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The Healing Power of Recognising and Naming Your Emotions

Letters forming emotions

People know, on average, between 40.000 and 80.000 words in their native language but typically use no more than 5.000 in their daily interactions. The English vocabulary entails 3.000 words to describe emotions; however, only about 150 are commonly used, and at most, 35 are named daily. Using a restricted vocabulary to express feelings may not sound like a big deal, but our emotional vocabulary is the collection of words we use to express our perceptions, and a restricted vocabulary limits the awareness of any experience. 

Our emotional vocabulary helps us make sense of events, understand and describe emotional states' nuances, and own our experiences, allowing us to improve emotional regulation.

Expanding Your Emotional Vocabulary 

Embracing an emotional vocabulary broad enough to enhance self-awareness and relationships is a journey from childhood to late adulthood. Despite knowing thousands of words, individuals often limit their daily interactions to a fraction of them, especially when expressing emotions. A restricted emotional vocabulary hinders the ability to navigate and understand the complexities of one's inner world while increasing the emotional language, which improves awareness of subtle nuances of life experience.

Overall, an improved emotional vocabulary helps:

  • Clarify feelings.

  • Manage reactions.

  • Develop insight, compassion, and empathy.

  • Improve communication skills.

  • Facilitate flexibility toward changes.

  • Promoting internal motivation.

  • Build positive relationships

father reading books to his child

Emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, understand,

and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions

 as a source of human energy, information, connection, and influence.

Robert K. Cooper, PhD

Naming Emotions and Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is learned and requires the ability to understand and discern emotions. Emotions don't surface alone, and grasping the nuances becomes challenging without a reasonable amount of words in our emotional vocabulary. Expanding the vocabulary is particularly crucial for parents with preverbal children.

Children, before developing language, rely on parents to help them understand their emotions. Parents who mirror their child's emotions raise emotionally intelligent children. Developing emotional intelligence involves recognising, understanding, and responding to our own and other's emotional states. Reading emotional cues is not innate but is cultivated through experience and observation. Finally, emotional intelligence promotes better social skills and improved self-awareness.

To enhance the connection with your and others emotions, consider implementing the following steps:


Pay attention when someone is talking, reframe what you heard and confirm if your understanding is correct.

Name the Emotion. 

Identifying and acknowledging the emotion the person is expressing when they recount their experience. 

Stop judgement. 

This is probably the hardest one. However, reminding that everyone comes from different backgrounds and that the behaviour displayed is a response learned in a lifetime could make things easier.

Get Curious. 

Make questions and listen to gather details about the person's emotional experience. Helping someone connect with their emotional world often involves a broader interpretation of what happened.

Don't fix it. 

Typically, the automatic response is to attempt to resolve the experience, yours or from another person, instead of simply listening to what happened. Feeling comfortable and refraining from generating and offering solutions will take some effort, but over time, it will open you up to the fundamental experience of staying present.

Understanding Emotional Regulation

Feelings do not arise alone; anger may manifest with helplessness, confusion, and fear. Identifying and separating them is crucial to working them through and learning to regulate emotions. Also, experiencing anger may hide a range of different nuances of the emotion: from annoyed to insulted, hateful, frustrated, enraged, and others. Recognising the emotion is crucial, as every nuance of anger brings up different experiences, requiring different approaches to regulate them.

Emotion coaching is often part of any counselling journey, helping navigate challenging feelings and fostering self-acceptance.

Describing and understanding the emotion allows us to understand and explore more effectively what is happening within us. Children's emotional exploration involves play, books, and creative activities. For teenagers and adults, implementing a personalised handwritten vocabulary using tools like the feelings wheels or internet research can help expand adults' vocabulary. Finally, this can be implemented through journalling aids to reinforce the emotional language. 

Hands on a table

Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair,

 but manifestations of strength and resolution.

Kahlil Gibran

Final Thoughts

Acknowledging that emotions don't exist in isolation is the first step towards effective emotional regulation. Describing and understanding emotions becomes a powerful tool for enhancing the journey of navigating complex feelings and fostering acceptance and understanding. 

When unpleasant feelings rule your day for too long, it’s time to reach out to someone you trust. You don't have to face everything alone. Contact a helpline, a support group, or a professional. Your GP or a counsellor can make a difference in your wellbeing. 

Subscribe to this website and get 15 minutes of free online consultations. 



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