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  • Writer's picturePatty Laushman

Emotional Granularity and Well-Being in Autism – Part 2

Updated: Jul 13

By Patty Laushman


In part one of this two-part series, I explored the challenges and opportunities that come with identifying our own emotions and those of others, particularly for autistic adults who struggle with alexithymia, or the ability to identify and name their emotions. I highlighted how enhancing emotional granularity – the ability to discern beyond the basic six emotions – can significantly elevate quality of life.

A diverse group of happy people with strong emotional granularity.

The importance of identifying emotions lies in its profound effect on our daily interactions and personal growth. It enables us to navigate social situations more effectively, build stronger relationships, and achieve a better understanding of ourselves and the people around us. Whether it’s in our personal lives, our workplaces, or within our internal emotional landscape, being able to accurately identify and understand emotions is key to enhancing our emotional well-being.


In part two, I will talk about how improving your self-awareness by identifying emotions with greater specificity, also called emotional differentiation, is inextricable with quality of life. I will then detail practical tactics for improving your emotional granularity. My hope for you is that by focusing on developing your emotional identification skills, you can enjoy richer, more meaningful connections with others and a more satisfying life overall.


Emotional Granularity and Quality of Life

Our ability to identify and understand emotions is closely intertwined with self-awareness, which is inextricably linked to the quality of one’s life.


Self-Awareness

Self-awareness begins with recognizing our own emotions: understanding what we feel, why we feel it, and how our emotions influence our thoughts and actions. This level of introspection requires the ability to identify emotions as they arise. By regularly practicing emotional identification, we can better understand our emotional triggers and patterns, leading to a more nuanced understanding of ourselves.


This enhanced self-awareness allows us to make more aligned choices in our lives and enable more effective self-advocacy. It empowers us to live more authentically, making decisions that reflect our true values and aspirations.


Catalyst for Personal Growth

Identifying and understanding our emotions is not just about recognizing feelings as they come and go; it’s about using that knowledge to evolve and grow. Emotional identification can highlight areas in our lives that need attention or change, serving as a catalyst for personal development.


A woman reflecting on whether she might benefit from strengthening her emotional granularity.

For instance, consistently feeling frustrated in certain situations might signal a misalignment between our current path and our deeper values or goals. Recognizing this emotion and understanding its source can motivate us to explore new opportunities or develop skills that align more closely with our authentic selves.


Improving Emotional Regulation

A critical aspect of personal development is learning to regulate our emotions effectively. By becoming more adept at identifying our emotions, we gain insight into how best to manage them. This doesn’t mean suppressing what we feel but rather acknowledging our emotions and responding to them in a way that serves our well-being and growth.


For example, identifying feelings of anxiety early on can prompt us to employ strategies such as deep breathing, seeking support, or adjusting our workload before these feelings escalate. This proactive approach to emotional regulation not only enhances our mental health but also contributes to our ability to handle life’s challenges with resilience and grace.


Encouraging Empathy and Compassion

As we become more aware of our own emotions, we naturally develop a greater capacity for empathy and compassion toward others. This increased empathy enriches our personal relationships and enhances our social interactions, directly contributing to our quality of life as social animals.


Practical Ways to Improve Your Emotional Granularity

In the journey toward emotional mastery, recognizing and understanding both our own emotions and those of others plays a pivotal role. Fortunately, this is a skill that can be honed with practice and patience. Here are some practical steps to enhance your emotional identification skills, paving the way for deeper connections, improved decision-making, and a more fulfilling life.


Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the foundation of emotional identification. By cultivating a state of mindfulness, you learn to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment. This awareness can help you recognize your emotional patterns and triggers. Start with a simple daily meditation routine, focusing on your breath and observing any thoughts or feelings that arise. With time, this practice can sharpen your ability to detect emotions as they occur.


Engage in Reflective Journaling

A man journaling his day's experiences to strengthen his emotional granularity.

Journaling offers a private, introspective space to explore and express your feelings. Make it a habit to write down your daily experiences and the emotions they evoke. This practice can reveal patterns in your emotional responses and help you understand the underlying causes of your feelings. Over time, you'll become more adept at identifying and articulating your emotions, which is the first step in managing them effectively.


Develop Active Listening Skills

Improving your ability to identify emotions isn't limited to introspection; it also involves understanding others. Active listening is a key tool in this process. When conversing with others, focus fully on what they're saying, observe their body language, and pay attention to the tone of their voice. These cues can provide insight into their emotional state. By practicing active listening, you'll become more attuned to the emotions of those around you, fostering stronger, more empathetic connections.


Learn to Name Your Emotions

Many of us have a limited emotional vocabulary, often categorizing our feelings as simply "good" or "bad." However, emotions are nuanced and varied. Expanding your emotional vocabulary allows for more precise identification of your feelings. This is called emotional granularity, and it’s associated with better coping skills and mental health. 


Referencing an emotion wheel regularly is a fantastic way to get familiar with more nuanced emotions. You can find many free emotion wheels available online, like this one, by Googling “emotion wheel.” Try to name your emotions as accurately as possible whether you're feeling frustrated, disappointed, elated, or content. The more specific you can be, the better you'll begin to understand your emotional landscape and then more effectively learn how to navigate it.


Seek Feedback and Perspectives

It’s very useful to ask those around you to describe what they are feeling and why in different situations. This will do what I call “filling your database with accurate examples.” This database can then eventually help you identify what you are feeling and better decode feelings in others.


A woman conversing with her close friend about how she perceives her emotional reactions to different situations.

Also, an outside perspective on your emotional reactions can sometimes provide greater clarity. Consider asking close friends or family members how they perceive your emotional reactions in various situations. Their observations can offer valuable insights and highlight aspects of your emotional responses you might not have noticed. This feedback can be a powerful tool in developing your emotional identification skills.


Apply the Pause Technique

In moments of high emotion, it's easy to react impulsively without fully understanding what you’re feeling. Before reacting, take a moment to pause and ask yourself what you're really feeling and why. This brief moment of reflection can help you identify your emotions more clearly and respond in a more measured and effective way.


Use Emotional Identification Tools

There are various tools and apps designed to help people recognize and understand their emotions. These tools often include emotion tracking, mood logging, and resources for developing emotional intelligence. Incorporating these tools into your daily routine can provide structure and guidance as you work on enhancing your emotional identification skills.


Work With an Autism, ADHD, or AuDHD Coach

We have coaches at Thrive Autism Coaching who are skilled at helping clients improve their emotional granularity, and we offer a complimentary consultation to explore whether this might be a good fit for you. You can book this consultation at the link here.


Conclusion

As I conclude this two-part series on enhancing emotional identification and granularity, it's clear that developing a deeper understanding of our emotions and those of others is not a meaningless exercise in self-improvement – it's a critical step toward living a more connected, resilient, and fulfilling life. By focusing on our ability to recognize and articulate a wide range of emotions beyond the basic six, we open ourselves up to a world of richer experiences, more meaningful relationships, and a greater quality of life.


The skills and strategies outlined here – from practicing mindfulness and reflective journaling to engaging in active listening and expanding our emotional vocabulary – offer practical pathways for anyone looking to enhance their emotional granularity. Whether you're navigating the complexities of personal relationships, seeking to advance your career, or simply aiming to improve your mental and physical health, the benefits of sharpening your emotional identification skills are vast and varied.


Additionally, this exploration into emotional granularity goes beyond the benefits to your own life. It speaks to the importance of empathy in our interactions with others. As we become more attuned to our own emotional landscapes and those around us, we foster our own quality of life and also contribute to a more compassionate, understanding world.


I encourage you to continue practicing and refining these skills, always striving for greater emotional clarity and connection. Remember, the path to emotional mastery is ongoing, and each step forward enriches not only your own life but also the lives of those you touch.


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