If we are not able to recognize our emotions and feelings, if we don’t find the causes or understand how they affect our behavior and decisions, we are unable to handle them properly and finish living on an emotional roller coaster. Therefore it is very important to develop emotional awareness.
Emotional Haze: CDangers of not distinguish the emotions
A very interesting study realized by psychologists at the University of Michigan has found that people suffering from depression have a common characteristic: they can’t distinguish properly the differences between the negative emotions experienced, such as sadness, guilt, anger and frustration. This may explain, at least in part, why depression is so difficult to fight.
To reach these conclusions, the researchers asked healthy people and people suffering from depression to report their emotions in specific moments during a week. They found that for depressed people was very difficult distinguish between different negative emotions.
These people would be immersed in a kind of "emotional haze" that is generated when we are not able to distinguish the emotions and label them. The problem is that this state can aggravate conditions such as depression or anxiety. In fact, it's hard to change our lives for the better if we do not know exactly how we feel at any time.
For example, imagine how difficult would be knowing when it's time to fill the tank of the car if there was not the appropriate indicator on the dashboard to indicate it? Something similar happens with our emotional state, we can not improve or use emotions in our favor unless we know how we feel and why.
What happens in the brain when we label an emotion?
A study conducted at UCLA has revealed what happens in our brain when we label the negative emotions. These neuroscientists asked a group of people to look at images in which appeared angry or fearful faces.
These images increased the activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain closely linked to emotions that acts as an alarm when detects a possible danger triggering a series of physiological changes that prepare us for fight or flight. In fact, it was seen that the amygdala reacts strongly to even subliminal images, those that escape our consciousness.
At this point, the researchers wondered whether the simple fact to label those emotions could mitigate and reduce the level of activation of the amygdala. Then they asked the participants to identify the emotions they were seeing. The results were surprising: the activity in the amygdala began to decline almost immediately, while it was activated the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, a region associated with thinking, behavioral inhibition and rational processing of emotions.
In practice, it happens that when we give a name to what we feel we are obliged to activate the more rational part of the brain. This area inserts a kind of "hand brake", avoiding that emotions take control. By understanding what is happening to us, the negative emotional impact decreases making sure that emotions are less painful.
A program to develop emotional awareness
Emotional awareness is the ability to recognize our emotions, identify them and give them a name. This means, above all, the chance to experience and recognize many emotions, feelings and moods. This also implies that the person dominates a sufficiently rich emotional vocabulary that allows him/her express exactly what he/she feels.
However, emotional awareness is not confined to recognize and label emotions but also allows us understand how they affect our behavior and thoughts. Also it implies knowing what we are feeling and why, find the cause of these emotions and, above all, learn to use them in our favor.
We are not born with emotional awareness, this is developed gradually, to the extent that we experience new emotions and the adults around us help us give them a name, and manage them. Unfortunately, often this learning doesn’t occur and the emotional awareness is atrophied. This does not mean that the person is not able to experience many emotions and feelings, but that is not able to recognize them and then will be much more difficult to manage them too. In this case, it would be advisable take part to a psychological program that help us develop the emotional awareness.
Demiralp, E. et. Al. (2012) Feeling blue or turquoise? Emotional differentiation in major depressive disorder. Psychological Sciences; 23(11): 1410-1416.
Lieberman, M. D. et. Al. (2007) Putting feelings into words affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli. Psychological Science; 18(5): 421-428.
Emotional Consciousness: Uncontrolled emotions are controlling you
4/ 5Oleh Jennifer Delgado