The Power of Emotional Literacy

Posted on: July 15, 2007

Imagine that appliances and tools that we buy from time to time came with no instructions. As a matter of fact let me broaden this idea. Imagine that a tool shows up at your front door with a tag saying, “use me”. Imagine the confusion you may feel. You have no idea what it is or how to appropriately use this tool. Chances are that you would find a way to get rid of this tool. 

What is my point? The point is context. We need instructions and some directions in how to use the tools that have been given to us. Emotions are a tool given to us to help us make sense of the world around us. Imagine that you are placed in a situation that threatens your life. The appropriate emotional response would be fear. In addition to the physical responses like a rush of adrenaline the emotions are signals that tell us we are in danger and that we should take appropriate action to preserve our life.

Daily we encounter less severe situations that require that we be aware of how we feel and the impact that the situation will have on our lives. Ironically may of us have learned that when we are asked how we are feeling to say simply, “I feel good/bad.” Despite the fact that it serves a functional purpose to be brief, I wonder if somehow this oversimplification of our emotions has taught us to render them null and void. Therefore, when the time comes to really express ourselves we stumble and falter as we try to describe complex feelings like feeling weary or cornered or misused. 

There is a reason why a broad base emotional vocabulary is needed by us all. The more words we have to describe how we feel the more we are able to meet the need in a more precise manner. Let me illustrate the importance of this idea. If I went to the doctor and said I felt bad it is likely that she would ask me a series of questions to properly define where I hurt, how long I have been hurting and the nature of the pain, all in an attempt to properly diagnose and treat the condition. The same is true when we can only say we feel bad/good. It is important to be much more specific about how we feel. To say for example that you feel cheated. Then one can ask by whom have you been cheated and take appropriate action to resolve the emotional turmoil. This is the power of emotional literacy. One becomes their own diagnostician and is better able to Perceive, Identify and Name (PIN) your emotions. This is a prerequisite to good anger management. In future articles I will expand on this idea. Visit my blog at for more on emotional literacy. For anger management seminars visit

Carlos Todd, LPC, NCC, CAMF

President of the American Association of Anger Management Providers

Carlos Todd is the owner of Todd’s Anger Management Solutions in Charlotte, NC


2 Responses to "The Power of Emotional Literacy"

in my vounteer work we taught relflecive/active listening: a technique credited to carl Rogers.
This is technique used commonly used for listening,

but I found that the vocabuary was powerful.
Often people say “they feel… ” then follow it with a interlectuallized and therefore emotionally disconnected phrase.
It is difficult to simply say, for example:
I feel fearful, If weary, I feel cheated, or I feel enraged.
With out the proper vocabulary
without a guide to express or communicate emotions.
its easy to become disconnected from them.

I think that reflective/active listening would be a useful skill to teach in (high) school…

the emotional literacy (if I understand you correctly) is as important to growth as the academic literacy.

Thanks for your comments now and in the past. They let me know that someone is listening to what I have to say. I think you have the concept of emotional literacy understood. I look forward to more comments from you

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