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Emotional Awareness
S. Hein

Definition

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

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Other Core Topics

Respect | Empathy
Caring | Listening
Understanding

Free EQ for Everybody Book



Definition

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.

Accepting the feeling

Going back to the person in the room, after we have greeted him by name, we can help him feel accepted. Similarly, 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.

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 cannot 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.

Note about EI tests and forecasting feelings

Additional Notes

Emotional Awareness and Happiness - S. Hein

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 - S. Hein

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 - S. Hein

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 one of the first steps towards furthering the development of your EI.

 
Note on the Mayer et al definition and on testing - S. Hein

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." - S. Hein

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

1) How is that person feeling?

2) How do 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?"

S. Hein
Dec. 28, 2003

 
Awareness, Consciousness, Power and Control - S. Hein

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. Since she was the head of the English department she might have also believed she deserved more attention compared to the other teachers, which would be understandable. Because I wasn't giving her the attention she wanted and needed she probably wanted me to feel guilty even if I had remembered her name quickly. Her question seemed to be her way of saying, "You are not spending enough time with me or showing me enough respect." She might have also wanted me to feel guilty because she could have felt a little used because she was the first person who invited me to speak to her class, yet I had not spent much time talking to her since then. Maybe she also felt a little possessive of me in the sense that because she met me first she somehow had more right to me.

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, "If you don't mind telling me, 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 teachers were inviting me to come speak to their classes and she might have felt something like jealousy.

As I look back, there were more indications of her inner feelings, such as once when 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 and respected since I am the head of the department." But I don't like to show false respect to someone just because of their position, clothes, wealth, etc. Also, from a practical perspective, the time I spent in her office was time I would not be helping the students who wanted to practice their English .

On the day she asked if I had remembered her name, I had a sense of how she was feeling and how she wanted me to feel. 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, but unspoken issue was 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 will not really respect or like her and people who have a choice probably 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 would have been in more in control of the situation. As it was, I was basically reduced to the level of one of her students or subordinate teachers, 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 more than gather factual information about my memory. Besides just being an attempt to get more of my attention, she may have also wanted to remind me that she was an authority figure and that I was small in comparison to her.

In any case, by asking this question, she took a position of authority and control. 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 was feeling more emotionally needy than I was at that moment. Therefore, had I been more consciously aware, 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 indirect. They are afraid to express their feelings directly, so they say things like, "Do you remember my name?"

By being more consciously aware of not only my feelings, but perhaps more importantly, of her feelings, motives and unmet emotional needs, I would have felt a little more in control of the situation and I would not have had to leave the situation feeling small, guilty (or guilt-tripped) and manipulated. A person who is very aware and who 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 wiser to say this silently to themselves rather than out loud if someone actually is in a position of authority.

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 to people like this when you were young. By being aware of what is happening you give yourself more options. You might even realize you don't have to answer the question at all, but instead ask a question in return.

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 with experience I have learned many people around the world will abuse their power, so it helps to be more aware of what is happening. It helps to be more aware of how I am feeling so I can protect myself. In the case of the teacher I might have said with a laugh, "I am afraid to answer that question!" It is possible, even highly probable that if you are so emotionally honest, many people will invalidate you. But if you are at least aware of your and their feelings, you are in a much better position than if you are not.

S. Hein
Jan 13, 2004
HatYai, Thailand

 

Awareness and Responsibility - S. Hein

With awareness of feelings comes a certain amount of power, and with that a certain amount of both danger and responsibility. One danger is that you might be tempted to use your awareness to help fill your own unmet needs to feel powerful and in control, at someone else's expense. You might also try to impress someone with how much you know, or you might try to really help them, but instead, you might end up damaging the relationship.

Here is an example. Let's say that you have a friend who is not as aware of his feelings as you are. If you try too hard to get your friend to identify his feelings, or to agree with your analysis of them, the friend could easily feel either offended, or frightened. He could feel offended because you are implying you know more about him than he does, or he could feel frightened because he feels exposed and unable to hide his true feelings. Rather than admit that you are right, he might chose to withdraw from the relationship, which could be just the opposite of what you wanted.

Feelings are intimate and this intimacy means vulnerability. Thus, you can use the power of awareness to either help or hurt someone. For that reason awareness brings with it a certain responsibility. The good thing is that when you can see by their feelings that people have unmet emotional needs you have a much better chance to help them fill some of these needs.

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To be aware of your feelings is to be aware of your needs, motives and motivation. S. Hein