Understanding Emotions: How to Improve Emotional Awareness

Understanding emotions
(Last Updated On: September 2, 2021)

So much of our daily lives are ruled by emotions, from the feelings that guide our own actions to how we think about and respond to other people. Understanding emotions and being able to sense how other people feel—as well as understanding the actions and events that lie behind those emotions—is paramount to our social, familial, and romantic relationships.

The ability to identify and understand emotions is a skill referred to as emotional awareness. It plays a key part in what is known as emotional intelligence. Your ability to understand emotions—both your own and those of others—plays a role in how well you communicate and the strength of the relationships you form with others.

Basics for Understanding Emotions

In order to build a better emotional understanding, it is important to first understand a few key things about emotions:

  • Emotions include three elements: subjective feelings, physiological reactions, and behavioral responses.
  • Emotions change frequently and tend to be fairly short-lived. When they become more lasting, they are usually dubbed a mood.
  • Emotions can be positive or negative, but there’s not such thing as a “bad” emotion. What matter is how you manage and respond to what you or someone else is feeling.

While some emotions can be more difficult than others, it is important to remember that they convey important information. If someone is feeling a negative emotion, it is a sign that something can be changed to create a more positive experience.

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The important thing is to acknowledge and try to understand what is causing an emotion. Ignoring it can cause the feelings to fester and make it more difficult to determine the source fo the feelings.

Why Understanding Emotions Is Important

What happens when we fail to understand not only how another person feels but why they might feel that way? As you might imagine, such situations can seriously derail a relationship.

Think about the last time you argued with a loved one. How much of that argument stemmed from not truly understanding what the other person was feeling?

Sometime during a misunderstanding or argument, you might find that stepping back and considering how each person is feeling might help. 

Emotional intelligence hinges on this ability to understand emotions. This includes understanding our own emotions as well as the feelings of those around us.

Tips for Understanding Emotions

So if building this emotional understanding is so critical, what exactly can you do to foster it? It’s not always easy and it often takes time and practice, but there are things you can do to become more emotionally understanding.

Be Observant

Everyone gets busy with their own life, so you might sometimes fail to notice the subtle emotional cues that others are projecting in your daily rush.

Did your co-worker seem a little bit distracted this morning? Was your spouse a bit quieter than usual during breakfast? Has your daughter been avoiding talking about her best friend lately?

Be on the lookout for some of the small clues that might indicate the emotional turmoil those around you might be experiencing.

Ask Questions

So you notice that one of your co-workers seems a bit distracted – how does that help you cultivate emotional understanding? Start by asking questions.

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“Hey, I notice that your mind seems to be somewhere else this morning. Is anything wrong?,” you might simply ask.

Sure, your co-worker might brush off your concerns or respond that they are fine, but there is a chance that they might open up and share their concerns with you.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Empathy and compassion play vital roles in understanding the emotions of others. In order to truly understand what someone is feeling, you often need to imagine yourself in their position.

Imagine that your co-worker has opened up and revealed that they are worried that their spouse is having an affair. A potential minefield of emotions to be sure, but take a moment to place yourself in their shoes. How would you feel? Anger? Fear? Sadness? By walking a mile in their shoes, you will probably have a better grasp on how they might be feeling.

Let Others Know that You Value Them

Understanding emotions doesn’t just involve knowing what other people might be thinking—it also includes acting on that knowledge.

By expressing interest, understanding, concern, and compassion for the emotions of others, you can make it clear that you do indeed value these feelings.

Building such emotional understanding isn’t always easy. Emotions can be confusing at times. They can be turbulent, messy, and even a little frightening. But making the effort to better understand how others feel can deepen your relationships and lead to more meaningful interactions with the people you encounter each and every day.

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