What is the Meaning of Emotional Illiteracy?

Emotional illiteracy is the inability of a person to recognize, understand, and respond to emotions in ourselves and others.

Verbal Literacy is important for learning to read and write. In a similar way emotional literacy is essential for us to be able to perceive and communicate our emotions. The act of achieving emotional literacy can be compared to learning the alphabet, grammar and vocabulary of our emotional lives.

Emotions are an integral part of human nature. We use emotions

Emotional Literacy is relevant in every sphere of our life. It can help every individual, every organization, and every profession. It has the potential to transform each person and their relationships. Emotional Literacy is a key to living a happy and complete life.

Emotions are an integral part of human nature. Through emotions we respond to life in many different ways — with anger, happiness, fear, love and loneliness. Emotions influence our thoughts and actions; they inspire our needs; they affect our bodies and impact on our relationships.

Many of the problems in modern society are due, at least in part, to people being unable to understand and appropriately express emotion. Emotional Literacy is a preventive tool, which properly understood, can help solve many social ills — violence, illness, drug abuse, dysfunctional relationships, and global societal conflicts.

On the other hand, people who deal with emotions in a positive way find tremendous benefit. Emotional Literacy can contribute to health, to positive relationships, to success, and to quality of life.

Emotional Literacy is a profound and beautiful language available to everyone. It can be implemented rapidly, safely, and with lasting effect. Learning how to become emotionally literate is one of the best investments that human beings can make for themselves, their children, and the future.

Components of Emotional Literacy

Emotional literacy is divided into five components. They are:

• Ability to understand your feelings and emotions

• Ability to control your emotions

• Internal Motivation

• Ability to respond to emotions of others

• Social Skills

Ability to understand your feelings and emotions: This includes the capability of a person to figure out what he/she is feeling at a particular point of time. It is essential as if we are unable to figure out our own emotions then we would not be able to deal with them effectively and carry out the best possible set of actions in that situation. Hence, the identification of our emotional state is the primary component of emotional literacy.

Ability to control your emotions: After finding out our emotional state we need to figure out a strategy to deal with the situations that we face. If we are experiencing an emotional turmoil then we need to prevent ourselves from undergoing an emotional breakdown and have the capacity to control our emotions.

Example: One example of extreme emotional pressure is when we are facing stress due to any reason, this may include a student studying for the exam or a sportsperson performing in front of thousands of spectatotrs. In these situations, we need to show emotional stability and keep a check on our emotions to achieve the best result.

Internal Motivation: A passion to work for internal reasons that go beyond money and status -which are external rewards, – such as an inner vision of what is important in life, a joy in doing something, curiosity in learning, a flow that comes with being immersed in an activity. A propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence. Hallmarks include a strong drive to achieve,optimism even in the face of failure, and organizational commitment.

Ability to respond to emotions of others:

Social skills:

How to transform yourself from being emotionally illiterate to being Emotionally Literate?

The emotional literacy of a person can be enhanced using various techniques.

For Children: The process of

• Improving Vocabulary

• Expressing Emotions

• Understanding other

For adults :

1. Improving Vocabulary:

In order to become emotionally literate, the first step a child needs to take is to improve his vocabulary in order to learn words with which he/she can express a variety of feelings. If a child doesn’t know what words denotes a particular emotion, it would be impossible for him/her to express his/her feelings. This is the reason why improving the child’s vocabulary by learning words which correspond to various feelings is the first and one of the most crucial steps of a child towards emotional literacy.

Steps which can be taken to improve vocabulary:

• Have a feeling word of the day where the parents describe a word and the emotions attached with it. Using this method, if the child learns a word a day it can improve his knowledge of words which express emotions drastically.

• Choose a feeling and act it out in front of your kids to help them understand the meaning of that emotion or feeling.

• Chose a feeling word and write down its synonyms and describe how each of them describe a different intensity of the emotion.

• Storytelling can be used as an effective medium for emotional education of the child. The parents can tell stories and describe the various emotions the characters undergo at different points of the story.

Improvement of vocabulary should begin from the child learning words which express basic feelings and slowly moving on to words which can express complex emotions. This can be divided into three phases:

• Primary

• Secondary

• Tertiary

The different stages have been explained using an example:

Joy can be a primary emotion. This is because joy can be used to describe a variety of emotions.

The secondary emotions corresponding to joy may include cheerfulness, pride, zest, optimism and relief.

The secondary emotions of cheerfulness can be further classified into glee, ecstasy, euphoria and elation which are tertiary emotions.

Each level of emotion adds another level of detail in the description of the feelings of a person.

Some of the primary emotions which can be used as a starting base are:

• Love

• Anger

• Sadness

• Fear

• Joy

• Surprise

They can be used to teach the basic emotions to a child.

2. Understanding and Responding to your own emotions:

After the first stage is complete, the child now has the ability to distinguish and recognize various emotions. The child would thus be able to understand what he/she feels at any point of time.

The important thing is to teach them to deal with various kinds of feelings in an effective manner. This includes the ability to control your emotions and not letting it get out of hand should be taught to the children at a young age. They should be taught to control their feelings and express them in the right way.

For example: A child may feel anger at a certain person due to a particular reason. The child should be told that the appropriate response in this situation is not to fight or cry but to talk to the parents or teachers about what has happened so a solution can be found.

Another example can include a situation in which the child is sad. Now if the child does not say anything or does not speak to anyone then it would be impossible to find the reason for his sadness. He/she should discuss with their parents what is the reason that makes them sad so that their parents can try to solve it and make him/her happy.

3. Recognizing Feelings of other people

Another important aspect of emotional literacy is to be able to understand feelings of other people. Parents and educators can use various methods to accomplish this task. Some of these methods are:

• Show pictures and drawings of various emotions to help your children associate with them.

• Role Play can be carried out by parents to explain various emotions to their kids.

• Storytelling can be used as an effective medium to teach kids how to recognize emotions by describing the emotions of various characters at different stages of the story and explaining to them why they felt that way and how to recognize these emotions.

4. Responding to the Feelings of others

The kids need to be able to react to the emotions of other people. They need to be taught how to respond to various people with different emotions. For example: If someone is sad or in pain then there is a need to express empathy with the person, while if someone is in a happy or jovial mood then you can be a part of their happiness.

This can be taught by:

Parents can use role play where they depict certain emotions and children react to it.

Parents tell stories to their children and they react to what is happening in the story.

For example:

Dealing with anger: We might face a lot of situations in which we have to deal with people who are angry. The children need to be taught the things they can do to react in such a situation to get a positive outcome.

Dealing with sadness: There are situations in which we have to engage with people who are sad and we nedd to know what would be the most effective response in such a situation. What are the techniques we should use to help the person recover from sadness.

We have discussed the process of emotional training which children need to undergo.


The three stage of emotional training in adults include:

• Opening your Heart

• Understanding the emotional Environment

• Taking Responsibility

Opening your Heart

It has been observed that many adults are not open to giving or receiving various emotions. They behave like they do not care about other people or their opinions while they might deeply care about them on the inside. They need to open up their heart and engage in various types of emotional transactions. These include:

Giving affection or showing emotions towards others: People need to show the emotions they feel towards other people and not keep them hidden. For example: If we love someone deeply, we need to express our emotions regularly towards them. This would make everyone happy.

Asking for Permission; Before indulging in an emotional transaction whih may take a toll on the other person, it would be better if we tell them in a subtle way about what we are ging to say.

Example: I wanted to apologize for my mistake, but was unable to do it till now.

It informs the listener that you commited a mistake so now they are mentally prepared to listen to it and thus wuld be able to respond better.

Requesting the affection that we need: Sometimes people might not directly tell us what they feel so we may need to ask.

Can you tell me how I look today?

Self-Affetion; We need to learn to be able to love ourselves and accept us as who we are.

Rejecting unwanted Emotional :

Understanding the emotional environment: We need to understand the emotions of the people around us and respond accordingly.

Taking Responsibility:

There are a lot of situations in life where we need to take responsibility for our actions.

The steps that we should not take:

Giving Lip Service

Blaming the victim

Displaying self-righteous attitude

The steps that we should take:

Accepting if we committed a mistake

Asking for an apology

Acepting an apology

Benefits of Children gaining Emotional Literacy: There are numerous advantages or benefits that children can enjoy if they achieve emotional literacy. They are:

1. Less impulsive: Children with emotional literacy are normally less impulsive than children who are not emotionally literate. These children are able to understand and control their emotions better as they have prior experience of doing it since they are emotionally literate, hence they are less likely to take rash decisions in a hurry.

2. Less lonely: The children with emotional literacy training are able to adjust to a variety of environments and deal with a variety of people hence they are less lonely.

3. Get into fewer fights: The children who have received emotional literacy training are able to control extreme emotions and do not indulge in violent behavior.

4. Better academic achievement: Emotionally literate children tend to perform better academically as compared to children who have not received any training in emotional literacy. The reasons for this may include the fact that emotionally literate children are able to handle various emotions better and can deal with academic stress and pressure and use it to bring out their best performance.

5. Have a greater sense of control over their lives: Children with emotional literacy training have better control of the mental aspects of life. It is similar to children who are active physically and thus are fitter. These children are mentally better equipped to deal with any situation in their life.

6. More focused: Emotional literacy helps children to remove all distractions from their minds and focus on the goals which they want to achieve.

7. More tolerant of stress and frustration: Emotionally literate children can deal with stress and frustration better because they have been taught to handle negative emotions and not get too carried away by them.

8. Better able to solve interpersonal problems: Emotionally literate children are seen to have better skills to solve interpersonal problems because they can deal with not only their emotions and feelings but also with the emotions of others.

Problems caused by Emotional Illiteracy

If a person is emotionally illiterate, he/she might face many problems in understanding and expressing his/her expressions. Often, it is socially unacceptable to directly express certain emotions. We are too afraid of offending others, too afraid of appearing unhappy or unhealthy, and too afraid of social disapproval. Sadly, we live in a world where appearances matter more than reality. This seems to be especially true in the upper classes of society where conformity and etiquette are so important.

So instead of truthfully expressing our feelings clearly and directly, we express the same emotions indirectly, either through our actions or our body language. Sometimes we actually outright lie about our feelings. When we start to hide our feelings, lie about them, or tell people only what we think they want to hear, we impede communication, distort reality, fight evolutionary intelligence and dishonor nature.

Let’s look at some examples of how we corrupt the language of feelings.

Masking Our Real Feelings – There are many ways we mask our real feelings. Sometimes we just plain lie about them, for example when someone says she is “fine” even though she is obviously irritated, worried, or stressed. Sometimes we intentionally or unintentionally substitute one feeling for another. For example, if I say “I hope it doesn’t rain,” we might actually be feeling afraid that it will!

Inconsistency – Often, our tone of voice or our body language contradicts the words we are saying. None of us can totally hide our true feelings, but many of us do try to disguise our voices to go along with the act. People who are especially superficial even adopt the cosmetic voices found on television in order to further conform to societal expectations, and further mask their true feelings.

Overuse – One way in which a language is corrupted is by the overuse of a word. Overuse of a word makes it lose its original mening and thus it becomes difficult to detemene in which sense the word has been used.

Example: Love is a word which most people use very frequently. We might say that we love a particular actor or we love icecream or we love our parents. Using the same word for all these expressions is problematic sine the word means different things depending on the context.

Another example of word we overuse is hate. We hate spinach, we hate a particular brand or we hate female infanticide represent extremely different feelings using the same word.

Exaggeration — Sometimes, we exaggerate our feelings and try to get attention of other people to us. This includes sending out strong emotional signals so that other people annot ignore you.Unfortunately, the problem with this is that when they send out false signals, they alienate people and risk becoming like the boy who cried wolf. As the story goes, because he sent out too many false alarms, he was ignored when he truly needed help.

Consider these exclamations, none of which are typically true in a literal sense:

I feel mortified.

I feel devastated.

I feel crushed.

I feel decimated.

I felt run over by a truck.

Minimization – Many people minimize their emotions or feelings, particularly when they are sad, worried or depressed. They use expressions such as:

I’m fine. . I’m okay, don’t worry about me. I’ll be alright. Everything is fine. I said I was fine.

Reasons for minimization:

People are:

• Too proud to express or share their failures


• Stubborn and do not want to share their feelings with others


• Scared and don not want to share feelings because of what other people might think of them


• They might feel as if no one cares for them.


They need to connect others but won’t do it and would push people away because of the above-mentioned reasons.

Advantages of Emotional Literacy

Emotional literacy helps us to deal with a multitude of situations in our life in a proper manner. There are many advantages of improving our emotional literacy and they extend not only to our personal lives but also to our workplace. These advantages are listed below:

1. Self-Awareness: Self-awareness can be defined as the ability to recognize and understand our emotions and feelings and our responses to other people’s actions. Self awareness is a crucial skill for achieving success in life because it helps to guage our strengths and weaknesses and obtain a clear understanding of the situation.Only if we are unable to understand ourselves can we take decisions which impact our lives in a positive way.

2. Emotional Management : It is the ability of a person to be able to control his/her emotions. Self awareness helps a person to recognize his/her emotions and emotional management helps to regulate our emotions and guide them in order to achieve the best results. A person who is trained in the art of emotional management would not take hasty decisions under emotional stress which can later prove problematic. Such a person would be able to keep hold of his emotions and take the right decision.

3. Effective Communication : Another aspect of emotional literacy is to be able to communicate our emotions effectively. The recognition and control of emotions would be useless if we are not able to express oour emotions properly. Hence, to effective communication is an important part of emotional literacy. It helps the person to communicate effectively, share their feelings, motivate and inspire other people.

4. Social Awareness: Social awareness is an important aspect of emotional literacy. We not only need to understand and express our own feelings but we must also understand and respond appropriately to the feelings of others. Empathy

5. Conflict Resolution: The skills learned in emotional literacy help us to become better at resolving our conflicts in an amicable and peaceful manner. There are many situations in which a conflict may arise either in the workplace or otherwise and we may need to step in and solve the problem. Emotional literacy helps us to achieve this task properly.

Self-motivation: Self-Motivation can be defined as the determination to work towards achieving your goals. perseverance and determination to work with your emotions to overcome challenge

• Relationship Management: We meet many people daily in our lives. We might have a wide variety of relations with these people. Some of these relationships might be extremely close to our heart while some others might not be that important. Quite a lot of times, we might be forced to deal with situations of conflict with the people with whom we have these relationships, which may include our friends, family members or people with whom we have professional relationships. In these situations in which a relationship is under threat of breakdown emotional literacy can help us to tackle these difficult situations in a positive manner and find the best possible solutions.


In this report, we have discussed the meaning of emotional literacy and emotional illiteracy. Then we moved on to discussing the various components of emotional literacy. We described the ways in whih emotional literacy can be attained. We then described the advantages and disadvantages of it. Emotional literacy is an important characteristic which every successful individual needs to achieve.It is essential to the growth and development of a human being and to ensure a good life.

Source: Essay UK - http://buystrangestuff.com/essays/psychology/what-is-the-meaning-of-emotional-illiteracy/

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