Enhancing emotional literacy

EQ Durban, EQ South Africa
Written by: Avril Kidd
This is the first of 8 competencies that we'll be exploring over the next few posts. Emotions are chemicals that provide data about yourself and others. The ability to notice, name and understand your feelings is known as Emotional Literacy.

Does recognizing and naming your emotions really make a difference in how you feel?

 Researchers say yes – recognizing and labeling your emotions has a calming effect on them and lowers their intensity by bridging the gap between thoughts and feelings. Something we refer to as ‘Name it to tame it’. This ability is learnable, and strongly associated with success.

Researchers at UCLA conducted a study in which participants with a fear of spiders were exposed to live spiders. Those who were told to label their fearful emotions about the spiders showed less physiological signs of anxiety than the other groups. Labeling the emotion out loud helped even more than labeling it to oneself.

Step 1

Start by exploring what you’re feeling on a daily basis as you face certain situations and label your emotions as you go through them. I find it helpful to keep a mood journal and write down my emotions for the week. There are hundreds of feeling words but on an average we only use around 10. Build your emotional vocabulary and help those around you do the same. Just think of the power this will have when dealing with others and children in particular.

Step 2

Then take it a step further and start understanding your feelings by exploring the cause of them and the effect of them. What caused you to feel that particular way and what did that emotion make you do? Did it cause a change to your behavior or performance? Then ask yourself, “Is this emotion driving me forward or holding me back?” You might find it worthwhile to let it go and replace it with another emotion that will serve you better. Give it a try!

Basic emotions

Some basic emotions are…
Anger: this is what we often feel when there is something in our way.
Disgust is an emotion often felt when rules are broken.
Sadness is something we feel when something or someone we love is lost to us

Look at these and ask yourself these questions the next time you experience some of these emotions;

  • Anger: What is in the way?
  • Anticipation: What important thing is coming?
  • Joy: What do you want to maintain?
  • Trust: What do you want to embrace?
  • Fear: What is at risk?
  • Surprise: What is unexpected?
  • Sadness: What (that you love) are you losing?
  • Disgust: What rules are broken?

Emotional literacy, the capability to name and understand feelings, is learned – and very powerful in creating better self-awareness of who we are and what makes us tick. It is affected by life experiences and therefore childhood is an essential time for learning how to label emotions, and is associated with success in school and throughout a person’s life.

In the same way that we have to learn our times table to become competent in mathematics, emotional literacy is a basic building block to emotional intelligence.

The good news is that, even for adults, it’s never too late to learn this skill. Start practicing today and you will see the changes it will make to you and those around you.