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3.2 Developing emotional literacy

Working out exactly what you are feeling – and what lies behind those feelings – is a part of being emotionally literate. It enables you to take more control over your life and not let your feelings block your ability to fulfil your potential.

Susie Orbach, a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst, identified three stages of emotional literacy in her book published in 1999. She called these stages: register, recognise and respond. You’ll notice that there are three ‘r’s – so it’s easy to remember! This is known as a mnemonic – which means something to help you remember.

Have a read through what each of these stages means and see if you can think of examples in your own life at home or work. They are:

  • Register the emotional dimension in any situation – to recognise, for example, that there is an ‘atmosphere’ and use it to work out what is going on.
  • Recognise feelings of your own and their effects on other people, and read other people’s emotions accurately by interpreting their body language.
  • Respond appropriately to your own emotions and to those of other people. Recognise that sometimes it is appropriate to express your emotions and sometimes it is not; think whether it is appropriate to simply sit back and listen, or to challenge other people’s interpretation of events.

(Orbach, 1999)

Activity 3 Practising the three Rs

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes for this activity.

Work through the following three steps and jot down your responses in your learning journal.

  1. Think back to a recent time when you felt a particularly strong emotion. Record (or register) that emotion in your learning journal.
  2. Now write as much about the feeling as you can (recognising the feeling).
  3. Next, note whether or not you think you responded appropriately.


This might feel quite personal – but your notes are just your own!

If you are able to step back and think about the link between thoughts, feelings and behaviours, you will recognise that you can use your thinking to help you manage your feelings and to use them constructively.

This way, you can channel your emotions to support your learning rather than letting them get in the way.