Do you ever wonder why certain situations trigger intense emotions within you, while at times you might feel more subdued?
The answer is rooted in your emotional awareness.
This is the part of you that determines how you perceive and interact with the world.
The part of you that defines much of your temperament.
Becoming aware of – and working with – one’s emotions can often feel like a huge step into vulnerability.
They can reveal truths about us that we might not be ready to accept.
But growth can only occur with a willingness to be fully present with what we’re feeling.
Are you ready to know yourself in a whole new light?
What Is Emotional Awareness And Why Is It Important?
Emotional awareness specifically relates to our capacity to recognise, understand and express ourselves through the lens of our emotions. This awareness is part of a discernment process that allows one to feel whether an action is aligned or not. In some ways, emotions paint a very binary picture of our needs.
This either feels good and so therefore we want it, or it feels bad therefore it’s undesirable. This sense of discernment leads into the capacity for emotional intelligence, which plays a crucial role in interpersonal communication, personal well-being, and mental health.
Emotional Awareness Defined:
- Recognising when you are feeling an emotion.
- Being able to name or identify that emotion.
- Understanding the cause or source of the emotion.
- Recognising the effects that emotions can have on thoughts and actions.
- Being aware of how emotions influence interactions with others.
The Importance of Emotional Awareness:
Personal Well-being: Being able to recognise and understand emotions is the gateway to being able to express them, which prevents dense energies such as anger and resentment from being held inside which can lead to dysregulation if left unprocessed.
Healthy Relationships: When it comes to relationships, emotional awareness helps in being able to understand the needs of other people and respond in a way in which allows them to feel seen and heard, thus creating deeper – more meaningful – connections.
Decision Making: When one is fully in-tune with their emotions, they can become a powerful part of a vocabulary that allow us to make more informed decisions rather than falling into impulsive reactions.
Self-regulation: The ability to self-regulate can be supported by having a high degree of emotional awareness, which allows for them to be properly processed in a way which is constructive and de-escalate any kind of triggered response/dysregulation.
Empathy and Compassion: Being able to both recognise and understand emotions, makes it far easier to empathise with others leading to more compassionate responses and the formation of deeper long-term relationships..
Emotional Awareness Vs Emotional Intelligence
Both emotional awareness and emotional intelligence are necessary for the proper functioning of our mental and emotional health. It’s not a choice between one or the other. In fact, they’re both parts of the same whole.
Definition: Emotional awareness relates to the capacity to recognise and understand both our emotions and the emotions of others.
Scope: Awareness is an identification process, and serves as the entry point into engaging either with yourself or other’s utilising your capacity for emotional awareness.
Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ)
Definition: Emotional intelligence, on the other hand, is all about the application of that awareness. Your emotional intelligence dictates whether you’ll either react or respond in any given situation.
Scope: Having a high degree of emotional intelligence allows one to successfully navigate conflict resolution situations due to the ability to see beyond one way of being and take into account the needs of others.
Why Do I Lack Emotional Awareness?
The lack of emotional awareness is sometimes termed as “alexithymia,” which describes a condition which makes it difficult for individuals to identify and describe their emotions. There are multiple factors that could contribute to this, including:
Upbringing and Early Life Experiences
Growing up in an environment where emotions were never discussed or were actively discouraged can lead to a lack of emotional capacity in adulthood. Traumatic experiences can also cause individuals to disconnect from their emotions as a defence mechanism.
Cultural or Societal Factors
Certain cultures or societies place value on emotional restraints and discourage any kind of open emotional expression. As a result, individuals raised in these cultures might have a hard time developing their own unique expression of self through their own emotional vocabulary.
Neurological or Biological Factors
Certain neurological conditions, like autism spectrum disorders can make it difficult to understand and properly process emotions, due to the very literal way they experience the world. Brain injuries that affect the limbic system or frontal lobe can also impair one’s decision making process.
Mental Health Conditions
Conditions such as depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, amongst others can have a significant effect on one’s ability to discern their emotions. For example, Someone who’s living with depression may consistently feel sadness or emotional numbness, preventing them from feeling into the wider spectrum of their emotional landscape.
What Are The Symptoms Of Low Emotional Intelligence?
Low emotional intelligence can manifest through multiple different symptoms. Some of these may be internal and relate to the understanding of the self, while others may present in a more behavioural expression.
Here are some symptoms and behaviours that might indicate low emotional intelligence:
Difficulty in Identifying Emotions: This can lead to a difficulty in both understanding and articulating one’s own emotions/feelings.
Misreading Social Cues: This can lead to a difficulty in forming and maintaining interpersonal and romantic relationships.
Impulsive Behaviour: This may lead to overextending in social situations and making social faux pas.
Difficulty Handling Criticism: Over time, this may lead to emotional dysregulation which may then be projected back at the person who was sharing the critique.
Limited Empathy: Difficulty or inability to recognise and understand the emotions of others or to share in their feelings.
Inappropriate Emotional Reactions: Displaying emotions that are out of proportion to the situation, such as laughing at a funeral or becoming angry over minor issues.
Avoiding or Escalating Conflicts: Either avoiding disagreements entirely or confronting them aggressively without seeking a middle ground.
Struggling with Self-regulation: Facing difficulty in managing emotions, leading to mood swings, sudden outbursts, or emotional shutdowns.
Poor Listening Skills: Focusing more on responding than understanding when communicating with others.
Lack of Self-motivation: Finding it hard to self-motivate or to stay motivated in the absence of external rewards or recognition.
Denial of Emotional Reality: Claiming not to feel any emotion, or insisting on a purely logical approach even when emotional understanding is necessary.
Frequent Misunderstandings: Regularly finding oneself in situations of misunderstanding or confusion with others.
Difficulty Adapting to Change: Struggling to cope with changes or transitions because of an inability to process and adapt emotionally.
What Are The 5 Levels Of Emotional Awareness?
The concept of different levels of emotional awareness has been explored numerous times in psychological literature. One of the most prominent frameworks is a tool called the Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale (LEAS). Since its introduction, it has been proven to help manage one’s feelings, interact better with others, as well as improving both mental and physical health.
Here are the five levels explained in ascending order from entry level to complex:
1. Psychosomatic Reactions (or Somatic Awareness):
This is the first and most basic level of understanding one’s emotions, as they’re experienced primarily as physical sensations in the body. It might not be immediately apparent that these sensations are connected to emotions. For example, one might feel a sensation in the stomach when they feel anxious but not recognise it as anxiety.
2. Action Tendencies (Somatomotor Activity)
When emotions are felt at this level, the awarenesses you feel are intended to inspire action, although the individual may not be fully aware of the emotion of self. It may simply be a need which is acted on automatically. For example, feeling an urge to run away or confront someone aggressively without recognising underlying fear or anger.
3. Categorical Emotions
Here, individuals can feel into separate emotions and categorise them into different states. On this level, the emphasis is on having a direct experience of the emotion. For example, someone may say, ‘I feel angry.’ This is also known as a discrete emotion. However, there still may not be a full understanding of the emotion at hand.
4. Differentiated Emotions
On this level, emotions become more nuanced and differentiated. Emotions can be felt as a compound experience, concurrently with one another. For example, instead of just feeling bad, an individual may feel frustrated, betrayed, or lonely. There also may be a contrast in feelings, “sad yet hopeful.”
5. Complex Integration of Differentiated Emotions
This is the most advanced level of emotional awareness in which an individual is able to both appreciate the multifaceted and multidimensional nature of their own emotional landscape as well as that of others. On this level, there is capacity to appreciate the complexity in the experience of both the self and others. This comes from being able to imagine yourself in other peoples position through an unbiased neutral point of view.
Enhancing Emotional Awareness
While some individuals might naturally possess higher emotional awareness, it is a skill that can be developed. Practices like mindfulness meditation, journaling, and therapy can help enhance one’s emotional understanding and expression.
What Are Some Emotional Awareness Examples?
When speaking about such an intangible subject to emotions, it can be hard to really understand the nuances of what’s being communicated without the theories and concepts being contextualised through examples.
High Emotional Awareness Examples:
Here are five examples of what high emotional awareness might look like:
1. Recognising Own Emotions:
John feels uneasy when he’s around a coworker but he can’t quite pinpoint the reason why. After reflecting he realises it’s because this coworker reminds him of someone who used to bully him in school. John acknowledges his response and looks for ways to address his issue.
2. Empathetic Response:
Sarah notices that her friend Jane seems distant and isn’t being herself. Instead of ignoring the situation, Sarah expresses genuine concern by asking Jane if she’s feeling okay. She speaks in an inviting empathetic tone without pressuring Jane to respond – only if she feels comfortable.
3. Expressing Emotions Appropriately:
During a team meeting Robert disagrees with a proposed idea. Instead of resorting to anger or becoming dismissive, he calmly explains his perspective by saying, “I understand where you’re coming from. However, I feel concerned about the potential risks.”
4. Understanding Emotional Triggers:
Emily recognises that discussing finances can make her anxious. So to navigate this, before having a discussion with her partner she openly communicates her feelings, creating a safe environment for her to feel at ease.
After having an argument with his brother, Alex excuses himself to do some breathwork, as he acknowledges his anger is escalating and getting the better of him. He then also decides to take a short walk to fully let down and regulate.
Low Emotional Awareness Examples
Here are five examples of what low emotional awareness might look like:
1. Misidentifying Emotions:
Mike is feeling restless and irritable throughout the day attributing it to fatigue. However, in his unawareness, he fails to recognise that his restlessness is likely due to anxiety about an upcoming presentation.
2. Inability to Understand Others’ Emotions:
When Lisa witnesses her roommate in tears she assumes that her roommate is simply being overly emotional and advises her to “snap out of it” without making an effort to understand the cause.
3. Suppressing Emotions:
Following a breakup Sam insists that he is “completely fine,” immersing himself in work. However, he doesn’t allow himself the opportunity to process his feelings of sadness and grief, which could potentially lead to an outburst later on when he reconnects with his ex.
4. Reactive Responses:
During a disagreement with a colleague, Karen instinctively becomes defensive. She raises her voice without attempting to understand where her colleague is coming from and the point she’s trying to convey.
5. Misinterpreting Emotional Responses:
Upon witnessing two friends whispering, Tom immediately feels excluded and assumes they’re discussing him. He places himself at the centre of someone else’s conversation and fails to appreciate they might have something private they wished to discuss.
How Do You Build Emotional Awareness?
Building emotional awareness is something that requires time and discernment. Given the complexity of the human condition and the endless variable of experience, it’s not something that can be learned overnight – and realistically even in a single lifetime. However, there are plenty of tools and techniques that can help you build up one capacity of emotional awareness.
Emotional Awareness Activities
Here are six activities that will allow you to build better emotional awareness:
1. Mindfulness and Meditation:
Begin with practices such as mindfulness meditation, which encourages you to be fully present in the moment. This enables you to tune into your emotions without judgement. Engaging in body scan meditations can also aid in recognising sensations associated with emotions.
Taking time to regularly journal your feelings is extremely beneficial for understanding one’s inner world and allows you to process a lot of your stuck emotions. Over time, you may notice patterns emerging that reveal triggers or consistent emotional reactions.
3. Therapy or Counselling
Seeking guidance from therapists can offer support in recognising and comprehending one’s emotions. Receiving external input from someone who was able to ask questions in a safe and constructive way could help unlock some of the pieces you’re able to see by yourself.
4. Check-in with Yourself
One of the simplest yet most effective ways to improve your emotional awareness is to simply take five minutes periodically throughout the day to check in with yourself and your state of being. Try to identify what you’re feeling and journal the results afterwards. Discerning what emotions you’re feeling is the first step in understanding them.
5. Expand Your Emotional Vocabulary
Make an effort to familiarise yourself with the expanded vernacular and vocabulary used to describe the emotional condition. The more entry points and concepts you have to describe the emotions, the more you’ll integrate what they mean to you.
6. Read and Educate Yourself
The best way to familiarise with the language of emotional awareness and intelligence is to read books, articles, and quality peer reviewed studies that explore this topic in depth. There are also a host of credible therapists and researchers that post regularly on YouTube.