What It Means To Be Emotionally Aware
The Definition of Emotional Awareness
Emotional awareness is the ability to label the experience of affect in consciousness with a word that symbolizes emotions.
Emotions are biologically based patterns of perception, experience, physiology, action and communication culturally created in our brains.
Affect, the physical experience of pleasure and unpleasantness, is the foundation of emotion. We are born with affect; we are not born with emotions.
In early childhood, we learn emotions by creating a database of physical experiences with emotional words. We experience affect physically. When we are conscious of that physical feeling, we experience emotion.
Here’s an example. Suppose something happens to me. I experience a mild negative affect of anger/rage. I become aware of the sensation I am experiencing. Reaching into my emotional database, I am able to describe the sensation as frustration. I am aware that I am experiencing the emotion of frustration.
Why Emotional Awareness Is Important
Emotional awareness is a crucial life skill because it allows you to control and navigate the dominant aspect of your consciousness. Without this awareness, you are at the mercy of your biology. You cannot make good decisions. Your relationships suffer, and you have difficulty understanding others.
You Can Calm Yourself Down By Affect Labeling Yourself
Research shows that reflecting your own emotions to yourself, called affect labeling, calms you down in seconds. However, the trick to affect labeling is being emotionally aware. The good news is that when you learn how to affect label others, you become emotionally aware of your own emotions.
You Can Communicate Your Emotional States More Clearly To Others
Emotional awareness allows you to communicate how you are feeling to others. If you are not emotionally aware, you become frustrated because no one seems to understand you. You have trouble expressing your feelings and consequently never feel heard. In extreme cases, this can lead to violent acting out.
You Can Move Through Difficulties Faster By Using Your Emotions As A Navigating Tool
You emotions are data. They provide you with information about what is going on inside and outside. Without this data, you have no way of making good decisions about your life. Instead, you move on autopilot. Sometimes, the autopilot makes good decisions; sometimes, it doesn’t. Emotional awareness takes you off of autopilot so that you can control your decision-making.
Many people don’t like emotions, preferring to believe they are rational. Neuroscience reveals that every decision we make is emotional. We cannot make a rational decision without being emotional first. Those who believe they are rational are simply allowing their emotions to dictate their “rational” decisions without awareness.
You Can Set Personal Boundaries That Work For You
Becoming emotionally aware allows you set boundaries with others that work for you. You know what you will tolerate and why. Without awareness, you have no idea why people are violating your boundaries. You simply feel violated and can’t do anything to fix it. This is the classic victim mentality.
You Can Understand Others Better And Be More Helpful
Empathy is the ability to read other people’s emotions and reflect them back with a “you” statement. Emotional awareness allows you to express empathy when other people are emotional. When you are aware of and can reflect back their emotions, you help others feel validated and deeply heard.
Benefits of Being Emotionally Aware
Stronger Leadership Qualities
An emotionally competent leader can read team emotions. This guides a leader in deciding how to approach tasks, motivate team members, and evaluate performance.
Able To Motivate Teams More Effectively
An emotionally aware leader knows when team members are overwhelmed, frustrated, and burned out. This leader can validate team emotions, making team members feel heard and valued. Emotions motivate people to accomplish or avoid tasks and the emotional leader understands precisely how to use team emotions.
When you are emotionally aware and can listen others into existence by validating their emotions, you build trust. When people feel deeply heard, they are willing be open and vulnerable. They trust that you will not betray them or invalidate them.
Create Psychological and Emotional Safety On Teams
Psychological safety describes a team or work environment where being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career. Research by Google’s Project Aristotle and the DORA State Of DevOps annual report show that psychological safety is the single most important factor for increased performance in teams.
Ultimately, the leader of a team is the person responsible for creating and maintaining psychological safety. An emotionally unaware leader cannot create psychological safety. If a leader cannot navigate emotions, emotional safety is impossible.
Lower Levels Of Social Anxiety
Emotional awareness lowers social anxiety Research indicates a relationship between social anxiety and lack of emotional regulation. If you suffer from social anxiety, you do not have the ability to regulate your emotions. This implies that socially anxious people lack emotional awareness. Developing emotional awareness appears to lower social anxiety.
Better Relationships with Friends and Family
Emotions are the foundations of relationships, not rationality. If you are emotionally aware, you will be tuned into the feelings of your friends and family. You will understand and relate to them in deeper ways than if you were oblivious to your emotions. (Read more about being an emotionally competent parent here.)
Emotional awareness confers confidence and self-esteem because you can manage difficult emotional situations that the unaware cannot manage. You can confront difficult conversations, unpleasant conflicts, and stop arguments and fights. You have control over your emotions.
The 6 Levels of Emotional Awareness
Your awareness of any given emotion falls on a spectrum ranging from no awareness to complete awareness. Drs. Lane and Schwartz theorized that this spectrum falls into six separate levels of increasing emotional awareness, including:
Level 1-No Emotional Awareness
You have no idea what you’re feeling or that an emotion is even present. For example, you may say, “I feel like a loser.” However, this is an evaluation or judgment, not an emotional state.
Level 2-Awareness of Bodily Sensations
You have some awareness of feelings, but they may only be bodily sensations, such as increased heart rate or muscle tension.
Level 3-Awareness of Behaviors
You may only be aware of how you would like to act as a result of feeling an emotion. For example, you may say, “I think I feel like leaving this situation as fast as possible,” likely signaling fear or anxiety, or “I feel as though I could yell at him,” signaling anger.
Level 4-Awareness of an Emotion
You’re aware that an emotion is present; however, you may have a hard time figuring out exactly what emotion it is. For instance, you may have enough awareness to know that you feel bad or overwhelmed, but nothing more specific than that. This is sometimes termed an undifferentiated emotional state.
Level 5-Differentiated Emotional Awareness
We are now getting to the top levels of emotional awareness. At this level, you’re aware of specific emotions that are present. You’re able to identify the emotion you’re feeling, such as sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, happiness, joy, or excitement, at any given point in time.
Level 6-Blended Emotional Awareness
This is the top level of emotional awareness. You’re aware of a number of emotions that are present at the same time, including emotions that may seem in opposition to one another, such as sadness and happiness. For example, a mother seeing her child go off to school for the first time may be very happy her child has reached this milestone but also sad to see her child growing up so fast.
How Emotionally Aware Are You?
Consider this situation:
You and your best friend at work have competed hard for the promotion to vice-president. Only one of you will get it. You just learned that your friend got the promotion.
In the comment section below, tell me what you would think, feel, do, or say in response to the news. How would your best friend think, feel, do, or act? I’ll reply back to give you some insights.
I asked this question on Linked-In. Here are some of the responses:
“Do we know we’re competing, has it been a friendly competition? If the boundaries were established beforehand I would congratulate them on their success. I have now become a better person.”
“bottom line is if the fight was fair and he’s your buddy, you should be happy. period. and still sad you didn’t win. but not sad with jealousy or envy”
“Best to discuss the possible outcomes with friend prior to the decision. Even then, until you are in that situation you will have no idea what you may feel.”
“I wouldn’t react I would take some time away and respond once I have clarity. I would meditate and be patient for answers. Competition is an old antiquated way that fosters fear and you being better than me. We must look at other ways to manage and lead. Let’s start with being more consciously aware. Create a new culture in the organization.”
“I would feel slightly disappointed, I’m sure but that would be tempered with the happiness I’d feel at my friend’s win. I would be sure my friend knew how happy I was for their promotion!”
“An interesting dilemma when your friend gets the job that you wanted. Taking a step back to process, breathe, and consider your next step would be the ideal. But definitely a challenge at the time.”
You might want to come back to these responses after you finish this article. See if you can identify what level of emotional awareness each response reflects.
Examples of Emotional Awareness
Here are some examples of the levels of emotional awareness. Each situation is followed by a typical response through the 6 levels. Once you understand the levels of emotional awareness, go back to the last section and see if you can pinpoint the level of awareness reflected by each of the Linked-In responses.
You have been volunteering your time leading a major community transformation effort. Today, some community leaders called you to a meeting by. They accused you of overstepping your authority and abusing your privilege. The political person, Carol, who is the titular leader of the project smirks, allowing the ad hominem attack to be relentless. You later learn that Carol was afraid of your progress and success because it would make her look incompetent. She suggested to certain other community leaders that you were seeking power for yourself. It was pure sabotage.
Level 1: “How could I have been so stupid to trust this person?”
Level 2: You feel your face flush and you are ready to fight.
Level: 3: You want to scream. Hitting a punching bag would feel good.
Level 4: You feel badly.
Level 5: You say to yourself, “I am royally pissed. I feel betrayed, angry, and frustrated. I feel completely disrespected. I’m sad because this great opportunity has tanked. I feel unappreciated.”
Level 6: You say to yourself: “I am royally pissed. I feel betrayed, angry, and frustrated. I feel completely disrespected. I’m sad because this great opportunity has tanked. I feel unappreciated. Carol is feeling satisfied, but also more deeply, embarrassed. She knows she betrayed me and feels unhappy about that, but she also feels good about herself because she believes she prevented herself from losing face.”
You and your friend agree to invest money together to begin a new business venture. Several days later, you call the friend back only to learn that she changed her mind. How would you feel? How would your friend feel?
Level 1: “Jeez. What am I going to do now?”
Level 2: “This is giving me a massive headache.”
Level 3: “I feel like crying.”
Level 4: “I am so disappointed.”
Level 5: “I am frustrated, angry, and disappointed. I’m sad and unhappy. I’m anxious and nervous about what to do next.”
Level 6: “I am frustrated, angry, and disappointed. I’m sad and unhappy. I’m anxious and nervous about what to do next. She is probably feeling embarrassed and anxious. She feels sad and unhappy, but she also feels relieved and happy.”
How to Develop and Improve Your Emotional Awareness
Some people develop emotional awareness naturally. For most, developing emotional awareness requires training. This training should include lessons, reading, and coaching sessions over a 10-12 weeks period. A typical training regime might be:
- Assessment of one’s current level of emotional awareness through the Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale (LEAS)
- A basic understanding of the neuroscience of emotions
- The cultural biases against emotions-understanding the head winds to developing emotional awareness.
- Understanding the levels of emotional awareness
- Introduction to affect labeling
- Practicing self and third person affect labeling
- Weekly coaching sessions
- Examination of and reprogramming emotional triggers
- Re-assessment of emotional awareness through the LEAS
The practice of affect labeling develops emotional awareness. Affect labeling is simply reading the emotions of others and reflecting them back with a simple “you” statement. Here is the link to the Noll Affect Labeling System course that will teach this vital skill.
Claim Your Benefits
Emotional awareness is an under-rated, almost unknown skill. Your emotional awareness is the key to career success and personal happiness. Take the time and effort to develop this and you will find your life transforming in amazing ways.