Mindfulness

How does labelling emotions help?

“If we can name it we can tame it,” says Marc Brackett, Research psychologist and Founding Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, in his inspiring book, Permission to Feel.

By giving words to our feelings, we start to possess their power. And yet, while there are over 200 words related to emotions in the English language, we only use about 7 of these on a regular basis to describe our inside selves. This meagre diet of emotional vocabulary is woefully inadequate to express, and therefore process our thoughts, worries and fears.

Labelling our emotions is an essential part of moving them from our emotional brain to our intellectual brain. When they are confined to our emotional brain, our feelings can be intimidating. Scary. Overwhelming. Beyond our reach. We know we feel rubbish but can’t articulate why, to ourselves or to anyone else. This isolates us from support because we don’t have the words to reach out. We may not even have the words to understand we need to reach out.

We have a responsibility, to ourselves and to our children, to label feelings accurately, to develop our emotional language in order to protect ourselves from this emotional bottleneck.

Words are there, and they are ours to use; to be curious, to explore, to investigate, to express exactly how we are feeling. Only then can we release, connect and write our own stories.

Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to feel. Unlocking the power of our emotions to help ourselves and our kids, and our society thrive. Celadon Books

Uncategorized

Permission to feel

“Shhh don’t cry.” Soothing words, often uttered with the very best of intentions. Spoken softly into a shoulder. Gentle, kind.

And yet, what is the purpose of these words? “Shhh don’t cry.” Turning down the volume on grief and anguish so that it is more manageable, less overbearing. More malleable, less garish. More civilised, less conspicuous. So that as onlookers we feel less helpless in the face of another’s abyss.

In his book Permission to Feel, research psychologist and Founding Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Marc Brackett shines a light on our tendency to treat emotions as pariahs to be avoided, and obstacles to be overcome.

“We deny ourselves and one another the permission to feel. We suck it up, squash it down, act out. We avoid the difficult conversation with a colleague. We explode at a loved one and we helplessly go through a bag of cookies and have no idea why. When we deny ourselves permission to feel a long list of outcomes ensues.”

When we deny our emotions and pit ourselves against them, emotions become the enemy. The baddy. We run from them and strategise ways to outsmart them. Emotions are powerful and yet we harness none of their power. We fuel their power with the energy and time we spend attempting to escape them.

What if we stopped running from our feelings? What if we stopped trying to fight them and shush them and push them down?

Perhaps if we noticed how we feel and allowed our emotions space. Anger, fear, sadness, joy. Perhaps if we let them be, without becoming them. Perhaps then we could enjoy their colour, be curious about their depth, and appreciate what they teach us about ourselves, our lives, and the world.

Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to feel. Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive. Celadon Books

Mindfulness

Owning our lockdown lows

For many of us, lockdown has brought bubbling to the surface emotions that we have pushed to the depths of our minds for as long as we can remember and kept there with busy routines, interactions, and to-do-lists. Endless stimulation has provided our moments of melancholy with a fast track down to this subconscious space.

Some of us do this so well that when these emotions rise up, they do so with the power of like a geyser firing hot steam hundreds of feet into the air. Our turmoil is compounded by utter shock that such strength of emotion exists inside us. 

So what happens if we see this uprising of all those long-supressed and smothered emotions as an opportunity to accept them, to acknowledge them, to allow them airtime?

Brené Brown encapsulates beautifully the importance of acknowledging how we are feeling in her book Rising Strong:

“The opposite of recognising that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away. Instead they own us, they define us.”

Pushing difficult thoughts and feelings to the depths of our mind is exhausting as we use all our strength to keep them there. We take our energy and attention away from the rest of our lives and plough it into pushing down those feelings. The very act of holding back these emotions becomes our purpose.

As Brené Brown writes “Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending – to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think “Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends.””

Perhaps there are stories we need to take ownership of, emotions we need to acknowledge and accept, to relieve our weary minds from the energy it takes to push them down below our consciousness. Perhaps by stopping the world in its tracks, lockdown has allowed us the quiet, the time and the space to recognize what we are feeling. A little nudge to write our own endings.

Brown, B. (2015). Rising strong (First edition.). New York: Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House.

dreams

What happens when we dream?

Dreaming is something almost all of us do, some of us remember, and most of us take for granted. But why do we dream?

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, or dream sleep, is our mind’s natural way of processing the emotions around whatever we have thought about or experienced during the day. Perhaps we have been brooding following an argument with a friend. Perhaps we have fretted over a presentation we have to give at work the following day. Perhaps we have been flattened by an stampede of bad news, and wept for those around the world who are suffering.

These thoughts have scurried around our brains like commuters at a busy airport, each with a different purpose, each with a different set of worries, raised voices rising towards a constant noise, that is so inescapable we forget it’s even there. In his book Waking Up Sam Harris refers to this noise as the “trance of discursive thought”. For the majority of us, unless we have refined meditative techniques to hand, it is not until we leave behind consciousness and enter into sleep that the airport empties and we escape the din of competing thoughts.

Unless we are suffering with severe anxiety or depression, REM sleep, which makes up only 20% of our sleep patterns, is designed to carry out crowd control on this thought chaos, processing each thought by converting it from an emotional memory into a narrative memory. These narrative memories are then moved from our primitive brain into our intellectual brain, where we have more control over them.

At the onset of REM sleep the brain behaves in much the same way as if someone were to bang saucepans together behind our heads as we sat quietly reading a book. Founders of the Human Givens approach Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrell suggest that the reason the eyes move around rapidly as we dream (hence the name rapid eye movement), is that we are responding to the signal that something very important is happening, right now, and we are searching for what it might be. This search is in vain however, as the source of emotional arousal is internal rather than external, as we metaphorically act out, within our dreams, the unresolved musings from the day, discharging their emotional baggage.

Our dreams are creative, unbound by the rationale and logic that governs our conscious minds, which equips them to clear emotional hurdles that our awake selves simply stare at helplessly. Dreams help us to peel away the layers of frustration, anxiety and fear from our thoughts, until we are left with smooth pearls of wisdom. We file these pearls away in the library of our intellectual mind, in cabinet drawers labeled ‘perspective’, ‘understanding’, and ‘knowledge’. 

There is much research yet to be done to help us understand exactly how dreams process anxiety, however plenty of existing research shows that they do, and do so incredibly effectively. Quietening the noise, calming our minds, making space. Ready for tomorrow’s thought onslaught.

Griffin, Joe; Tyrrell, Ivan (2013). Human givens : a new approach to emotional health and clear thinking (New Ed.). Chalvington, East Sussex: HG Publishing.

Harris, S. (2014). Waking up. Simon & Schuster