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Do You Have Emotional Granularity?

Having high emotional granularity is a vital tool for reducing emotional eating. The term was coined by Northeastern University Psychology Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett shortly after the turn of the century and refers to the ability to recognize, identify and express a full range of emotions. People with high emotional granularity have “finely tuned feelings.” They value emotions and are in touch with them most of the time. Moreover, they don’t lump all emotions together but feel and can describe their nuances. Upset might be parsed as frightened, dismayed or exasperated. Angry might be viewed as frustrated, helpless or fearful.

Says Barrett, “Emotional granularity isn’t just about having a rich vocabulary; it’s about experiencing the world, and yourself, more precisely. This can make a difference in your life. In fact, there is growing scientific evidence that precisely tailored emotional experiences are good for you, even if those experiences are negative.” (“Are You in Despair? That’s Good,” The NY Times, 6/3/16,, accessed 1/29/19).

“According to a collection of studies, finely grained, unpleasant feelings allow people to be more agile at regulating their emotions, less likely to drink excessively when stressed and less likely to retaliate aggressively against someone who has hurt them…Perhaps surprisingly, the benefits of high emotional granularity are not only psychological. People who achieve it are also likely to have longer, healthier lives. They go to the doctor and use medication less frequently, and spend fewer days hospitalized for illness. Cancer patients, for example, have lower levels of harmful inflammation when they more frequently categorize, label and understand their emotions.”

There’s evidence that emotional granularity improves mental health. Higher emotional granularity translates to better coping skills and, therefore, fewer maladaptive behaviors such as addictions. Relationships also improve when people are attuned to emotions.

How emotionally granular are you? Do you have difficulty identifying your feelings? Do you ignore them? Lump them together? Therapy can help because it provides a safe place to learn about and discuss emotions. By becoming more tuned in to them, you’ll up your emotional intelligence and do less mindless or binge eating.

For more information on emotions, read my Food and Feelings Workbook—A Full Course Meal on Emotional Health and Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.



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