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

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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.