Since the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence  (1995), emotional intelligence has passed from being a welcome, fresh way of thinking to becoming a number of widely disparate movements. The largest of these movements was a consultant’s “growth business” with scores of companies offering to evaluate and improve people’s Emotional Quotient (EQ) in the work place. Regretfully, in that environment emotional intelligence became synonymous with “mature,” “stable” and “hard working. But emotional skills are a great deal more than positive attitudes; they can humanize and improve any enterprise far beyond anything that has been experienced so far and its potential is being squandered on diluted, half measures. I fear that the emotional intelligence movement is morphing into yet another corporate, human resources lubricant with little specific relationship to emotional awareness or intelligence.

On the other hand Emotional Intelligence has also become a subject matter in schools where thousands of devoted teachers are applying one or more of the scores of teaching aids developed by as many companies. Here the results seem more promising as what is being taught is unquestionably beneficial. Children are being educated about their different feelings, how to speak about them and how to express and control them. The children are being trained with a kind-hearted attitude with a focus on developing friendly cooperative relationships. Evidence suggests that these efforts are having beneficial results in terms at least of how much aggression is being seen in schools that teach the subject.

In my work starting in 1969, motivated by the women’s liberation movement’s demands for honest emotionality from men, I conceived emotional literacy as a tool of human emancipation from the tyranny of soulless rationality and power.


Emotional Literacy.

The point of Emotional Literacy Training goes beyond workplace maturity or schoolyard aggression. It is understood that emotional literacy is a source of personal power indispensable for success in today’s world.  Here are four essential, thoroughly time-tested assertions, each thoroughly novel, and which must be understood to appreciate this work’s scope:

  1. Emotional literacy is love-centered emotional intelligence.
  2. The capacities of loving and accepting love, lost to most people, can be recovered and trained with five precise, simple, transactional exercises.
  3. In addition to improving loving skills, emotional literacy training involves three further skills of increasing difficulty; each one supported by a further set of transactional exercises.
  4. These skills are:
  5. Speaking about our emotional and what causes them,
  6. Developing our empathic intuition capacity and
  7. Apologizing for the damage caused by our emotional mistakes.

Emotional literacy– intelligence with a heart–can be learned through the practice of specific transactional exercises which target the awareness of emotion in ourselves and others, the capacities to love others and  oneself  while developing honesty, and the ability to take  responsibility for our actions.

 Emotional Literacy Theory

As a consequence of being shunned by research psychologists early in the XXth century, emotions went out of favor in psychological and psychiatric practice. They became the unwanted guest; the fly in the ointment; the 300 pound gorilla in the room; the great disturber of civilization; the enemy of science and technology; relegated to the seething cauldron of the id; the spoiler of rationality and logic; the curse of womanhood, children, and people of color; the source of therapeutic disturbances; taking the starch out of the professional stiff upper lip; messy, disturbing, and out of control. Lately, experimental psychologists with the aid of sophisticated high-tech techniques have been able to bring the study of emotions back into the scientific fold (National Advisory Mental Health Council, 1995). The possibility of monitoring minute facial muscle movements, respiration, perspiration, heart rate, brain activity, and other correlates of emotion has resulted in a great deal of research being reported in the literature.

Daniel Goleman in his breakthrough book Emotional Intelligence, (1995) brought the emotions back into the center of attention. In his international best seller, using available scientific research by emotional intelligence pioneers Mayers and Salovey, (2008) he provides a loosely knit but convincing argument for the importance of emotional intelligence. The book’s singular point is the importance of EQ (emotional quotient) in how well we do in life. Over the next decades, Mayers and Salovney continued in their pursuit of a test of  EQ but neither they nor Goleman provided a systematic and specific method to improve EQ.

By the time Goleman’s book appeared I had developed my own perspective on the subject of emotions. At the center of my interest was emotional awareness which caused me to develop an emotional awareness scale.

 An Emotional Awareness Scale

Awareness of emotions is a fundamental skill of the larger ability, which I call emotional literacy. The emotional awareness scale represents a hypothetical continuum–0 to 100%– of emotional awareness.






Differentiation and Causality


Chaotic, primal experience

Physical sensations




The Primal Experience.

We enter life in a highly emotional, potentially chaotic state.  At this primal level of emotional awareness, the emotions are conscious and experienced as a heightened internal energy level that cannot be put into words or controlled; undifferentiated but unquestionably real. Arguably this emotional state is shared with other animals and can be easily observed in mammals such as dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.

From this chaotic differentiated state, humans animals alone, with their linguistic and abstract abilities can develop a highly sophisticated level of emotional awareness. Also, usually as a consequence of emotional trauma, awareness can descend into lesser levels ending perhaps in complete emotional numbness. Both of these opposite developments of awareness are illustrated in the figure above.

The Linguistic Barrier:

People’s ability to communicate and exchange emotional information makes it possible to develop elaborate states of emotional awareness. Without discourse regarding the emotions in which the people speak about their feelings, the next stage of emotional awareness-differentiation-is highly unlikely, if not impossible, to develop. This is where transactional analysis comes into play. With the techniques of transactional analysis-our systematic, fine-grain analysis of transactional events and our focus on contracts-a person can successfully engage in the communication process essential to developing the elaborate, differentiated awareness of emotions.

To be able to effectively use language and “cross the linguistic barrier” we need a very special social context. We require an “emotion friendly” environment in which truthful, Adult transactional exchanges about emotions can occur, with people who are willing to honestly discuss their feelings. The usual emotional insincerities and lies have to be put aside in favor of a mutual desire to investigate and understand our feelings in their subtlest manifestations. Only this will make it possible to move in the direction of differentiation, empathy, and interactivity.

Differentiation and Causality

Differentiation is the process of recognizing different emotions and their intensities. From the primal, emotional chaos we are able to extract the anger, love, fear, joy, sadness or hope that make up our tangled experience. We learn to realize, as an example, that sometimes we feel single emotions and other times combinations such as love and sadness, hate and fear, joy and sadness, or anger, fear and hope in complicated combinations of primary emotions. In addition to learning what the emotions are, we also recognize that they appear in different intensities; from anxiety to terror, sadness to deep depression, mild happiness to intense joy, affection to passionate love. We learn to verbalize these experiences so that we can say for instance: “I am feeling very sad but I am hopeful” or ” I love you deeply and I am afraid,” or “I am furious.” We learn that there are at most two handfuls of emotions  (sad, happy, angry, loving, afraid, guilty, ashamed, hopeful or hopeless) and we realize that much that goes under the rubric of emotion is not (confused, humiliated, discounted, unloved and other expressions that do not specify an emotion)

As we understand the exact composition and intensity of our feelings, we also begin to understand the reasons for them, why the strong hate, the subtle shame, the intense joy. It is here, since our emotions are almost always triggered by other people’s behavior, that the inevitability of emotional interconnections between people has to be understood. We can cause feelings in others and they can cause feelings in us. We discover how people’s actions combine with our tendencies to react emotionally. Eventually we are able to investigate and understand why we feel what we feel. We learn to express this knowledge with sentences like  “I am furious because of the way you interrupt me” or “I love you a lot because you are such a loyal friend but I’m a little afraid of trusting you because you have lied to me repeatedly” or “I am very sad because of my breakup with Jack but hopeful that my next relationship will be good.” Our goal in this phase of emotional awareness raising is to recognize: What emotion(s), “How Strong and Why” every time we have an emotional experience.


As we learn to differentiate our emotions, the intensity with which we feel them and the reasons for them, our awareness becomes textured and subtle, and we begin to perceive as well as to intuit similar texture and subtlety in the emotions of those around us. At this level of emotional literacy we come to intuitively know other people’s feelings. Our emotional intuitions are not likely to be 100% accurate but in a cooperative setting where truthfulness can be assumed we can verify our intuitions by checking them out.

For instance:

John: “I have the feeling that you don’t like me anymore.”

Joan: “Actually I do still like you because you are such a loyal friend but I’m afraid of trusting you because you have lied to me repeatedly.”

John’s ‘intuition (that Joan didn’t like him) was partially correct. The repeated checking of our intuitions will greatly improve our empathic skills; by speaking to Joan about his intuition John is learning to sharpen his intuitive perceptions. In this manner we can learn to become aware of other people’s feelings, how intense they are, and why they occur, almost as clearly as we are aware of our own.

We receive other people’s emotional signals at two levels: One, we read emotional signs coming from facial muscles and tones of voice. Two, we receive emotional information on an intuitive emotional channel mediated by the mirror neurons system (Rizzolatti and Craighero, 2004) (Ramachandran, 2006) that inform our awareness automatically. When being empathic we do not figure out or think about other people’s emotions. Instead, we feel them, just as we feel ours. One ambivalently regarded result is that we develop an incapacity to ignore or abuse other people’s feelings of pain, and that has important ethical and social consequences.


Emotions are not static events; they are fluid, chemical, and protoplasmic, unlike thoughts and ideas, which are much more delineated, electrical, and contained. Emotions merge, fade, grow, and shrink, in the presence of other emotions and over time. Accordingly, awareness of how emotions interact with each other within people and between people affords an additional level of emotional sophistication. I call that Interactivity. When we are interactively, emotionally aware we are aware not just of our and another person emotions but of the emotional climate of groups of people and how it affects the individuals in the group, as well us.


I include this category of emotional awareness because it is quite possible that we are capable of developing levels of awareness that are not so far generally recognized. Some have claimed to respond to the suffering of plants and forests or even of the earth’s ecosystem. This category was added to indicate that we do not know what possible further developments in emotional awareness we may look forward to. Such developments are possible and shouldn’t be discounted.

Let us now turn to the descent of awareness below the Chaotic Experience.

Physical sensations:

Descending from the Chaotic, Primal Experience we find Physical Sensations. At this devolved level of emotional awareness, feeling is cleansed from awareness and experienced solely as the physical sensations that normally accompany the emotions. The person will feel a quickened heart beat but not be aware of fear, a pressure in the chest but not identify it as depression, a hot flash, a chill, a knot in the stomach, ringing in the ears, tingling sensations, shooting pains-the sensations of the emotion devoid of awareness of the emotion itself.

In this very common state of emotional awareness the person will resort to a variety of over-the-counter, prescribed or illegal drugs including alcohol, marihuana, coffee and energy drinks to allay the bothersome physical sensations that originate in the unacknowledged emotional state. These chemicals will have noticeable, soothing effects on aches, nausea, anxiety, laxity and irritability. They will also have side effects, and may interact dangerously. Understandably, most people prefer to be in this state of unawareness, alleviated by drugs, than to be under the sway of emotional chaos in which emotions are out of our control. Certainly an employer will prefer a worker who takes massive daily doses of coffee and pain killers than one who cries or rages uncontrollably. at work.


When asked how he or she feels, a person in this stage of emotional illiteracy is liable to be baffled or to report feeling only coldness or numbness. Emotions are unavailable to awareness. People in this state are not aware of anything they call feelings. This is true even if they are under the influence of very strong emotions. In fact, other people are often more aware of the numb person’s feelings than she is. A person in this state may not feel her own emotions, and yet those around her can.  Her emotions are unavailable to awareness and her experience is similar to that of an anaesthetized patient with a numb feeling covering up the pain of a dental procedure.

Occasionally, perhaps under the influence of alcohol or another drug, one major emotion irrepressibly breaks through and is vented in a sharp, brief outburst, which is quickly replaced by renewed anesthesia. In psychiatric terms, this state of emotional numbing is known as alexithymia. A similar numbness to pain is a common experience of those who experience extraordinary physical trauma. The temporary emotional numbness that follows trauma can become permanent when the emotional trauma continues over an extended period of time.


Emotional awareness is an essential element of emotional literacy. But emotional literacy training involves more that awareness. It also requires the management of emotions so that they benefit rather than harm self and others. All of these skills can be developed by applying transactional analysis to the exchange of emotional communication as described in my book: Emotional Literacy: Intelligence with a Heart (Personhood Press, 2003).

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