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Emotional Awareness



Levels of Emotional Awareness

Emotional Awareness, Sensitivity and Numbing

Emotional Awareness, Success and Happiness

Emotional Awareness and the Academic Model of Emotional Intelligence

Raising awareness of, and Identifying feelings - The example of "You won't hear from me again."

Awareness, Consciousness, Power and Control

Note There is an academic test called the "The Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale" which measures a person's ability to express their emotions and is unrelated to my ideas on the various levels of emotional awareness.


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Emotional awareness means knowing when feelings are present in ourselves and others.

It is closely related to emotional literacy, which means being able to label feelings with specific feeling words. At its highest level it means being able to predict feelings in advance.


Levels of Emotional Awareness

This model deals mainly with levels of self-awareness. There are also levels of awareness of the feelings of other people.



Knowing the feeling is present The first level of emotional awareness is knowing when feelings are present in ourselves. We become "aware" of the feeling when we first think about it or realize we feel something at that moment.

Example: We might be feeling impatient and start to tap our fingers. But at first we are not aware either that we are tapping our fingers or of our feeling. Then we might notice we are tapping our fingers and we might also realize we are feeling impatient. We might also be saying to ourselves, "I can't believe how long this is taking." Then we might realize we are feeling judgmental by judging how long it "should" take.

Another example: You are in a room. Another person enters. At first you don't see them, but maybe you realize there is a new noise. You turn and then you see the person and become aware they are in the room.

Acknowledging the feeling

To continue the example of the person in the room with you. After you have become aware there is someone in the room, you might acknowledge that person by waving or saying hello.

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 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

Still continuing the example of the person in the room, a further acknowledgement of the person could be to greet the person by name. In a similar way we can identify and name our feelings once we realize we have them.

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. (See emotions page) 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

Going back to the person in the room, after we have greeted him by name, we can help him feel accepted. Simlarly, once we have felt, acknowledged and identified our feelings, the next step in emotional awareness and in benefitting from the natural value of our emotions is to 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, may be that it helps us become more independent from the opinions and beliefs of others. Instead of listening to others' 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. (related stories)

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.


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.

Note about EI tests and forecasting feelings

Emotional Awareness and Happiness

I believe emotional awareness is a key to leading a happier and more fulfilling life. To really "know oneself," as the Greek philosophers urged us to do, requires that we know how we feel in all of life's many situations. When we know how we feel we know what we enjoy doing and who we enjoy doing it with. We know who we feel safe with, who we feel accepted by and understood by.

Though we might be able to lead a productive life, even a "successful" life -- if one defines success by the level of status, education, or material worth -- it is unlikely we will actually ever be happy unless we are very aware of our specific feelings. In fact, it is quite possible to be successful and miserable, as I have written about with respect to my own life. It is easy to accept without question other people's definition of success and happiness. But when we become more aware of our own true and unique feelings we are more likely to find our own individual happiness. This may be the essence of using our emotional intelligence.


Emotional Awareness, Sensitivity and Numbing

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. Sensitive people living in abusive environments and insensitive cultures learn ways to numb themselves from their feelings because so many of their feelings are painful.



Emotional Awareness and the Academic Model of Emotional Intelligence

In my adaptation of the academic model of emotional intelligence I place emotional awareness under the first branch of their framework. This first branch is emotional identification, perception and expression. Increasing your awareness of your own feelings is perhaps the first step towards furthering the development of your EI.



Note on the Mayer et al definition and on testing

I believe the ability to forecast our feelings is probably a legitimate part of emotional intelligence, but Mayer et al have not addressed this as yet. I am not certain how you would test this with a paper and pencil test, but not all aspects of emotional intelligence are suitable for such tests. As Mayer et al acknowledge there is more to emotional intelligence than can be tested. Though they don't stress this in their writing, they do say effectively the same thing when they say that "aspects of" emotional intelligence can be tested. This clearly implies that they leave open the possibility that there are also aspects of it which can never be tested in a formal, controlled fashion.




Raising awareness of, and Identifying feelings - The example of "You won't hear from me again."

To raise awareness of feelings, it helps to ask two questions when someone says something:

1) How is that person feeling?

2) How did they want the other person to feel?

Here is an exercise for practice, based on a true story in my life:


You Won't Hear From Me Again

A few days ago I wrote something in one of my online journals. I was feeling very resentful towards one particular person. I felt judged by her, disapproved of, betrayed, commanded, lectured to, misunderstood, misrepresented, lied about, persecuted, labeled, categorized, unappreciated and probably a few more things. I didn't say that so specifically though. I didn't use many feeling words. I wasn't educated or trained well enough to do that as I was growing up. In fact, I was never taught or trained at all in how to express my feelings with feeling words. I have had to teach, and try to train myself. More than that, I have had to unlearn what I was taught and conditioned to do. So at the time I was writing, I just let whatever thoughts I had flow out thru my fingertips.

The words were pretty harsh, and sometimes deliberately hurtful. Actually, though, my feelings didn't have much to do with the person I was writing about. The feelings and the words came from years and years of the pain from similar feelings. Her words just lit a fuse, but the bomb was full of negative feelings from thousands of other experiences.

Then she read what I had written and left me a note. She said, "Whatever. You won't hear from me anymore."

So now I wonder: "How did this person want me to feel?" And, "How was this person feeling?"

I have some ideas, but I can't be sure. Even though I felt resentful towards her I still want to help her learn about expressing feelings and about self-awareness of feelings. I'd like to help this person learn some things which they don't teach in school. I would also like to help others learn. And of course, perhaps most importantly, I would like to learn myself.

S. Hein
Dec. 28, 2003

Some feedback

Feed back to You Won't Hear From Me Again

From Beth, 16.

I imagine that the person saying that felt frustrated, hurt, angry, resentful, cruel, unloved, unwanted, insulted, violated, powerless, afraid, attacked, judged, abandoned, unsafe, misunderstood, betrayed, and alone.  

I imagine that that person wanted the other person to feel hurt, inferior, alone, imprisoned, abandoned, insignificant, unloved, uncared for, replaceable, dispensable, unneeded, unimportant, confused, disliked, angry, inessential, minor and useless.  


Awareness, Consciousness, Power and Control

Today I had what I believe is an important insight. I realized that the person who is more aware of feelings is more in control. (Psychologically, at least.)

I came to this insight when I started thinking about a teacher at one of the schools I have been visiting fairly regularly. The last time I saw her she asked me: "Do you remember my name?"

I was not very aware of my feelings at that point, nor was I consciously aware of her feelings. I sensed that she felt hurt because I was not giving her much attention. I sensed she wanted me to feel guilty if I had forgotten her name, or even if it took me a while to remember it.

I could hear the hurt in her voice. She felt left out. I had been talking to others around her and neglecting her. She needed more attention. She is the head of a department at her school, which is probably an indication she has many unmet emotional needs. People with unmet emotional needs often seem to rise to positions of authority in an attempt to fill these needs. Actually, this person probably wanted me to feel guilty even if I had remembered her name quickly. She probably wanted me to feel guilty as soon as she asked the question, because it was her way of saying, "You are not spending enough time with me or showing me enough 'respect'."

As I reflected on the situation I regretted not saying "How would you feel if I said yes and how would you feel if I said no." Or perhaps I could have said, "How are you feeling right now?" Or, "Are you feeling a little forgotten and neglected?" I suspect she was also feeling a little envious that I was spending time talking to others in her department. Others were also inviting me to come speak to their classes and she might have felt something like jealousy. There were other signs of her feelings, such as once she said, "Sit down and talk to us." But I think she really meant, "Sit down and give me some attention and help me feel important." I suspect that having the title of head of department she expected people to show her more "respect." But I don't like to show false respect to someone just because of their position, clothes, wealth, etc.

I had a sense of how she was feeling and how she wanted me to feel when she asked the question. She wanted me to feel guilty because I had been neglecting her, in her eyes. And perhaps she felt used because she was the first person who invited me to speak to her class and I had not spent much time talking to her since then. Maybe she felt a little possessive of me in the sense that because she met me first she somehow "owned" me.

But even though I had a sense of all of this, I was not consciously aware of all of it. My feelings and my awareness of her feelings affected my response but not on a conscious level. I felt afraid of not knowing the correct answer. But I didn't say that. I simply answered her question after I thought about it for what was surely "too long." And I did not say it with confidence. It was a complicated Thai name, or at least complicated for me. As it turns out I pronounced it okay, and felt some relief when she said "Yes." But whether I answered correctly or not was not the main issue. The main issue were the feelings involved. The way she said yes, also told me she still wanted me to feel guilty and to be more careful to pay her more attention in the future. She didn't not say it with a tone of happiness that I remembered it. I felt intimidated by her, which I expect is also how she wanted me to feel, though chances are she would never admit this and probably would not even be able to understand it herself. To her it is simply a way that she has learned to try to get her needs met. But because it is so indirect, manipulative and power based, it is actually counter productive in the long run because people who have a choice will not spend time with her voluntarily.

Had I been more consciously aware of my own feelings, of her feelings and of her motives for asking me the question, I could have been much more in control of the situation. As it was, I was basically reduced to the level of one of her students, having to face a question with a "right" or "wrong" answer and then to be rewarded or punished accordingly. But even if I had the "right" answer, I was still being emotionally manipulated because the question itself was intended to do much more than gather factual information about my memory. The question was intended to remind me that she was an authority figure and that she needed more attention than I was giving her. And she wanted me to feel small in comparison to her.

By asking this question, she took a position of authority. The person who asks the questions is usually the one with the power in a relationship. It is like a lawyer or a judge. The "witness" is not allowed to ask questions. And they are forced to answer, unless they happen to live in a country where they have the "right" to remain silent. But in most authority based relationships, a person does not have the "right" to remain silent. The authority figure demands an answer or punishes the person if an answer is not provided. The person is also punished if the "correct" or desired answer is not provided.

The person who asked me this question is more emotionally needy than I am. Therefore, I could have helped fill her emotional needs by addressing them more directly. What took place was all very subtle and indirect. When things are subtle and indirect it is hard to take firm control of them because it is not very clear what is going on. I have noticed that insecure people often tend to be very indirect. They are afraid to express their feelings directly, so they say things like, "Do you remember my name?"

But had I been more consciously aware of my feelings and of her feelings and corresponding unmet emotional needs, I could have had much more control of the situation. I would not have had to leave the situation feeling small, guilty and manipulated. Because I am often more aware of feelings than other people I talk to, I can sometimes rise above the details of the situation and address the feelings. Depending on my own level of unmet emotional needs I can use this ability in different ways. If I am feeling emotionally needy I might need to feel superior to the other person by proving to them that I know more about feelings, even their feelings, than they do. This doesn't make me many friends, though!

But if I am feeling relatively emotionally satisfied, I am more likely to be able to help the other person with unmet emotional needs. To me, it is sad and discouraging that a department head would be so emotionally needy, but I am sure that you know many similar people in positions of authority.

It is very tricky to address feelings directly with these kinds of people. For example, the other day I was talking to a teenager whose mother was calling him and telling him to come home. I suggested he ask her if she was feeling afraid that something bad would happen to him if he stayed out past 8:30 at night. And I suggested he ask her how afraid she felt from 0-10. He laughed and said, "I don't think she would like that. She would probably think I was 'talking back' to her." And, sadly, he is probably right. She would feel threatened precisely because his questions would give him more control and she is afraid of losing control. So these things must be handled very carefully when you are around certain people. You can't come across as "cocky" because they will punish you in one way or another. I am fortunate that I have my freedom so I can just leave and not be around people like this, but if you don't have that freedom, or you have not yet given yourself that freedom, then I might just suggest you try to be aware of feelings but not necessarily address them so directly.

A person who is very aware and can process emotional information very quickly might say something like, "It sounds like you want me to feel guilty because you feel neglected and forgotten." But it might be better if they said this silently to themselves rather than out loud!

Saying this to yourself still has a definite benefit. By identifying the feelings and the motives of the other person, you feel more in control of the situation. You feel more in control because you have more information about it and you understand it better. So you are not as easily manipulated and you are not as likely to just respond in the way that you were conditioned to respond by teachers like this when you were young. By being aware of what is happening you give yourself more options. You might realize you don't have to answer the question at all.

Most of my life I have been very naive, trusting, and honest. And I have been fairly obedient until someone starts to abuse their power. If someone asks me a question, I usually just answer it without analyzing it. But I have learned that people like this teacher will abuse their power, so I must become more aware of what is happening. I must be more aware of how I am feeling so I can protect myself. I could also have said, "I am afraid to answer that question!" This would have been very emotionally honest. Most likely she would have said something invalidating like, "You shouldn't be afraid. There is nothing to be afraid of. I won't hurt you." Then if I were feeling very confident and secure I might say in response, "Well, I am still afraid!" It would probably be counter productive to tell a person like this "I feel invalidated." Even if she knew what that meant, it would probably just make her feel more defensive. It would be a self-protective mechanism on my part, but it would not be a relationship building response.

So those are a few of my thoughts on awareness, consciousness, power and control.

S. Hein
Jan 13, 2004
HatYai, Thailand