Consciousness, Self-awareness, and Emotional Awareness

In a world where we’re becoming much more cognizant of emotional wellbeing and of raising consciousness, it seems appropriate to take a deeper dive into what these concepts really mean. Many of us claim to have an awareness and appreciation of this societal shift in thinking on our own lives. You will no doubt have heard or understand the terms EA and EQ. These concepts are pervading our lives not only in relation to us as individuals, or how we relate to our friends and families. They are now increasingly recognized within the workplace. But do we really know what it means to be emotionally aware or what it is to have an EQ?

Consciousness relates to being aware of your body and your surroundings.

Self-Awareness is about having the ability to be conscious of your own emotions and thoughts and how they can influence your behavior.

Broadly speaking, we can say that Emotional Awareness (EA) is about not just recognizing your own emotions and behavior, but also of those around you. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Countless studies have been conducted on levels of emotional awareness, the relationships between awareness and consciousness and how emotional awareness relates to mental health. It’s well recognized that dealing with feelings in a healthy way is essential for our mental and emotional well-being.  But before we can begin to have emotional or self-awareness, we of course need to understand what emotions are and what their purpose is.

Understanding our Emotions: what lies beneath the tears and tantrums?


Emotions are an integral part of our human experience. They’re complex and multifaceted, ranging from joy and happiness to anger, sadness, fear, and more. They affect our perceptions and influence our behavior—and provide valuable insights into our thoughts, needs, and reactions to the world around us. Experiencing a range of emotions is entirely normal, and as humans, it’s an ability that we all share. Managing them on the other hand, is not a shared ability, and many of us suffer mentally and physically when we can’t or don’t. The serve as internal signals, that help us make sense of our experiences and navigate our social interactions. Fortunately, they also act as a barometer for the state of our overall well-being and can signal to others when something is wrong.

The broad definition of an emotion is “a thought attached to a feeling”. Colin Tipping, founder of the Radical Forgiveness work, describes them in his books as ‘energy-in-motion’. 

The origins of thought and attempts to define emotions are nothing new. René Descartes, a French philosopher and scientist who is considered a seminal figure in the formation of modern philosophy, wrote The Passions of the Soul, in 1649. Charles Darwin conducted the first scientific investigation of emotions in 1872, in a study of the facial and bodily expressions of animals. He discovered that they are identical to human expressions and published his work in a book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Ultimately, emotions are psychological and physiological responses to events, experiences, or internal thoughts and feelings. If we take a deeper look into the nature and constituent parts of emotions, we can start to understand how to identify and manage them. :

The Nature of Emotions:

Emotions encompass a wide range of feelings and each one serves a unique purpose in our lives, to help us respond to various situations. For example, fear can prompt us to avoid potential dangers, while happiness encourages us to seek out experiences that make us feel good.

Types of Emotion:

Emotions are universal, meaning that people across different cultures and backgrounds experience the same basic emotions.

Descartes researched six primary passions : wonderlovehatedesirejoy, and sadness). Others have since identified anger, fear, surprise, and disgust.
They are also multi-faceted, so the way these emotions are expressed and the specific triggers for them can vary widely.

Components of Emotions:

Emotions consist of several components:

  • Cognitive Component: This involves the thoughts and beliefs associated with an emotion—as we said earlier, ‘a thought attached to a feeling’. For example, when you feel angry, you might have thoughts related to injustice or frustration.
  • Physiological Component: Emotions are often accompanied by physiological responses such as an increased heart rate, sweating, or muscle tension, depending on the emotion.
  • Behavioral Component: Emotions drive our actions and behaviors. For instance, feeling happy might lead to smiling and laughter, while feeling angry can result in expressions of frustration or aggression, like shouting or physical behavior.

Categories of Emotion:

Emotions are usually denoted as primary and secondary, where primary emotions are fundamental and universal, while secondary emotions stem from a combination of primary ones. For example, primary emotions like happiness and sadness can combine to create secondary emotions like pride or disappointment (see the Feelings Reference Table in our Free Tools section).

Emotions are Subjective:

Emotions are not isolated experiences. They are highly individual and can vary from person to person. Our past experiences, personal values, cultural backgrounds, upbringing and beliefs shape how we perceive and react to emotional stimuli. What may elicit a strong emotional response in one person might not have the same effect on another, i.e. what one person finds exciting, another may find frightening or what might trigger joy for one of us, could evoke sadness for another.

Emotions are Temporary:

Emotions are typically temporary (but we will address this as a wider issue). They come and go in response to specific situations, thoughts, or triggers. While some emotions can persist over time e.g., chronic sadness or happiness, they can often fluctuate.

Usefulness of Emotions: 

Emotions serve an adaptive purpose. They help us respond to our environment and make decisions. For example, fear can prompt us to flee from danger, while joy can motivate us to seek out enjoyable experiences.

Emotional Regulation:

Understanding emotions involves the ability to regulate them effectively. Emotion regulation is the process of managing and modifying our emotions to achieve desired outcomes.

Emotion Recognition:

Recognizing and labeling your own emotions is an essential step in understanding them. It’s also important to recognize emotions in others, as this fosters better communication and empathy. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions, both in oneself and in others (see above).

Expression and Communication of Emotion:

Emotions are a vital part of human communication. They allow us to convey our internal states to others. Understanding how to express emotions appropriately and interpret the emotions of others is key to healthy relationships and effective communication.


Understanding our emotions is a crucial step to developing emotional awareness. Not doing so can contribute to a range of physical and mental health issues. The mind-body connection is a powerful reminder of how essential it is to manage our emotions effectively. By taking proactive steps to recognize, express, and cope with your feelings, you can enhance your overall well-being and reduce the risk of illness. Remember that seeking support from professionals or leaning on friends and family can be valuable resources in your journey to emotional management and better health.

Read more about how you can effectively manage your emotions in our post: Managing Your Emotions for Health and Wellness

Our online Radical Self-Forgiveness and Self-Acceptance Course will guide you through exercises to help you gain a better understanding of your own emotions, thought patterns and beliefs that you hold.

It will help you to eliminate negative core beliefs and guilt that don’t serve you well. Click the link above to find out more!


Ekman, P (2009),  Darwin’s contributions to our understanding of emotional expressions – Royal Society London, Philosophical Transactions B Biol Sci

Ezzameli, K. (2023),  Emotion recognition from unimodal to multimodal analysis: A review, Elsevier, Information Fusion, Science Direct

Tipping, C. (2010 Revised Edition), RADICAL FORGIVENESS: A Revolutionary Five-Stage Process, Sounds True, Inc.

Emotion – Wikipedia