How to Raise Awareness of our Emotions
By: Haim Shemer, Psy.D. | October 5, 2018
Are you aware of your emotions? Can you identify the emotions that give rise to your feelings of anxiety, disturbance, bad behavior, or other uneasy states of mind?
To help us with meanings, Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word emotions as:
- the affective aspect of consciousness
- a state of feeling
- a conscious mental reaction, such as anger or fear, subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body
As clear as this definition might be, we may find it challenging to bring an awareness of our emotions and to identify them. A state of unawareness of our emotions can lead to increased disturbance and increased intensity of other emotions. For example, if you are unaware of the anxiety that you are experiencing, you might find yourself engaging in behaviors that increase the anxiety rather than relieve it.
Increase Awareness of Emotions with Body Scan
A helpful way to bring awareness to emotions in our body is the Body Scan exercise. This exercise takes 10-15 minutes, and its purpose is to bring attention to physical sensations in the body from head to toe. The body scan helps us get in touch with difficult and overwhelming emotions while tuning us to the physical sensations that point to such emotions.
Let’s take anxiety as an example again. Common physical sensations of anxiety in the body include tightness of the chest, tension in the shoulder or back, and abdominal pain. Being aware of these physical sensations can alert us that we are experiencing anxiety. Such awareness then allows us to address the anxiety before it intensifies. Much like any other skill we practice in life, frequent body scans leads to mastery, bringing much more awareness to our physical and emotional states.
Barriers to Awareness of Emotions
As we grow up, many of us learn from parents, teachers, and other adults that it is not okay to cry, no reason to be afraid, to be sad, or be angry, when these are the very emotions we feel inside. This attitude toward such negative emotions can cause the repression of these emotions.
Confusing emotions with thoughts is a prominent barrier to the awareness of our emotions. It is difficult to clearly distinguish thoughts from emotions as many of us use statements such as “I feel that…” in thinking we are about to describe an emotion but more likely describing a thought. Emotions may be hidden and masked behind our thoughts. Hiding or masking emotions are unconscious attempts to protect ourselves from being aware of them and their negative or intense effects.
Another barrier to being aware of our emotions is that our emotions are impalpable. Defining them can be challenging. The feelings we experience and share can hold different meanings to each of us, take on a different shape, and be experienced in different intensities.
Lastly, a common barrier to our awareness of our emotions is that many of us lack adequate vocabulary to describe our emotions. This is related in part to a point discussed earlier: that growing up, many of us may be discouraged from talking about or expressing our emotions. The less we talk about something or be allowed to express it, the less we will be able to describe it.
In conclusion, frequent body scans for recognizing the physical sensations of emotions and knowing the barriers to awareness are ways to get more in touch with our emotions. Embracing our emotions is an integral part of our existence.