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Problems Caused by Emotional Illiteracy

When a person is detached from or unable to control his or her emotions, that person is said to be emotionally illiterate. Emotional illiteracy can cause a number of problems for individuals and for society alike.

Withdrawal is probably the most common social problem that results from a lack of emotional illiteracy. However, other, more serious problems also can result when a person is emotionally illiterate. Some specific problems that result from emotional illiteracy are withdrawal or social problems, depression, and aggressive behavior.

Withdrawal or social problems

While everyone needs a certain amount of “alone time,” a person who is emotionally illiterate can take this idea to the extreme. Withdrawal usually starts simply enough – a person simply prefers to be alone. But after a while, the person is unable to function normally when surrounded by others, and may come to see other people as bothersome.

Next, the person becomes overly secretive, and begins to feel distrustful of others. Consequently, the person has trouble developing relationships. As a result of having no connections and being withdrawn, the individual begins to sulk and can experience an overall drop in energy.

The person can become perpetually unhappy, tired, and overwhelmed, and may eventually lose perspective. The person may even become dependent on drugs or alcohol, which only serves to make the person even more withdrawn.


Although there are many causes for depression, including biochemical imbalances, it also can be caused by emotional illiteracy. Individuals who suffer from depression usually experience loneliness, nervousness, or sadness and may feel a need to be perfect. These individuals also experience many fears and worries and may feel they are unloved.

The third type of problem that can result from emotional illiteracy revolves around attention or thinking problems. These problems often display themselves through nervous or overly active behavior.

A person with an attention problem may find it difficult to sit still, and very often may feel too nervous to concentrate or focus on the issues at hand. A person with a thinking problem may daydream constantly, may have difficulty getting his or her mind off a topic and often will act without thinking.

Aggressive behavior

While withdrawal is probably the most common social problem that can be caused by emotional illiteracy, aggression is the most troublesome. Aggressive behavior is based on a perceptual bias that causes the individual to be highly sensitive to unfair treatment.

Consequently, even neutral acts appear to be threats. Jumping to the judgment that most acts are hostile or threatening causes an individual to pay too little attention to what’s really happening.

Once that assumption is made, the person moves into action. Aggressive individuals have low emotional tolerance and get irritated more often by little things. Once upset, they see all acts as hostile and begin concentrating on how to strike back.

Emotional illiteracy is a real problem for individuals and for society as a whole. While you yourself may not experience the problems that result from emotional illiteracy, you may at some point notice these problems in others.

If you do, you may want to alert upper management or even recommend that the individual seek professional help. Remember, these problems can and do escalate. By spotting them early, you can help the other individual work through his or her problems, so that the person can eventually become more emotionally literate.