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Why Labeling Emotions Matters

By on August 11, 2014

In their recent book, Keeping the Brain in Mind Shawn Carson and Melissa Tiers explain how labeling emotions can help in controlling those emotions and changing states, by first dissociating from the emotion.

This simple technique appears in many modalities such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), where emotions are both named, and ranked on the SUDs (subjective units of emotion) scale. Simply asking the client to name and rank the emotion can begin to give them control over it, beginning the process of change.

The other side of the coin is the ability to experience more positive and resourceful states by widening the vocabulary you (or your clients) use to describe their resources. Sometimes, when asked, “How do you want to feel instead?” a client will say something like, “I don’t want to feel anxious”, or, “I want to feel okay”. The problem with the first response is that they are telling you what they don’t want to feel, not what they want to feel. And the problem with the second response is that ‘okay’ is hardly a great resource state for most people.

When someone has access to a greater vocabulary of resource states, things like great, fantastic, awesome, amazing, marvelous, wonderful, unbelievable, stunning, superb, and so on then they begin to open up the range of positive emotions they can feel.

Resources can also be stacked together, I play a game with one of my colleagues whereby we greet each other, “Hello, how are you today?” and the response is, “Dancing in delight”, “Swimming in sunshine”, “Walking in wonder”. Just playing this game makes me feel amazing!

So label your negative emotions in order to control and manipulate them. And feel totally free to discover amazing new labels to describe your most fabulous feelings, so you can feel fantastic as a result!

We link to an amazing article by the awesome Amelia Aldao, Ph.D. explaining some of the revealing research on this topic:…some people experience greater difficulties labeling their emotions than others. No matter how complex their emotions might be, they still come up with only a few labels to describe them. This impoverished emotional labeling is, in turn, associated with deficits regulating those emotions (see Vine & Aldao, 2014). …making an effort to understand our emotions in nonjudgmental ways can be quite valuable in terms of helping us regulate them better, and consequently, navigate our environments more smoothly. Via

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