Sonya Thomas lcsw

Emotional Literacy

Emotional Literacy (EL) is the capacity to recognize, manage and communicate our emotions and also to respond appropriately to the emotions of other people. You can assess your emotional literacy based on how you answer the below questions:

  • Self-awareness – How conscious are you of your feelings/emotions in the moment?
  • Self-regulation – How well are you able to manage your emotions, particularly when under pressure or triggered?
  • Motivation – How driven are you to transform negative thoughts or situations into positive ones?
  • Empathy – Do you have the capacity to recognize others’ emotions and convey to them that their emotions are valid and matter to you?

I think it goes without saying that the more you are able to answer the above questions in the affirmative, the more emotionally literate you are.

Looking more deeply into “feeling”,  our emotions vary in strength and frequency in our lives and are categorized as primary or secondary.  Primary emotions are in-the-moment emotional responses to a stimulus. They happen as a direct result of  a cue that triggers the emotion.  For instance, we hear of a death of a loved one, and we automatically feel sad, or we see our partner get off of a plane and we automatically feel joy.   Secondary emotions result when we do not have a good way to access, reflect on, accept and move through our primary emotions.   We might even mistake them for primary emotions if we’re not self aware. For example, anxiety (secondary) is often due to fear (primary). We may not be aware that we are afraid of something, or even what it is that we fear, so it becomes expressed as general anxiety. Secondary emotions require a little digging to understand.

Different clinicians use different lists of primary emotions.  Here is the list I use:








Below is a non-exaustive list of the secondary emotions that may arise from a primary emotion.

  • Anger: fury, outrage, indignation, wrath, irritable, hostile, and resentment.
  • Pain: grief, sorrow, gloom, melancholia, despair, lonely, and hopeless.
  • Fear: anxiety, apprehension, nervousness, dread, frightened, and panic.
  • Joy: amazement, happiness, relief, blissful, delight, pride, playful and ecstatic..
  • Love: accepted, friendly, trusting, kindness, affection, and devotion.
  • Shame: humiliation, rejection, disdain, inadequate, unworthy, stupid, and weak.
  • Guilt: embarrassment, chagrin, remorse, regret, and contrition.

Another way to use secondary emotions is to add “color” to how you describe whatever primary emotion you may be experiencing.  The language of emotions would be pretty dull if we ONLY used the primary emotions to convey what it is we might be feeling in a moment.  I encourage you to expand your emotional vocabulary, and practice expressing your emotions when dialoguing with others.

Until next time, Peace.

Tagged on: