Developing Emotional Awareness

smilingEMOTIONAL AWARENESS

Definition: Emotional awareness means knowing very specifically how we feel. It means being able to label our feelings with specific feeling words. At its highest level it means being able to predict our feelings in advance.

 Levels of Emotional Awareness

This structure is intended to be a general guideline, not an absolute model.

Feeling the feeling

The first level of emotional awareness is feeling our feelings. If we are emotionally sensitive we will feel things sooner than others will. If we have no emotional sensitivity, or we have numbed ourselves from our feelings we won’t have any emotional awareness at all.

Acknowledging the feeling

The next level of emotional awareness is acknowledging the feeling. We may not know exactly what the feeling is, but if we notice and acknowledge that we have some feeling, we have taken the next step.

Nature has given us a sophisticated guidance system in our feelings. Our negative feelings, for example, call our attention to things which are not healthy for us. They tell us when we are out of balance. If we feel lonely, for example, we need more connection with other people.

The literature on emotional intelligence points out that our feelings direct us to what is important to think about. Through thought, our feelings can point us to the causes of our negative feelings and to possible solutions. But if we fail to acknowledge our negative feelings, we won’t be able to focus our attention on the problem that needs to be solved. For nature’s inner guidance system to function we must acknowledge our feelings.

Many people try to stop themselves from feeling their negative emotions. They may use drugs and alcohol. They may use entertainment and distraction. They may also try to simply deny the existence of their negative feelings. Even education, memorization, intellectual or religious pursuits can serve to stop us from acknowledging our feelings. All of this defeats nature’s purpose in supplying us with negative feelings.

Identifying the feeling

The more specific we are in identifying our feelings, the more accurate we can be in identifying the unmet emotional need and taking appropriate corrective action. In particular with anger, it helps to identify the more specific or more primary feelings. Even with our positive feelings it helps to identify them specifically so we can use this information to help us create happier lives.

Like anything else, the more we practice identifying emotions, the better we get at quickly selecting the correct name for the feeling. Each time we identify an emotion and assign a label to it, the brain’s cognitive and emotional systems work together to remember the emotion, the circumstances and the label for the emotion.

I read once that just the simple act of naming a feeling helps us feel better, and I have often found this to be true. Evidently this happens for several reasons. First, we have a natural fear of the unknown. When we label our feeling, we move it from the unknown to the known and thus we help make it less scary and more manageable.

Second, when we label it, we are using a different part of the brain than where we feel the feeling. I suspect that we are actually diffusing and moving the chemicals from their concentration in the emotional section to the cognitive section where the pain is not felt as much.

Finally, by beginning to think about our feeling, we are also taking the next step towards solving our problem. When our thoughts are clear, this helps us feel more in control and empowered.

 Accepting
the feeling

If we have felt, acknowledged and identified our feelings, the next step in emotional awareness and in benefiting from the natural value of our emotions is to fully accept the feeling.

Sometimes we might think that we shouldn’t feel the way we do. Such thoughts are the result of beliefs which have been programmed into us by others. One of the primary benefits of a highly developed emotional intelligence, though, maybe be that it helps us become more independent from the opinions and beliefs of others. Instead of listening to other voices, we are able to put more value on our inner voice, a voice which speaks to us through our individual emotions.

There are several benefits to fully accepting our feelings.

First, our feelings are a major part of us. Accepting our feelings is therefore a major part of self-acceptance. This does not mean we wish to stay as we are, but I agree with those who say it is easier to make positive changes in our lives if we first accept that we are how we are at the present moment.

Second, accepting our feelings takes less energy than trying to deny or suppress them.

Third, accepting our feelings sometimes helps prevent them from recurring over and over.

Finally, when we have fully accepted our feelings we can shift our energy to productive thoughts or actions.

 Reflecting on the feeling

Reflecting on our feelings actually could come at two different levels of emotional awareness.

First, at a low level of emotional awareness we might only reflect on our feelings after the fact. We might lay awake at night, for example, and think about an event during the day and our feelings about that event. This might help lead us to identifying our feelings sooner in the future.

I believe, though, that when our emotional intelligence is highly developed, the process of feeling our feelings and identifying them takes place quickly enough for us to reflect on the feeling nearly instantaneously or in “real time.”

The sooner we can accurately identify the feeling and reflect on it, the sooner we can take actions which are in our best interest.

Forecasting feelings 

The more aware of our feelings, the better chance we have of predicting how we will feel in the future. This can be thought of as forecasting our feelings.

We can improve this ability by considering how we will feel if we choose one course of action as opposed to another. The value of this ability can not be overstated. Only when we can predict our feelings can we make decisions which will lead to our long term happiness.

Consider these statements:

I know I am going to regret this.
I know I will feel guilty if I do this.

versus

It’s going to feel so good to…
I know I will feel better if I …

In the first case, our prediction of negative feelings is trying to help us avoid something. In the second case, our prediction of positive feelings helps motivate us. We simply make better decisions when we listen to our inner messages, in other words, our feelings.

The ability to forecast feelings extends to other people as well. In other words, when we are more aware of our own feelings and develop a greater ability to forecast our own feelings, it is more likely we will be able to forecast how someone else will feel. This naturally leads to being more considerate of others. Simply put, as we get in touch with our own feelings we realize that what doesn’t feel good to us probably won’t feel good to others.

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