Naming our Emotions – Part 3: Emotions as Information and How to Label Them

In the last two blog posts we discussed why naming emotions is a challenge, and what the research says about the benefits of naming out emotions. Much of the research is focused on lessening the intensity of the emotions we experience as a benefit to naming our emotions; while this is a worthy goal, I think it is important to state that part of my objective in writing these posts is to honour our feelings and to better appreciate how they serve us.  Feelings have evolved and have been an important part of why humans as a species have not only survived but thrived.  Love, connection, fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness all have very important reasons for existing and need to be felt and understood. Any feeling we are experiencing in a given moment holds important information about ourselves and our interactions with the outside world.  Sometimes that information is simple – for example if you are feeling stressed about a big work assignment. Once you are aware of this stress you can perhaps come up with a plan to tackle the work, while also planning to have a relaxing bath at the end of the day. Other times it might be more complicated – someone may have violated a boundary, or said something hurtful to you.  Perhaps it would feel easier to ignore the feeling of anger coming up, to push it to one side, and not disturb the relationship.  However that anger is trying to tell you something about the situation.  While you don’t need to act on the feeling immediately – in fact it is often a good idea to give yourself time to reflect- it is overall helpful to know that you are angry at the treatment you received.  In an ideal world you would communicate with the person that hurt you and they would apologize and the issue would be resolved in the future. While communicating may not always be possible depending on your relationship with the individual,  there are other possible solutions. What is important is that you find a way to feel, understand, and acknowledge the emotions that are coming up.

How to Label Your Emotions

There are many different ways we can be present with our emotions, it’s about finding what fits best for you:

  • Talk to a supportive friend or family member
  • Write about your feelings 
  • Listen to songs that are reflective of the emotions you are feeling
  • Draw or paint – try to create something that represents what you are feeling
  • Practice mindfulness – sit quietly and notice what you feel in your body, and consciously name what emotions are present

Note: Labeling your emotions doesn’t have to be done with a therapist, although that can be helpful if you really struggle to connect with your emotions. If you have experienced trauma, or find that your emotions are connected to negative thoughts about self, it might be important to have the support of a therapist when exploring emotions.  Everything discussed in my blog is general information and may not be appropriate for your unique circumstances.