Are you feeling bad, mad, or sad?
𝗬𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗳𝗲𝗲𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗴𝘀 𝗺𝗮𝘁𝘁𝗲𝗿, and just as important is knowing what you are feeling and being able to articulate them.
Not knowing is called alexithymia, which means an inability to describe our own emotions. It can also be associated with difficulty with identifying different types of emotions.
Critically not understanding or being able to describe our own emotions has far-reaching effects. With the appropriate language we can understand and share what we are experiencing. Labelling an emotional experience results in ‘greater emotional regulation and psychological wellbeing’. Without this capacity we may not even know how to make sense of an experience for ourselves. If we can’t understand and share our experience, then how can we ask for help, or get what we need?
Understanding the nuances of emotions also allows us to identify these feelings more readily in others allowing us to make more sense of the world around us.
So why am I writing about this? Two reasons, firstly I have been listening to Brene Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart (2021), and I am so engaged in learning about the nuanced differences between emotions. I find it just fascinating, although my good friend, who aligns herself to Star Trek’s Spock when it comes to emotions isn’t quite so sure.
The second reason is that some recent findings in pain research show that alexithymia is a significant predictor of both pain severity and pain interference, along with two more well-known strategies, pain catastrophising and lack of acceptance (Aaron, 2021). This points to working with emotional regulation as a potential target in the management of chronic pain; that is, being able to name and describe feelings, accepting that the pain is what it is now, but this won’t necessarily always be the case and dialling down escalation of emotions about pain.
The result of reading Brene’s book, and indeed this research is that I am taking more time to evaluate and name my feelings. Let me give you an example (that doesn’t make me feel too vulnerable). The other morning, I spent 5 minutes saving a spider out of the kitchen sink, only to accidentally crush and kill it a bit later. I had some surprisingly strong emotions about it, which when I tried to name emerged as dismay that I hadn’t managed to save it, a little bit of sadness for the loss of an arachnid life and regret that I hadn’t been more careful. All for a little spider! This practice, of course, extends to other areas of my life.
How are you with identifying and expressing emotions? For me, it is a work in progress but I am curious so I will keep at it.