This is a question we get asked multiple times a day but we fail to answer. So today, we want to ask you -
How are you today?
What emotions are you feeling today?
You probably answered - good, okay, not fine, happy, sad, excited or a couple more variations. But going through this exercise and really thinking about the responses, it has been found that our emotional vocabulary as a community has been depleting and we use only a few words to describe the wide range of emotions we experience in our daily lives.
When we fail to express ourselves, it causes more confusion and makes us feel helpless. This reflects in our behaviour where we either lash out at our loved ones or shut down.
That’s why it is important to assess our emotions and describe to ourselves what we feel. This is called labelling. It helps us identify and accurately understand and accept the emotions we are going through, which helps us take the appropriate measure for specific emotions we feel. Here is how labelling helps us:
1. Specific Words
We often use extremely broad words to describe very specific emotions we feel. For instance, when we use the word ‘angry’ when at the bottom of it we truly might be feeling ‘defensive’ or ‘offended’. Words matter. When we use the right word to describe what we actually feel, it helps us better diagnose ourselves and open a pathway for more truthful and meaningful conversations.
This should be practiced for positive emotions as well as negative emotions. For instance, saying we are ‘excited’ (not just ‘nervous’) or we are ‘relieved’ about an outcome (not just ‘happy’), helps us understand our emotions clearly and takes away the added stress created by confusion.
2. Intensity of Emotions
We feel emotions at varying levels and not all levels have the same attributions related to them. Since, our emotional vocabulary is extremely limited, we use the same words to describe extreme and mild emotions. We fall back on words like ‘angry’, ‘happy’, ‘sad’ or ‘anxious’ to describe the majority of human emotions, with disregard to the scale.
However, it is important to use the right word because it can make a huge difference in the way we perceive our own as well as other’s feelings. When we think someone is angry (a strong emotion) in reality they could just be grumpy, frustrated or impatient (which are relatively much milder emotions). Next time you think your partner, parents, siblings or friends are angry, reassess your judgement and use words that would more accurately describe their emotions. As we label emotions, we can also rate them on a scale of 1-10 to understand what emotions need to be dealt with immediately and what can wait.
3. Solutions Mindset
Since we were younger, we were taught by society to avoid our emotions, control it or put it away in a box. This is one of the reasons we have failed to really identify our emotions and deal with it in a healthy way. Labelling helps us understand and accept our emotions, which is an important first step in the correct direction. Once we know what we are feeling and are able to describe it, we can find appropriate ways to overcome it.
For instance, through labelling, we understand that we are really stressed about an upcoming deadline at work (not angry or anxious but just stressed). This fact enables us to separate us from our emotions and focus on the solution - working extra hours to get the work done. Labelling helps us look at things from a third person perspective, which separates us from our feelings. This helps us identify what we can do or what would make us feel better.
4. Avoid Helplessness
When we are clear about our emotions, it sets a sense of calm because we feel in control. As humans, feeling in control is an important requirement that we all need. On the other hand, when we are unable to identify our emotions correctly we feel helpless and lost. We know we feel a certain way but not being able to put a name to it (label on it) creates further confusion, irritation and anxiousness above the initial emotions we were going through. This is why it is important to use the right words to describe what we are feeling.
5. Better Relation with Others (and Ourselves)
When we use the right words to identify our emotions and that of others, we create a deeper connection. The most basic and important need for us as humans, is the want to be understood. Emotions being so central to our reactions and behaviour, once we understand and name them, it gets easier to understand and be understood. This gives clarity in communication, which always strengthens bonds and brings people closer.
Here are some common words that are part of our emotional vocabulary but can be expanded to get a more accurate label:
Angry: annoyed, grumpy, frustrated, defensive, furious, disgusted, resentful
Sad: disappointed, regretful, depressed, pessimistic, disillusioned
Happy: amused, content, trusting, relaxed, excited, elated, confident
Hurt: let down, criticised, rejected, isolated, deprived, shocked
There are many many more words that are incorrectly used because of a lack of a substitute that we think of. We need to actively work to broaden our emotional vocabulary so we can accurately label emotions and truly understand ourselves and others and create a deeper bond through understanding and compassion.