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Emotional Literacy 2

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Emotional Literacy

Emotional Literacy can be defined as “the ability to recognize, understand, handle, and appropriately express your emotions”.   Take a moment to consider just how many of life’s problems can be traced back to a lack of this.  Consider, for example:

         - road rage

         - child abuse

         - racial hatred

         - terrorism

Consider also:

        - having the same old arguments with your loved ones, over and over again

        - the friends you have lost through disagreements that couldn’t be resolved

        - not being able to say no to your boss

        - ending up shouting at your kids

        - not telling your partner enough how much you love them

Our emotions served our hunter-gatherer ancestors well, where daily life placed them in dangerous situations.  Back then, the ‘fight or flight response’ could mean the difference between life and death.  Today we feel threatened by different things and in different ways, yet our bodies compel us to act just as though we were cave people still.  When we become angry or anxious, for example, we breath more quickly - feeling out of breath - to increase the supply of oxygen to the blood; our hearts start to beat more quickly too, getting the blood to the muscles so that they have the energy with which to act (to attack or to escape); we feel ‘butterflies’ in our stomachs as the digestive system is shut down so that yet more blood can prioritized for the muscles.  Physiologically, it is as though we are preparing for a fight to the death or to run for our lives, even though we might just be angry over a thoughtless remark made by somebody or worrying about a job interview to come.  Simply being aware of this is a step towards greater emotional literacy.


Conflict questions

Two things to ask yourself during a confrontation:

 (1) Have you empathized with the other person?

Have you really tried to see the situation from the other person’s point of view - have you really put yourself into their shoes - or have you only been concentrating on defending yourself?

 (2) Have you communicated your empathy with the other person to them?

Have you communicated that you can see the situation from their point of view so that they feel sufficiently listened to?



use token phrases such as, “I can see what you’re trying to say, but...”


use language that shows you have actively listened to and appreciated their side of the situation:

  • repeat back to them key points they make to you (as though you are making a ‘mental note’ to help you remember)
  • summarize back to them the content of their argument (showing that you have ‘processed’ this information in a meaningful way, rather than just waiting for them to shut up and let you have a say)
  • affirm their feelings ( “That must have been very irritating for you”)


How good is your emotional vocabulary?

Can you think of and talk about a time when you felt these feelings?


proud, satisfied, valuable, appreciated, respected, confident


inadequate, lonely, miserable, depressed, ashamed, guilty


happy, excited, energetic, playful, creative, cheerful


bewildered, discouraged, helpless, insecure, embarrassed, anxious, nervous, worried, frightened, terrified


trusting, loving, relaxed, thoughtful, content, placid


aggressive, hostile, cross, furious, irritated, hateful, frustrated


Continue to Part 3: Build Emotional Literacy

Back to Part 1: Emotional Literacy

©2000-2004, Six Seconds EQ Network All Rights Reserved - reprinted with permission.  Six Seconds is a nonprofit organization teaching emotional intelligence to schools and businesses around the world.

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Last updated: 07/11/09

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