The Power Behind Finely Tuned Emotion
Ever hear of the term emotional granularity? If you look it up, Wikipedia will define it as an individual’s ability to differentiate between the specificity of their emotions. In more layman’s terms, it boils down to describing our emotional state of being as precisely as possible. So rather than just saying I am stressed out or sad, one would say “I am overwhelmed and resentful with having to keep up with my business while also now needing to homeschool my children”. Or “I feel so lonely and fearful having no one living with me while we are all ordered to stay at home”. The more exact language we use to describe how we are feeling, the more likely we are to understand our emotions, and then the greater likelihood our success will be in managing them.
The concept behind “emotional granularity” was introduced by Lisa Barrett, a neuroscientist and former clinical therapist who’s been studying the nature of emotion for more than 25 years. In her book How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, Barrett argues that emotions are not built into our brains at birth. Instead, she says, our brains construct emotions in the moment by linking physical sensations to past experiences. By learning to construct our experiences differently, Barrett contends, we have the capacity to dial down emotional suffering and its consequences.
This makes a whole lot of sense to me, if you think about it, negative emotions such as anger, fear, or frustration feel similarly in the body — our pulse quickens, breath shallows, face flushes, and our muscles tense. Someone might clump these feelings together and label them more broadly and just reduce their emotional state to “I feel bad.” Whereas someone with high emotional granularity differentiates one “bad” feeling from another. For example, sadness versus disappointment, anger versus frustration, impatience versus fatigue. The more granular(specific) the more appropriately we can support ourselves and manage a “bad” mood. Studies actually show how people with higher emotional granularity experience less anxiety and depression, simply because they have a high level understanding of why they’re feeling a particular way and what to do about it.
Something to really consider, not only for developing our own enhanced emotional health, but likely leading to better social outcomes as emotional granularity doesn’t just help us accurately label our own feelings; it also helps us infer the emotions of others. You just might respond differently applying emotional granularity, knowing there’s more to your child’s eye rolling response than mere annoyance, but possibly embarrassment, hopelessness, or even confusion.
Heightening emotional granularity can be as simple as checking in with yourself to see what is going on internally. Avoid the tendency to lump all emotions together or ignore what feels bad. Rather try to figure out what your emotions are telling you and express your feelings in words. Be more discerning and describe their nuances. Remember that even though you have emotions, they don’t have to have a hold on you. Finely tuning into your emotions can be used as a tool to help you understand what’s going on for you in any given moment creating a greater likelihood for successes.
Wishing You Always The Best Success -Holly-