Emotion Granularity: What Is It and Why It Matters

Emotion Granularity If you look up the definition of granular, it leaves a lot to be desired. You will find statements like: “composed of grains, containing granules, or resembling small particles.” Maybe imagery will be more helpful here – think about sand or sugar for instance. Then think about what those grains look like under a microscope. When you zoom in and calibrate the microscope correctly, you get to see all of the beautiful and diverse particles that make up the sand at the beach.

With scientific advantages, we are able to understand where sand comes from and how it is created. Without zooming in, we would not be able to correctly identify and understand what this substance is, and we would be left with our first (less accurate) impression instead: a pretty boring type of gritty soil.

Emotional Granularity 

Similarly, emotion granularity is the ability to get really specific about our emotional experience. This leads to a better understanding of it and more accuracy when coping with it. Some people can naturally engage in this descriptive process, while others rely on broader emotional strokes. Many of us use obscure words, like stress, to describe our emotional states. This can also sound like “I’m just so mad” or “that makes me sad.” These are good starting points, but the more specific we can get, the more we can respond to our emotions instead of reacting to them.

When we can flesh out our feelings of anger, we are likely to find we get “angry” at several different things or types of situations. Sometimes anger is covering for embarrassment, shame, or pain.  Other times it is covering for frustration, impatience, or annoyance. If we attempt to cope with shame the same way we cope with annoyance, that anger response is not going to be accurate or soothing. Imagine how it feels when someone truly understands your experience and where you are coming from. That sense of belonging and security is like a warm hug. We can offer that to ourselves, or at least part of that, by trying to understand ourselves better.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence 

In attempting to increase our emotional intelligence we must increase our emotional vocabulary. Thanks to neuroplasticity (the ability to create new connections in our brain – essentially rewiring a system) we can do this! Northeastern University neuroscientist, Lisa Feldman Barrett, has done extensive research on how emotions work in the brain. In discussing the importance of emotion granularity, she states “people who can construct finely-grained emotional experiences go to the doctor less frequently, use medication less frequently, and spend fewer days hospitalized for illness.”

Understanding our Granular Emotions

Identifying the complex granularity of emotions allows us to respond insightfully, communicate our experience to others clearly, and process our emotions completely. Emotional health, mental health, and physical health are all inextricably intertwined. If we are working on one, we are working on all. Get curious about your emotional world. Ask yourself questions and come up with answers. We don’t have to accept things as they are, that’s the beauty of introspection. An emotion wheel is a great place to start when considering beefing up your emotional lexicon!

For more on this topic check out the book Emotional Agility by Susan David or Lisa Barrett’s TED Talk.


About Jasmine Payne: 

Jasmine is a Resident in Counseling and provides services at the Fredericksburg location. She is a two-time graduate of Longwood University, receiving her B.S. in Psychology along with an M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

Throughout her graduate studies, Jasmine worked with teens and adults who belonged to various minority and multicultural populations. She also has familiarity with a wide spectrum of mental health concerns including anxiety/depression, grief, moodiness, self-improvement, motivation, relationship issues, and many more. To learn more about Jasmine, visit HERE

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