Why Bother to Name that Emotion?
I didn’t want to raise daughters. I was afraid to. I thought they would be too hard to manage because of all of the messy emotions I thought already came packaged inside of little girls. For that reason, I was grateful and somewhat relieved each time I birthed a son.
Though it is embarrassing for me to mention this, I will say it anyway. I honestly thought boys came with fewer emotions than girls. Thankfully, I learned sooner than later that my sons felt just as many things on their insides as I did. The only difference was that they displayed them in other ways than I did.
Anger, Jealousy, Fear, Oh My!
Gender does not matter when it comes to our emotions. Everyone feels anger, sadness, disappointment, courage and shame. Coincidentally, even if we did not grow up with the ability to name our feelings, it is never too late to learn.
Though my mother attempted to help me understand my feelings, she didn’t know how to mentor me through my tumultuous teen years. Instead of helping me to name what I was feeling, she instead stealthily slid magazine and newspaper articles into my room. Like “Thing” from Addams Family, her hand slid through a crack in the doorway, set an article down on my dresser and then withdraw, without a word. Reading the titles,“Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk,” and “Don’t Make Mountains Out of Molehills,” told me that she was aware of my emotional state. She just didn’t know how to help me.
Eventually, I grew up and knew I needed to be the one to educate myself about my own feelings. First of all, I discovered that ignoring them does not make them go away, and telling myself I shouldn’t feel a certain way only intensified what was already there. Instead, I taught myself two simple techniques; listen and learn.
Taking an approach that made sense to me I likened my emotions to the little dots like those in the dot-to-dot pictures I used to like doing as a kid. The more dots I connected, the more the picture revealed itself.
Consequently, the more emotions I could identify and name, the better understanding I’d have of what was really going on inside of me. I knew anger was one of my more dominant feelings, but taking a closer look, I saw some of anger’s nuances. There was fear and the knowledge that I was not the blessed controller of very many things. This small amount of awareness led to more and more understanding and the picture of my emotions became clearer. But what do you do once you see the picture?
Naming our emotions gives us the power to choose how to respond differently, to shift our thinking and to calm ourselves down. But being more aware of how we feel isn’t just about knowing ourselves better, it also makes us more savvy about the feelings of others. When a close friend is angry or disappointed, I won’t be handing them an article about how to control their emotions. Instead, I’ll validate how they feel and maybe even help them connect some of their own dots.
So why bother naming our emotions? Naming emotions makes us smarter and smarter people make smarter decisions.