Developing Emotional Awareness: Benefits And Tips

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Some people find it challenging to relate to others because they have difficulty recognizing their emotions or understanding how others might be feeling. An underdeveloped sense of emotional awareness can make forming and maintaining healthy relationships challenging and may even negatively impact your own mental health. However, with time and effort, most people can increase their own levels of emotional awareness. 

Do you struggle to recognize emotions in yourself or others?

What is emotional awareness?

First, let’s start with a definition of the broader concept of emotional intelligence (EQ). The American Psychological Association (APA) defines emotional intelligence as “a type of intelligence that involves the ability to process emotional information and use it in reasoning and other cognitive activities”. It’s made up of four core abilities:

  1. Perceiving and appraising emotions accurately
  2. Availing and evoking emotions when they facilitate cognition
  3. Comprehending emotional language and making use of emotional information
  4. Controlling one’s own and others’ emotions to promote growth and well-being

The first of these—the ability “to perceive and appraise emotions accurately”—is emotional awareness. It can be thought of as the foundation on which the other components of EQ rest. Without the ability to identify what you or someone else is feeling, it’s nearly impossible to make an informed decision about how to respond. For instance, emotional awareness in yourself can look like seeing behind your feelings of anger at a partner and realizing that you actually feel hurt, vulnerable, or disappointed, and then ask yourself why this might be.

The benefits of emotional awareness

Developing a healthy sense of emotional awareness can benefit both you and those around you. First, it’s generally considered to be a crucial component of strong communication and healthy relationships overall. Being able to identify the way you’re feeling is the first step toward being able to communicate it to a friend, family, or partner. Without this ability, it’s difficult to have any needs met by another, which can lead to a sense of unhappiness and a lack of fulfillment in relationships. Without enough emotional awareness, misunderstandings and miscommunications that lead to frustration, confusion, and hurt can also be common. Plus, when paired with the other components of EQ, a sense of emotional awareness can also enable you to be better able to manage difficult feelings and patiently work through them rather than lashing out.

In addition, being able to express your true feelings with someone can help build emotional intimacy, which is widely considered to be an important component of a strong relationship. One study found that a lack of emotional intimacy was more likely to lead to a breakup than a lack of sexual intimacy. The better you’re able to understand the other person when they express their own emotions, the more patient, calm, and empathetic you’ll likely be as the two of you work through the issue together.

Finally, it’s important to note that ignoring or suppressing your emotions can lead to negative outcomes. Emotions that you’re largely unaware of and haven’t effectively addressed are liable to make themselves known in other ways, which can lead to emotional outbursts or even mental or physical illness. In addition, there are a range of potentially dangerous coping mechanisms that a person may use when they’re unable to identify or healthfully cope with difficult emotions, such as social isolation, risky behavior, or excessive substance use. Mental health conditions like depression or anxiety can also develop over time.

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.


Tips for increasing your emotional awareness

Some individuals may naturally have a stronger sense of emotional awareness, such as those known as highly sensitive people (HSPs). On the other hand, other individuals may naturally have less emotional awareness, such as some neurodivergent people. Regardless of your natural sense of emotional awareness, however, it is typically possible to improve or refine it with time and focused effort. Read on for a few strategies you can try.

Practice mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness is all about awareness. When engaging in mindfulness meditation, for instance, the idea is to cultivate a calm, nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, including your body, your surroundings, and the thoughts and feelings passing through your mind. By consistently practicing mindfulness over time, you may become better able to pinpoint the emotions you’re feeling and calmly respond to them. Plus, research has also linked mindfulness to a host of other benefits such as decreased stress and anxiety, the ability to better express oneself in social situations, increased relationship satisfaction, and even increased immune system functioning.

Tune into your body

Our bodies can tell us a lot about the emotions that we’re feeling, making body awareness a helpful tool and an important component of emotional awareness in many cases.

Getting more in tune with your physical body, therefore, can be useful. You might do this by starting a yoga practice, beginning a physical exercise routine, trying body scan meditations, eating more mindfully, and doing breathing exercises. Over time, you may be better able to notice body sensations that are linked to emotions, such as muscle tension or knots in your stomach as indicators of anger or stress.

Keep a journal

Consider keeping a journal of any strong emotions you feel over the next several weeks. Try to label your emotions as they arise, note how your body feels in that moment, and look out for any patterns. Over time, you may be able to understand more about yourself and how you react to different things. For instance, if you notice that you frequently come away from conversations with your boss feeling tense, you can dig deeper and examine whether it’s frustration at how demanding they are, nervousness that you’ll be reprimanded, etc. Once you’ve uncovered the source, you may be able to take action to adjust the situation or at least better prepare yourself beforehand.

Seek help in therapy

Attending sessions with a trained therapist can help you improve your levels of emotional awareness and your sense of emotional intelligence overall. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular focuses on becoming aware of your typical thought patterns and shifting the warped ones that may be causing unhealthy or unhelpful emotions and/or behaviors over time. A therapist trained in CBT can help you develop this awareness over time. They may also be able to help you improve your communication skills so you can more clearly express how you’re feeling, improve your self-confidence so you can feel more comfortable speaking up, and learn to set boundaries so you can form healthier relationships. Research supports the ability of CBT to help improve emotional awareness as well as emotion control for some individuals.

Do you struggle to recognize emotions in yourself or others?

Some people find the prospect of meeting with a therapist in person to be intimidating. Others may not be able to locate an adequate provider in their area, or may not have the ability or resources to travel to a brick-and-mortar office for frequent sessions. If you’d prefer to receive therapy from the comfort of your own home, online therapy is an option. Research suggests that it can be as effective as in-person sessions, and a virtual therapy service like BetterHelp can match you with a licensed provider in a matter of days. You can then meet with them via phone, video call, and/or online chat to address the challenges you may be facing. 


Emotional awareness is generally considered to be an important part of personal well-being and happiness and a foundational element of healthy, fulfilling relationships. The tips on this list may be able to help you increase this ability in yourself.
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