Emotional Attunement – A Comprehensive Guide (2021)

6 min read

It’s natural to desire being understood. To talk about issues, and feel like someone “gets” you. 

They might respond with nods, questions — anything confirming that they’re intently listening. However, to do this, they have to be emotionally attuned.

Let’s discuss everything you need to know about emotional attunement.

Emotional Attunement and Why It Matters

Simply put, emotional attunement is identifying, understanding, and engaging with someone’s emotions. It involves  “tuning in,” connecting to one’s experiences.

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What does it mean to attune?

To fully understand the emotional attunement definition, you need to know what attuning is in the first place.

Psychology dictionaries like AlleyDog define attune as being receptive to someone’s emotions. This includes being aware of what they’re talking about, how they are feeling, and conducting oneself in a way that affirms their sensations.

You can attune by:

  • Mirroring or imitating someone’s actions like smiling to a kid when they smile.
  • Showing that you agree with someone by saying “exactly,” “I know, right?” and other similar terms.
  • Using phrases like “I understand,” “That must have been tough,” and “I can only imagine” to reveal that you resonate with what they’re saying.
  • Asking relevant questions when chatting.

Depending on the conversation, you can show that to some degree, you know how someone else feels in one way or another. This way, you create a connection with them.

But attunement isn’t always about others. You have to be attuned to yourself as well for you to attain healthy relationships.

Emotional Attunement
Photo by DEVN on Unsplash

What does it mean to be attuned with yourself?

To be attuned with yourself means being aware and attending to your emotions. Instead of staying distracted trying to neglect your feelings, you need to let them flow as you observe and learn about them.

Attuning to one-self helps you know who you are and translates to understanding others as well. Therefore, being attuned with others starts with attuning to self. 

Why emotional attunement matters

This concept is fundamental in every relationship. That’s why people who maintain a stone-face or stay distracted when others are talking are viewed as “emotionally absent”. 

The following are reasons why attunement matters:

  • It determines how we parent
  • It shapes our relationships with friends
  • It affects how we express love and affection
  • It enables us to understand ourselves and others
  • It helps psychology professionals be effective

Stay with me as I break this down further in the following section using examples.

Emotional Attunement Examples

This concept is applied in many vital life aspects and remains to be a solution in all social settings. 

Emotional attunement in parenting and child development 

Children learn how to operate in the world from the facial expressions, sounds, and gestures we use. However, you have to be emotionally attuned to be able to cater to your child’s needs appropriately.

For instance, when your kid is in pain, comforting them shows that you’re feeling their angst. Your presence and caring expression will let them know that you understand them, care for them, and they’re safe when they rely on you.

However, if you don’t comfort them, they might feel neglected and unimportant. And if it happens often, they might think that’s how the world operates.

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So in this case, the saying, “You can’t teach what you don’t know” remains true. If you’re misattuned, your child will likely grow with contact issues.

So as a parent, you need to ask yourself:

  • Do I tap into my kid’s emotional needs?
  • Does my child feel safe when around me?
  • Is my kid open about their feelings to me?
  • Is my child emotionally settled?

Watch this video of a “still-face” experiment by a mother and discover the effects of attunement and misattunement on children:

Emotional attunement in friendships

Imagine talking to your friend who isn’t engaged with what you’re saying. They may be looking into their phone, focusing on what’s around you, or even change the subject. How does that make you feel?

In a matter of minutes, you’ll probably start losing interest in the conversation, and subsequently, the desire to be around that friend.

This is the result of emotional misattunement.

Good friendships rely on connections to maintain the bond. If that’s absent, it’ll be challenging to make or keep friends. But that changes once one learns how to focus on other people by staying tuned.

Emotional attunement in romantic relationships

“My partner isn’t meeting my needs.” 

I hear this all the time and, sadly, most people repeat this statement in a relationship yet it solves nothing because one partner isn’t tuned and the other doesn’t know how to make them. 

Let’s take couples in marriage for example: 

Ann: Guess what happened today — my supervisor called me stupid again. This is the third time, ugh I hate him!

Misattuned Steve: That sucks! Just forget it. (Doesn’t sound like he understands or cares about what Ann’s feeling)

Attuned Steve: That’s not right! It must be very difficult to deal with him, honey. (Connects with Ann’s anger plus frustration emotions by mirroring them and acknowledging them)

When there’s no attunement, your partner won’t know what you’re feeling. And since they can’t tap into your emotions, they’ll seem distant and uncaring, driving you to any behavior that leads you to experience safety.

Commonly, to protect yourself, you may withhold your affection so you can avoid rejection. This creates more distance between you and breeds  negative feelings.

You need to know that what’s going on here is emotional misattunement — and that it can be fixed.

Emotional attunement with yourself

When you tune into emotion, it’s easy to identify its triggers and recognize yourself more. This heightens your awareness of other people’s emotions as well.

For instance, you might have grown up with the mentality that, “I am lazy if I procrastinate” because you learned that in your childhood. 

However, if you experience your emotions and learn how you felt when procrastinating vs when you promptly executed tasks, you likely would find the reason why you do what you do instead of branding yourself a false character.

When you keep connecting to your emotions in this manner, you’ll increase your emotional intelligence and find it simpler to understand other people.

Emotional attunement in psychology

Attunement is a well-known and used concept in many areas of psychology. It explains how humans as social animals behave and provides answers to many psychological problems.

Most attunement psychological studies delve into its effects in early childhood and therapy sessions.

A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroendocrinology emphasized the importance of attunement in the stress physiology of an infant, revealing its lifelong relevance.

Another Study of the Role of Attunement in Adult Psychotherapy unveiled the following varied characteristics of attuned and non-attuned therapists:

Attuned therapistsNon-attuned therapists
Engaged Distracted
Modulated responses Non-modulated responses 
Maintains proximityPhysically distances the client 
Promotes exploration of ideas with lead-on statementsInhibits exploration with closing comments

From developmental to social psychology, attunement is a relevant part of assessing and interpreting human behavior. That’s why any professionals in the field need to learn the art so they can help others more effectively.

Emotional attunement in therapy

As outlined earlier, an attuned therapist can tap into your emotions and help you realize them with consideration. 

You’ll feel that they hear you. That they feel you. That they’re experiencing your narrative with you.

How they communicate will provoke vulnerability in you since being understood will show you that you’re safe. And even if you make them uncomfortable, they’ll keep calm because it’s about you.

But they also learn the attunement, meaning it doesn’t come effortlessly for therapists either. They have to be attached to their own emotions and also cultivate the qualities of attuned therapists frequently.

So How Can I Be More Attuned?

You can practice becoming more tuned with yourself and others on your own or through the help of a professional. Here are some ways you can become more attuned:

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness involves examining your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Instead of neglecting an emotion that discomforts you, you observe the experiences that trigger it so you can find constructive tactics of coping.

Avoid multitasking

We are in a world full of distractions. And although some of these preoccupying activities are beneficial, some people fail to slow down and engage in a single task. But unless necessary, refrain from multitasking while communicating. This way you’ll ensure that you’re fully present, responding to emotion consistently.

Talk less

Some of us talk too much for our own good. But this robs us a chance of attuning with people. So instead of rushing to respond, listen more to connect with others.

Always intend to be emotionally engaged

Like intending to be kind at all times, keep emotional engagement a priority in your social encounters. This way, you’ll remember to respond to others in a way they’ll feel “heard.”

Seek Therapy

If you’re experiencing deep misattunement issues in your relationships, you should consider going for therapy.  Your childhood or any transformative experiences in your adult life might be the reason you’ve lost touch with your emotional life. While some emotions may not be apparent to you, a therapist can help you discover them.

Conclusion

Emotional attunement is the crux of the relationship with yourself and others. It needs to be cultivated from childhood but can also be attained later in life.

Let’s connect in the comment section below! Also, don’t forget to share this blog post with others so they can be more attuned!

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