With the constant demands for our attention and always being “on”, it’s easy step over what we’re feeling. Stepping over our emotions may appear to be “productive” or helpful in the moment, but the down side of this approach is that emotions don’t go away, they simply settle into our system and build. These built up emotions often end up releasing in an external explosion onto others leaving a wake of destruction. Or maybe even worse, a build of emotion can also implode internally. When unexpressed emotions implode, they can leave you feeling overwhelmed, anxious or stuck.
Naming what you’re feeling can be a powerful way to start productively exploring your emotions so they don’t explode or implode. Naming feelings opens a doorway for the energy of the emotion to move out of your system. Once it’s out of your body – either through verbal or written expression – the emotion loses some of its power and leaves you with a bit more space and resourcefulness to continue your exploration.
When emotions begin to build, it can be tough identifying what you’re feeling.
It can be challenging to name an emotion because feelings can be a very visceral experience and words don’t always accurately describe the embodied experience of emotion. Another reason naming emotion is tough is because very few of us were taught a vocabulary specific to our feelings. So if you weren’t raised with a robust emotional vocabulary, let’s start with the basics. There are seven basic emotions – sad, mad, scared, happy, surprise, embarrassed, and disgust. So when an emotion takes hold, you could start be asking yourself, “Am I sad? Mad? Scared? Happy? Surprised? Embarrassed? Disgusted?”
These basic emotions can be the doorway to staying present and curious about the emotional experience.
When I work with adults, it’s often helpful to have an even more robust and nuanced list of feelings and body sensations to help pinpoint the experience. Pulling from the Hoffman Institute resources, I put together this List of Feelings to help articulate the wide variety of feelings and sensations we all experience when emotions kick in. This is both a tool to help identify your emotions, as well as a way to expand your emotional vocabulary. The more language we all have (adults and children alike) the more equipped and open we become in processing our emotions and deepening our emotional maturity.
Naming emotions can be a helpful tool to move from autopilot to the present moment.
If you notice you’re putting more energy into “figuring out” the feeling, rather than actually feeling the emotion, then I recommend you let go of the list (and the struggle of figuring it out) and instead, do something that will deepen presence in the moment. That might be slow physical movement like walking or yoga, tuning into your body sensations, meditating or even singing. Ultimately being present with what is happening will always be more helpful than wracking your brain trying to figure it out.