by Andrea M. Darcy
How aware of your emotions are you? It might sound a simple question, but emotions are not always as easy to describe as we’d like to think.
Consider how often, if someone asks you how you feel, you say ‘fine’.
What does ‘fine’ really mean? And do you really even feel ‘fine’ half the time you claim you do?
What is emotional awareness?
Emotional awareness is the ability to recognise and make sense of not just your own emotions, but also those of others.
This awareness is a big component of what is referred to as ‘emotional intelligence’ (E.I.). Which also includes being able to solve problems in life by understanding emotions, such as being able to regulate your own emotions, and cheer others up when they are feeling low.
High levels of emotional awareness means you can learn from your feelings quickly. For example, if you feel sad, you can reflect on why this is so, and make decisions that then help you. It also means you can predict emotions in advance – you know what actions will lead to what emotions, and this means you can make better choices accordingly.
Why do you need emotional awareness?
Being able to clearly understand your own feelings and those of others has the following benefits:
- you can communicate your emotional states more clearly to others
- you can move through difficulties faster by using your emotions as a navigating tool
- you can set personal boundaries that work for you
- you can understand and others better and be more helpful
- you can help yourself feel better by knowing what decisions lead to feeling good.
People who are emotionally aware tend to access more joy and fulfilment.
When you know the difference between what feels good and bad to you, you are liberated to gravitate towards the latter. And if you understand your emotions, when life inevitably brings a challenge you won’t panic and either be overwhelmed or repress how you feel, but instead will learn from what you are feeling and take care of yourself.
Emotional awareness and mental health issues
Of course not having emotional awareness means we can’t access how we feel, struggle to understand others, or we can’t control our emotions. Perhaps you feel numb inside, or you feel so emotional you try to escape your feelings. These scenarios means you are more susceptible to several mental health problems that can include:
Recognise the above as something you might struggle with? Don’t assume you have no emotional awareness at all.
The 5 kinds of emotional awareness
You might be more emotionally aware than you realise, even if you are suffering from the above psychological issues. Researchers Lane and Schwartz suggest the existence of five levels of emotional awareness, called the Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale (LEAS). The five levels of emotional awareness are:
Your awareness is limited to the physiological changes that are associated with an emotion, such as a change in your heartbeat or temperature, or that ‘your stomach feels tense’.
Action tendencies: This is fancy wording to mean you know that your emotions work at the level that you know whether or not you want to go towards or away from a situation because you can see it makes you feel ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Single emotions: You are aware of having one emotion at a time, such as happiness and sadness.
Blend of emotions: You can make sense of different kinds and intensities of emotions and the contrasting feelings that may occur simultaneously, but you don’t really understand how other people feel.
Blends of blends of emotions: You can experience different emotions and describe them in ways maybe others haven’t, using metaphors that make sense to you. And they have a good emotional awareness of the inner states of others.
What do these emotional levels look like in practise? Let’s take an example – You and your best friend are in the same line of work. There is a prize given annually to the best performance of the year. The two of you work hard to win. When the winner is announced at the yearly event, you don’t place. Your friend comes second, and someone else wins. These could be the different levels of emotional awareness you could show:
- “My stomach feels sick for some reason.I don’t know how my friend must be feeling.”
- “I feel I need to go home and get away from this event, I feel bad. My friend probably feels good.”
- “I’m happy for my friend so I guess I’m happy.”
- “I feel happy for her but a bit depressed I didn’t win. I guess she’ll feel happy she at least placed?”
- “I feel disappointed and happy all at once, like a pretty balloon that is a little deflated. But if someone else had to win, I am glad it is my friend. I think she must proud and happy, but also slightly disappointed she didn’t get the big prize.”
Emotional awareness and IQ
But do we have to be ‘smart’ to be emotionally unaware? Not necessarily. A study on the emotional intelligence of a group of Australian undergraduates showed varied results. A high IQ was found to mean that one was more likely to realise that a low mood was not the right thing to make judgements from. But at the same time, emotional awareness was found to be connected to verbal IQ over general IQs.
While eskimos are famous for their 30 different words for snow, we can be just as verbose with our emotions. The English language has more than 30 words to describe different intensities of fear, from terror to panic, anxiety, worry, uneasiness, fright, trepidation, consternation, and so on. Psychologists believe that without this plethora of words we would not be able to differentiate beyond the basics of positive and negative emotions like anger, fear, sadness, surprise and pleasure.
If you aren’t the wordy type, don’t panic.
The study also pointed out that one of the things that leads to emotional intelligence is empathy – the ability to show concern and compassion for others. Being the sort who wants to understand other people might mean you are more emotionally aware than you can describe perfectly in words.
Worried you have poor emotional awareness?
If you spend most of the time unsure what you feel, feel numbness instead of emotions, or even feel totally disconnected from yourself, or ‘disassociated‘? You can make some progress with self-help and things like learning mindfulness, which helps you be aware of what you feel in this moment. Or tryjournalling. (Read more great tips about understanding yourself in our article how to know how you truly think and feel).
But do consider reaching out for support. Often, an inability to understand your own emotions or those of others can have roots in a childhood trauma, or a difficult loss or event as an adult, all of which is hard to process alone. A counsellor or psychotherapist is trained at helping you get to the root of why this is so, and helping you unblock and process old emotions so you can become more available to your present day ones.
Do you have a question about emotional awareness we didn’t answer? Do so below, we love hearing from you.
Andrea M. Darcy is a health and wellbeing writer who also works as a mentor. Find her @am_darcy