Understanding emotions

Self-reflection and empathy are two effective tools for understanding emotions.

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Understanding emotions is a complex process that involves self-reflection, empathy and the ability to interpret non-verbal cues.

This article highlights steps that can empower you to understand your emotions.

What is self-reflection?

Self-reflection is the process of consciously and critically examining one's own thoughts, feelings, motivations, actions and experiences. Self-reflection involves the ability to look at yourself from the outside, to question your own beliefs and behaviors and to develop a deeper understanding of yourself. 'How did my reaction in situation A affect the other person?' 'What reaction would I have wished for from the other person in situation B?

Self-reflection enables us to recognize our strengths and weaknesses, clarify our goals and values and adapt our behaviour accordingly.The process of self-reflection can take various forms. These include

Internal observation

This involves consciously reflecting on our thoughts, feelings and actions. We take time to reflect on past events, analyze our reactions to them and identify possible reasons for our behavior.


This involves critically questioning our own beliefs, assumptions and behaviors. We ask ourselves challenging questions and question our motivations in order to develop a deeper understanding of ourselves.

Change of perspective

This involves looking at situations from different angles and considering how other people might perceive our actions and decisions. This can help us to better understand our behavior and improve our interpersonal relationships.


This involves the ability to look at ourselves with compassion and understanding rather than judging or criticizing ourselves. We recognize that we are not perfect and that mistakes and failures are part of human life.

Self-reflection is an important part of personal growth and self-development. By regularly taking the time to think and reflect on ourselves, we can develop a deeper understanding of ourselves, improve our relationships and live our lives more consciously.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand other people's feelings, thoughts and perspectives and to put yourself in their shoes. It is the ability to recognize, share and understand the other person's emotions without feeling them yourself. Empathy makes it possible to connect with others, show compassion and build supportive relationships.There are two main types of empathy:

Affective empathy

Affective empathy refers to the ability to feel and sympathize with another person's emotions. When we experience affective empathy, we feel the emotions of others intensely as if they were our own. This can help us to connect emotionally with others and show compassion.

Cognitive empathy

Cognitive empathy refers to the ability to intellectually understand another person's perspective and put oneself in their shoes. It involves the ability to recognize and understand another person's thoughts, beliefs and motivations without necessarily sharing their emotions.

Empathy is an important social skill that enables us to successfully engage in social interactions, build relationships and resolve conflicts. Through empathy, we can foster understanding and support for others, improve the quality of our interpersonal relationships and promote an empathic and compassionate society.

How can I understand emotions?

To better understand emotions, the following steps can provide a helpful approach:

  1. Self-observation:
    Take time to observe and reflect on your own emotions. Pay attention to physical sensations, thoughts and behaviors associated with certain emotions.
  2. Emotional mindfulness:
    Be mindful of your own feelings and emotions. Allow yourself to experience your emotions without judging or suppressing them.
  3. Empathy:
    Try to put yourself in other people's shoes and understand their emotions. Pay attention to non-verbal signals such as facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice, which can give you clues about their feelings.
  4. Communication:
    Talk openly about emotions and share your own feelings with others. Actively listen when others talk about their emotions and try to understand their perspective.
  5. Learn:
    Find out about emotions and their meaning. Study psychological concepts such as emotional intelligence, emotion regulation and the biological basis of emotions.
  6. Practice:
    Actively engage with your emotions and experiment with different coping strategies. Be patient with yourself and recognize that understanding emotions is an ongoing process.
  7. Reflection:
    Reflect regularly on your own emotional reactions and the reactions of others. Ask yourself what emotions you are experiencing, why you are experiencing them and how you can respond to them.

[1] T. Rammsayer, H. Weber: Differential psychology — personality theories. Hogrefe Verlag, Göttingen 2016.

[2] E. Aronson, T. D. Wilson, R. M. Akert: Social Psychology. Pearson studies, Munich 2012

[3] J. Amulya: What is reflective practice. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Reflective Community Practice, 2004. (February 25, 2019)

[4] Reflective practice. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://psychology.fandom.com/wiki/Reflective_practice

[5] Empathy. In: Cod: Lexicon of Psychology. Hogrefe Verlag, Göttingen 2017, ISBN 978-3-456-85643-8 (empathy. Dorsch: Lexikon der Psychologie Online. archived (memento dated December 6, 2018 in the Internet Archive)).

[6] Empathy. Lexicon of neuroscience. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 2000 (archived (memento dated December 6, 2018 in the Internet Archive)).

[7] J. A. Hall, F. J. Bernieri: Interpersonal Sensitivity, Theory and Measurement. London 2001, p. 21 f. and Paul Ekman: Reading feelings. Spektrum Verlag, 2007, p. 249. (2nd edition 2010, (paperback)); English-language original 2003: Emotions revealed. Understanding faces and feelings.