Why we need to increase our emotional vocabularyAug 17, 2022
‘The more you feel your feelings, the easier it gets to understand them’ - Mansi
In recent times, there have been a lot more conversations about emotions and feelings. We have come a long way since my childhood in terms of the acceptability of talking about how we feel.
I still remember being about 6 years old at primary school playing one lunchtime in the big sandpit. It had concrete pavers around the edge of it with a slight lip that made getting out pretty challenging. (This was in the 80’s when safety wasn’t such an active concern of adults)
I must have tripped while trying to exit the sandpit, suddenly there was blood everywhere, I had smashed my shin on the sharp edge, it was so painful. But I wasn’t just feeling the physical pain, I was feeling embarrassed at falling in front of my friends and the bigger kids at school.
There were no words of comfort from the teacher on duty, just a ‘come on now, pull yourself together, stop crying, it’s not that bad, stop being so emotional.’ Even now, when I think about that experience I can feel my emotions contracting inwards.
I started shutting off my emotions that very day. If I look back at my life, especially my teens there were many moments of desperately trying to hold back how I felt about something, trying not to let a tear escape and roll down my face or let the frustration I was feeling out. Unfortunately, as good as I got at hiding how I felt a lot of the time, my emotions would still let me down and come out at the most inopportune moment, almost always getting me into trouble.
When you’ve spent much of your life pushing your emotions down or desperately hiding them, it can take time to welcome them back as part of your life. It can feel a bit like you’re opening Pandora's box and not really sure what might come flying out.
Does this sound like something you experienced growing up?
We are now being told that emotions are good (and I firmly believe they are) but there is an expectation that we should just be able to let them out and flow easily.
Many of my clients struggle with this when we first start working together. They have spent so long keeping them hidden, they don’t feel safe expressing them.
The other problem is that not only did we get told to hide our emotions, we were also encouraged to file them into either good or bad folders and of course we wanted more of the good and less of the bad. The need to categorise emotions in this way has made it even harder for us to welcome how we really feel at any one time.
The good news is that it is possible to learn to feel and connect with your emotions. It's something you can practice and improve at. A great starting point is to learn to name the emotion or feeling that is coming up for you.
One of the challenges that beginners face is the fact it becomes very obvious how limited their emotional vocabulary is and this can lead to feeling not good enough and can stop the growth in its tracks.
Brené Brown describes beautifully why it is important to increase our emotional language:
“When we don't have the language to talk about what we’re experiencing, our ability to make sense of what's happening and share it with others is severely limited. Without accurate language, we struggle to get the help we need, we don't always regulate or manage our emotions and experiences in a way that allows us to move through them productively, and our self-awareness is diminished. Language shows us that naming an experience doesn't give the experience more power, it gives us the power of understanding and meaning.” -- Brené Brown - Atlas of the Heart
The other good news is that there are some great resources that can help you on your quest to increase your emotional language:
Atlas of the Heart - Brené Brown
How do I feel - A dictionary of emotions by Rebekah Lipp and Craig Evans
An exercise that can help you to start reconnecting with your emotions, is to start to notice them each day. How do you feel when you wake up, have breakfast, step outside, see friends, go to work?
Make a note in your journal about what the feeling is. Over the week you will then be able to see how many different emotions and feelings you had and also the variation of language.
After a week of doing this (or even just a day), challenge yourself to look back at the list and try and think of another word to describe what you wrote down.
Try and do this without judgement (this will just close the brain down to new things). Just explore other possibilities. The more you do this exercise, the easier it will become to identify feelings and emotions when they come up. This then allows you to validate why you feel this way and start to welcome your feelings as a way of expanding your knowledge about yourself.
If you would like to learn more about how connecting to and understanding your emotions can help your wellness then sign up for our FREE Masterclass taking place on the 15th September at 8pm GMT +1 (7am NZST)
Here’s the link to register: https://www.awakeningthewisewoman.com/a/2147517731/4j3PgFwY