Self-Awareness: What Am I Feeling and Why Do I Feel the Way I Do?

– Posted in: Emotional Intelligence


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Self-Perception is the most foundational and the least visible part of Emotional Intelligence. This is about our inner world and how we perceive and view ourselves, how motivated we are, the meaning we attach to what we do. There are three competencies included in this composite and they are Self-Awareness, covered in this post, Self-Regard and Self-Actualization covered next.

 Self-Awareness Is The Foundation

Self-Awareness is the foundation on which all the other elements of emotional intelligence are built. In a nutshell, we want to be in touch with our feelings, and understand them as they happen. Why? Because this awareness allows us to then manage and regulate our feelings. Things can get pretty out of control if we can’t regulate our feelings. Self-Awareness also supports our understanding of others and helps us manage our relationships effectively. It’s kind of hard to understand others if we can’t understand ourselves.

So, What Is It?

First, we want to recognize our feelings as they happen: I am not feeling good right now what do I feel? I feel a knot in my stomach what is going on?

Then, we want to be able to differentiate between feelings: am I sad or am I angry?

Also, we want to understand why we’re feeling the way we do: what specific event caused it? Or maybe it’s not an outside event but our own thinking that caused it?

Finally, we want to recognize the impact feelings have on us: am I losing my motivation because of how I feel? And on those around us: are my feelings causing me to behave in a way that is alienating others?

If You Don’t

Unfortunately, we often push away or deny some feelings especially the unpleasant ones, such as sadness or fear, or those we are not comfortable with such as anger. The problem is that what we don’t recognize we can’t manage. It is a blind spot approach or denial behavior that backfires getting us into more difficult situations and causing unpleasant consequences. Then a lot of time and energy get wasted correcting course and repairing damage, if correction and repair can be effected at all.

If You Do

The goal of Self-Awareness is not to over-analyze emotions. It is to develop enough consciousness of what we feel and why we feel the way we do so that we’re not driven blindly by unconscious forces or pushed into defeating, self-sabotaging behavior. Emotions come from the limbic system, which is the emotional center of the brain. This part of the brain is non-verbal and also vastly more powerful in terms of processing power than the executive brain, the pre-frontal cortex (PFC). As a result when we start being aware of feelings we bring to our consciousness a mental representation of the bodily sensations caused by your emotions, our PFC, which is verbal and has less processing capacity, needs to work hard to decode their meaning. It is like a zip file that is packed with compressed data. We have to open it to be able to read the information it contains. This is why it often takes some effort, some digging in to understand the messages and meaning of emotions. We’re translating from non-verbal to verbal  and from most powerful to least powerful brain parts.

Try It!

In coaching I use various exercises with my clients to help develop their Self-Awareness.

One exercise is to keep a journal for a week and record your strongest emotion every day. Then, next to the emotion write down the accompanying bodily sensations: clenched fists, whining voice, accelerated heartbeat, etc. Next, write down how you became aware of your feelings: through your bodily sensations or through your thoughts? What are you becoming more aware of?

 Try it, you’ll be surprised by how much you’ll discover about your feelings and your patterns and the richness and depth of that information!

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