Strengthening emotional intelligence in the context of caring for a person with a disability – part1

Part 1. Intrapersonal competences of the informal caregiver

Tomasz Zając

Providing informal care for a disabled person is undoubtedly a difficult and exhausting task, which frequently involves frustration and a feeling of helplessness. If you are one of such caregivers, it is worth considering what you can do to improve your work and how to use your mental resources for this purpose.

In this article, we will focus on the issue mentioned above with a particular emphasis on the function and development of emotional intelligence serving as a helpful factor in providing informal care for a person with a disability. Special attention will be paid to one of the groups of competences essential in caring for a disabled person, i.e. intrapersonal competences.

What is emotional intelligence, actually?

The term emotional intelligence became popular in the nineties of the last century. It was coined by two American psychologists, Peter Salovey and John Mayer, however, it gained the greatest recognition thanks to the work of another psychologist, Daniel Goleman, who propagated it outside the academic community. The concept of emotional intelligence may be misleading, as it does not refer in any aspect to the intellectual abilities of an individual but to widely taken general psychological competences that enable proper recognition, understanding of emotions of both oneself and others, as well as effective management of them. Within the concept, it is possible to distinguish three main groups of skills:

  • intrapersonal,
  • interpersonal,
  • praxeological

However, before we proceed to a more detailed analysis of these competences and look at how they can be used when caring for a disabled person, it is necessary to pay attention to two crucial issues. Firstly, the idea of dividing emotions into good and bad ones is wrong. All emotions are good, because each of them has a specific function in human life, and their correct division should take place on the pleasant – unpleasant axis instead. Secondly, we must bear in mind that people differ from each other in various ways, including the aspects such as intellect, temperament or personality. Moreover, a large part of these individual differences are innate and cannot be altered. Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that it is always possible to develop new, useful and diverse skills within one’s psychological characteristics.

In this article, we will focus on the intrapersonal competencies.

Intrapersonal competences in caring for a disabled person

The first large group of skills included in emotional intelligence are intrapersonal, or intrapsychic, competences. They are related to the so-called introspection, i.e. the ability of a person to view their own state of mind, understand its causes and consequences, as well as manage it effectively in various situations. Among them, the following factors can be distinguished: self-esteem, self-awareness and self-control.


As the name suggests, self-esteem refers to what people think about themselves, about their abilities, as well as about their overall value. In this particular aspect, as an informal carer for a disabled person, first of all, you need to be aware of one fundamental thing, which is the fact that you are not a professional in the field, and therefore you will most likely encounter various difficulties as well as make certain mistakes. Do not blame yourself. Your self-esteem should, above all, be based on the real strengths and difficulties that you are facing. You should not be ashamed of not knowing something or not being able to perform a task. Prepare a list of activities that you struggle the most with, discuss them with the people that you trust, and then request help in solving them. Once you define what you are dealing with and where you need support, your self-esteem should increase.


The second element of intrapersonal competence is self-awareness, i.e. the ability to accurately identify one’s own emotional state. Self-aware people are able to effectively perform introspection, easily recognize the emotions they experience, precisely indicate their cause and name them adequately. This ability may appear to be something natural and obvious, yet there is quite a large group of people who, for various reasons (congenital or acquired), have a considerable difficulty in performing this kind of insight.

Regardless of the extent to which your insight is developed, you must know that emotions, including the unpleasant ones, are never bad and one should not be ashamed of them, as every single one of them performs an important informative function. Why is it so important, especially when caring for a disabled person? It is so, because many informal caregivers who take care of their loved ones tend to deny their unpleasant emotional experiences. Carers try to suppress them, because they wrongly assume that feeling angry or demotivated while helping their beloved grandmother or grandfather is bad for them and puts them in a bad light. Nothing could be further from the truth! It should be made clear: taking care of people with disabilities is a difficult, exhausting and tedious activity. Inevitably, it will be accompanied by unpleasant emotions and there is no point in denying it. It is necessary to emphasize it once again: experiencing emotions is not a bad thing. The only thing that may be bad is an inconsiderate action taken under their influence. Long-term suppression and denial of emotions can lead to chronic stress and, as a consequence, to a systematic deterioration of health and the development of psychosomatic ailments.

One of the best strategies for dealing with unpleasant emotions is to actively use social support networks. Therefore, it is worth having a good friend or an acquaintance who you will be able to confide in once in a while and discuss the difficulties you are facing as a caregiver of a disabled person. Just saying out loud what you feel and what hurts you will make you more aware of your emotional state. Remember, however, not to overuse the support provided by the other person, as over time it may lead to them feeling overwhelmed and eventually distancing themselves from you. It is worth keeping your relationship balanced. Also, do not hesitate to use the help of specialists. That is what they are for.


The third intrapersonal component of emotional intelligence is self-control, i.e. the ability to adequately respond to external stimuli, cope with stress and act in accordance with specific norms and values, despite unfavourable circumstances. In other words, a person with a highly developed ability of self-control, never reacts in an impulsive and socially unacceptable way, even when they are very angry. This ability is therefore particularly vital for a caregiver of a disabled person. It is important, colloquially speaking, not to fly off the handle, especially when performing care activities, as it can make the disabled person feel uncomfortable and guilty.

Unfortunately, there is no golden rule that could be applied to strengthen the control over the expression of one’s feelings in stressful situations. In fact, this psychological property is to a large extent biologically conditioned, and therefore largely hereditary, which in practice means that different people can manage emotions to different degrees and there is not much one can do about it. This does not mean, however, that people who are more emotional and display a higher level of impulsivity cannot do anything to improve themselves in this aspect. Over the years, a number of techniques and exercises have been developed to support coping with stress, most of which can be practiced on your own and do not require any financial resources. Particularly worth recommending is the so-called autogenic training using the Schulz or Jacobson method. It is a set of relaxation exercises performed with the use of music, the aim of which is to reduce emotional tension caused by excessive stress and create the habit of automatic relaxation in stressful circumstances. Plenty of recordings presenting autogenic training sessions are available on YouTube. It is worth examining them.


Goleman, D., Jankowski, A. (1997). Inteligencja emocjonalna. Poznań: Media Rodzina.

Goleman, D., Jankowski, A. (1999). Inteligencja emocjonalna w praktyce. Poznań: Media Rodzina.

Krakowski, M., Rydzewski, P. (2004). Inteligencja emocjonalna. Łódź: Imperia S.C.

Sadowska, M., Brachowicz, M. (2008). Struktura inteligencji emocjonalnej. Studia z psychologii w KUL, 15, 65–79.

About the author

Tomasz Zając is a psychologist. He graduated in applied psychology at the Jagiellonian University and doctoral studies at the Institute of Psychology of the Jagiellonian University. He is preparing to defend his PhD dissertation on individual differences in the context of aggression and violence. For years, he has been cooperating with various institutions specializing in rehabilitation, helping people with disabilities and palliative care. He conducts individual consultations and Support Groups for informal caregivers at the KRAKÓW GRZEGÓRZKI Informal Caregivers Support Centre, operating at the Fundacja Małopolska Izba Samorządowa in Krakow at 16, Ignacego Daszyńszkiego Ave.

This publication has been carried out under the HomeCare for Dependent Elderly People  Educational Path for Informal Caregivers,  2019-1-PL01-KA204-065703

The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.