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The Healing Power of Naming Your Emotions

Depending on their education, people know on average between 40.000 and 80.000 words in their native language and use typically only about 5.000 in their daily interactions. There are 3.000 words to describe emotions in English; however, only about 150 are commonly used, and no more than 35 are named daily. It may sound not as a big deal; however, an emotional vocabulary is the collection of words we use to express our feelings and reactions to events. Moreover, our emotional vocabulary helps us better understand and describe emotional states and own the experience, improving our relationships and wellbeing.

Experiencing unpleasant feelings can be pretty scary until we don't know what to do with them and why they are there; this is true at any age and particularly for children and young adults.

Any child begins to feel before building their language, and they need their parents to help form it to understand their emotions and how to deal with them.

Many parents provide words for children's common emotions, like happiness, sadness, and anger. Still, they may overlook their need to recognise a bigger range of emotions to grasp their experience.

Our feelings are not there to be cast out or conquered.

They're there to be engaged and expressed with imagination and intelligence.

T.K. Coleman

The ability to draw from a larger pool of words to express emotions and read the cues indicating other people's feelings is crucial to emotional intelligence, as recognising others' emotions is vital to developing social skills and gaining a better awareness of ourselves.

Reading the emotional cues helps to get a sense of how others respond to our words, behaviours, or attitudes. It also facilitates better connections by improving the chance to get positive responses, as understanding and empathising with others is the foundation for every relationship.

How is Emotional Ability Developed?

Identifying emotions, reading and responding to other people's feelings are three essential features to develop emotional intelligence or emotional literacy. It would be easier if abilities such as reading cues and responding appropriately were innate, but they're not. So instead, we develop social skills through experience, observation and being taught. There are five fundamental steps one can take to improve emotional connection:

  • Reflection: Paying attention when someone is talking and repeating with similar words what you heard and confirming if what you understood is correct.

  • Naming the Emotion: Identifying the emotion the person might be encountering as they explain their experience.

  • Stopping judgement. This is probably the hardest one. However, reminding everyone has different experiences, and that the behaviour displayed is a response learned in a lifetime, should increase curiosity and make things easier.

  • Getting Curious. Making questions and trying to gather as many details as possible. Helping someone connect with their emotional world often goes through a broader interpretation of what happened.

  • It'll feel weird. Typically, the instinctive response is to fix it instead of simply listening. It will take some effort to feel comfortable when refraining your brain to generate solutions.

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

The Value of Your Emotional Vocabulary

Children learn how to use emotional abilities by observing others. Thus, when parents reflect the feeling the child is experiencing, or describe the feelings they are experiencing, the child builds awareness.

As adults, a broad emotional vocabulary helps identify the exact feeling experienced and own it. Describing and understanding the emotion allows us to understand and explore more effectively what is happening for us. For example, anger comprehends a range of emotions: annoyed, insulted, hateful, frustrated, enraged, and many more. Any nuance of anger requires a different approach. And it gets more complicated, as feelings often do not arise on their own. Feelings of anger, helplessness, confusion and fear can appear together; to work through them, it is crucial to have the ability to identify and separate them.

The only way to change someone's mind is to connect with them from the heart. Rasheed Ogunlaru

Expanding your Emotional Vocabulary

There are several ways to expand the emotional vocabulary depending on the age.

Children can be supported with :

  • Books focused on exploring emotions.

  • Recognising emotions in pictures

  • Creating artwork with collages of different feelings

  • Role-plays and storytelling

  • Flashcards

Exploring emotions with children has to be presented as play and not forced. Children are innately curious but also very aware of their limits.

The best way out is always through.

Robert Frost

From the teenage years, emotions are mainly explored independently or with peers.

Tools like the feelings wheel or feelings list may become very handy.

  • First, print or save them on your laptop. Then, read and individuate the less familiar ones; look for the exact meaning of unknown words.

To become more familiar with the new terms:

  • When you talk, don't limit descriptions of emotions with basic feelings, such as being happy, sad or angry. Look for specific words to describe how you feel.

  • Try to add daily at least one of the unfamiliar words describing a feeling in your vocabulary.

  • Start a feeling journal and be as descriptive as possible about your emotions.

Counselling and Emotions

Identifying emotions and working through memories connected to them is a big part of counselling work. Understanding the relationship between unconscious or conscious perception and the following reaction increases awareness and improves the ability to experience challenging events in a less confronting manner.

Emotion coaching helps to stay present with negative feelings without denying, blaming or avoiding them. This leads to an improved acceptance of your and others' vulnerabilities and better relationships.

How do you get there?

  1. Self-Disclosure. Admitting some difficulties can be very daunting, especially if you believe that nothing will change. However, acknowledging your challenges is the only way to overcome them.

  2. Vulnerability. Realising that being vulnerable shows courage and not weakness takes often unlearning and relearning of well ingrained (wrong) beliefs.

  3. Validation. Feeling heard is all one needs. Most people simply need to verbalise what they are going through, release what is burdening them, and don't need your solutions to their problems.

  4. Increased connectedness. Feeling heard increases the connections with the listener and are likely to open up more.

Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair,

but manifestations of strength and resolution.

Kahlil Gibran

In short, increasing your emotional vocabulary improves your awareness and your personal and social life, and:

  • Clarify your feelings.

  • Manage your reactions.

  • Develop insight, compassion, and empathy.

  • Improve your communications skills.

  • Facilitate flexibility toward changes.

  • Promotes internal motivation.

  • Creates positive relationships

If trying self-help is not enough, a professional can offer support, guidance, and solutions that can help you get back to feeling your best.

Feel free to contact me with any further questions.

Get in touch

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