People Who Are Consciously Aware of Their Emotions Deal With Them More Effectively, Study Shows

emotions

How aware of your emotions are you?

People who are consciously aware of their emotions deal with them more effectively. This idea is supported by a recent survey study by Claudia Subic-Wrana and co-workers (2014) of almost 2,000 participants (a representative sample of the German general population).

In the study, explicit emotional awareness (the ability to express one’s emotions verbally as feeling states) was linked to more adaptive coping strategies (=reappraisal) and better mental health, however, the effect sizes were only in the low to medium range. Larger effect sizes would be expected in a clinical population.

The authors emphasize that:

“… The use of adaptive emotion regulation strategies may be fostered by the ability to experience feelings consciously.” (p. 9).

Technically, the study used a correlational design. People’s emotional awareness was measured by The Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale, originally developed by Richard Lane and colleagues (1990). The scale is a performance task that discriminates between subconscious and conscious emotional awareness.

Moreover, self-report measures for emotion regulation strategies (reappraisal and suppression) and negative affect (anxiety and depression) were applied.

Why would emotional awareness be linked to better mental health? I can only think of one explanation: When dealing with our emotions, we can either try to ignore or suppress them, or we can try to accept or make room for them. Now, you might think: why should we accept our emotions when we can ignore them and thus get rid of them? And that is a good question.

When we ignore (supress) our emotions, we become less aware of them. As soon as we have an unpleasant experience, we try to get rid of it, and as a result, we begin to perceive the feeling as a threat that needs to be avoided instead of just a feeling. Ultimately, supression will decrease our tolerance for unpleasantness, our emotional awareness, and our ability to deal with emotions.

In contrast to supression, reappraisal is a process of recognizing and accepting our negative emotions. It involves a reinterpretation of the negative emotional stimulus, and because of our reinterpretation we can change our perception or experience to a better, less distressful experience.

On the basis of this study’s results, we are more likely to engange in reappraisal if we can express our emotions verbally as feeling states. According to the authors, being aware of our emotions may be:

“a pre-condition for thinking about the situation that caused the negative feelings and for taking new perspectives that may change one’s mood.” (p. 9).

So, I guess we should start paying more attention to our emotions instead of ignoring or supressing them. Let’s start right now… what do you feel?

Thanks for your interest.

Photo: Daniel
  • LivEviLiveDeviL

    This is nothing knew. In fact Mystery schools of antiquity formed a process for becoming self actualized. There is even a reference chart of emotional balancers. If depressed one should do productive work in order to direct negative thoughts and reward the action with self improvement of ones environment thus facilitate ones improvement of inner turmoil. Anger; acceptance , fear ; understanding, ….and so on.

    • Hi there,
      Interesting! I didn’t know about the mystery schools of the antiquity until now. So, negative thoughts like “I can’t do it” could possibly be replaced by meaningful action. When I act and do things – then I know I can do it, even though I tend not to believe so. The negative thoughts will then begin to lose their personal meaning. The support of one’s environment is essential in this process.
      Regards,
      S.

      • LivEviLiveDeviL

        BINGO

  • Hanan Parvez

    I think emotions are there for a reason and trying to deceive ourselves by ‘changing our perception’ does more long term harm as it usually leads to suppression of emotions

    • Hi Hanan Parvez,
      I am glad you reflected on this one. Yes, emotions are there for a reason, but this does not mean that we should act on our emotions. If we let our emotions (e.g., anxiety) control our lives, we cannot seize the things that are important to us. In this way, many emotions, such as anxiety and anger etc., will hinder us from living a meaningful life. If I act on feelings of anger, for example, which person will I then become? Will I be content with myself and my relationships? I am not so sure.
      No one is deceiving anyone as people make up their own realities. The reality that works, from my theoretical point of view, is a reality that fosters a life with meaning and contentment. When we change our perceptions, we don’t do it for the sake of the perception itself, we do it because it helps us live a better, more meaningful life. The term reappraisal is the exact opposite of supression so I am not sure what you mean. It would be great if you had an example that illustrates your point.
      Best regards,
      Simon