understand violent conflict at its roots. They suggest that after an atrocity, the following cycles can be identified in the human psyche: shock → fear → grief → anger → bitterness → revenge → retaliation. How can we break such a cycle from repeating itself? It is clear that people need certain capacities to help them react to violent conflict and change. Not only that, people have to develop their own resources in order to build and restore relationships with each other, starting within the individual’s heart and mind. Finding solutions requires diving deeper into the sphere of emotions and eventually, into the concept of emotional intelligence (EI or EQ).


What are Emotions for?

The underlying function of emotions is to regulate the internal state and initiate appropriate reactions to defeat threats. Given these points, they are a life regulating survival-mechanism. Most remarkably, emotions contribute to understanding others and vice versa. They have a vital role in achieving existential tasks more efficiently and ensuring well-being. Human bodies communicate personal needs to ourselves and others. Consequently, mastering communication with ourselves and interpersonally, through emotions, helps us cover these needs and live a healthy balanced life. Nevertheless, destructive emotions, such as fear or anger, can potentially lead to a violent outbreak. Hence, by learning and applying emotional intelligence in conflict situations, they can be transformed for good and enable us, individually as well as a community, to grow.


What is Emotional Intelligence?

According to Daniel Goleman, five main skills make emotional intelligence: self-awareness (knowing one’s own emotions), self-regulation (managing emotions in oneself), self-motivation (motivation that comes from within and not from external factors such as money), empathy (recognising and feeling emotions of others and managing relationships) and managing relationships (assisting others to regulate their emotions). In other words, it is the ability to manage your emotions and those of others, driven by ones’ self-motivation.


Learning and Applying Emotional Intelligence

This skill-set can be acquired through active listening, shifting perspective (stepping into the shoes of someone else), and self-reflection, alongside reflections of external processes. Regardless of one’s gender, age, sensitivity or temper, emotional intelligence can be learned at any point in life. Though, the optimal situation would be to cultivate it in childhood. Learning and applying emotional intelligence is a life-long process because emotions, people, ideologies, cultures, and circumstances change. When managing emotions, especially in the heat of the moment, calming oneself is of the essence. Nonetheless, these processes are highly subjective and are heavily dependent upon the individual.

In the end, it is about acknowledging that emotions are crucial for human beings to understand each other and their respective needs. This involves regarding emotions as mental constructs, not inherited, but malleable; harmful if not managed adequately, as they play a crucial part in living a healthy life. To benefit from the power of emotions, cultivating emotional intelligence is key. It is through learning, applying, and perfecting emotional intelligence, that restoring relationships to transform conflict non-violently, is achievable. Every part of social conflict, every domain intertwined with human sciences, politics, economics, technology, natural sciences, is affected by the quality of human relationships. By recognising our interconnectedness and interdependence, by taking responsibility to care for our inner state, we care for our fellow human beings, other living creatures, nature, and our environment, as a whole. When we are balanced, we can actively pay attention to other’s feelings and make them aware of their emotional states, helping them to sooth and navigate them, which simultaneously, positively affects our well-being. This understanding, unified with the concept that changes in attitude, lead to changed behaviour, is pivotal for relationship-building, (re)humanisation and breaking cycles of violence. Emotional intelligence gives us the opportunity to eliminate instinctive reactions, like fleeing, freezing and above all fighting, by using our intellect to choose non-violence and dialogue instead.




Lisa Hämmerle completed a masters in International Peace Studies at Trinity College Dublin, where her research focused on emotional intelligence and conflict transformation.

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