Modern researchers identify emotions as a pattern of reactions whose purpose is to adapt and react to a situation quickly and with minimal cognitive intervention.
Emotions are our guidance system. For example negative emotions, such as fear, guide us away from things that could be a danger to us. While positive emotions have us seek things that could benefit us.
In order for this system to work properly we must be aware of what emotions we are experiencing and be able to understand what those emotions are telling us.
What is emotional awareness?
Emotional awareness is the ability to recognize, identify and make sense of the emotions that are present. To be emotionally aware is to understand your emotions and the effect they have on you and those around you.
Emotional awareness is a skill and as any other skill it gets better with practice. The more we practice identifying emotions, the better we get at labelling them. And the simple act of labelling the emotion diffuses it.
Each time we recognize and label the emotion we make the emotion less intensive and more manageable. The more accurate we are at identifying the emotion, the easier it would be to take appropriate action regarding what caused the emotion.
Benefits of developing emotional awareness
When we are emotionally aware we communicate better. Simply being aware of our emotions and the emotions of others, helps us navigate through a possibly intense conversation without getting reactive or defensive.
Knowing our emotions and what triggers them gives us a better understanding of our motivations, strengths and limitations. This gives a clear picture of where we are in our lives and what we need to work on in order to grow.
Emotional awareness helps us maintain better relationships with ourselves and with others. Understanding our emotions allows us to set personal boundaries and understanding the emotions of others makes it easier for us to respect their boundaries.
How to develop emotional awareness
Acknowledge when an emotion is present.
The first step is to learn to recognize when an emotion has been triggered. Emotions cause involuntary bodily responses (reactions of the autonomic nervous system). Your heart rate might increase, your palms may begin to sweat, muscles may contract.
Identify the emotion
Next step is to identify the emotion. Once you know what emotion you are experiencing, you can communicate it better and you can mindfully choose how to respond to it.
In order to become better at identifying the emotions you must increase your emotional vocabulary. Go deep into the emotion and find its nuances. Are you angry, or are you disappointed? Are you sad or are you powerless?
The better you can narrow down the exact emotion, the more your emotional awareness grows. Start with a simple list like this one, and add to it:
Take time to look back on events and situations that had you experience intense emotions and dissect them. What triggered the emotion? How did it physically feel? How intense was the emotion? How did you express the emotion?
The more you learn about yourself and your triggers, the more emotionally aware you become.