What is involved in labelling emotions?
Consider the detailed mood meter below.
Would you be able to distinguish the difference between feeling tranquil and serene? Or the difference between feeling despondent and despairing? Do you even know what those feelings mean?
What’s the benefit in labelling emotions?
- It legitimizes and organizes our experiences
When we attach a word to a feeling, it gives emotion substance and creates a mental model of the word, which means it can be compared with other feelings we have and also with other people’s feelings.
- It helps others to meet our needs
Once we are able to communicate, with specificity, what we’re feeling, the people in our lives can look beyond our behaviours to understand their causes.
- It helps us to meet the needs of others
Once we know how someone is feeling, it’s easier for us to support them.
- It connects us to the rest of the world
Our emotions become a form of communication, a way to share the experience of being alive. There’s a body of research showing the health benefits of social connectivity, and this is where it begins – in being able to identify with one another. The terminology of emotion allows us to read one another’s lives, almost as we would in a novel. The words give us each a story to tell.
"Labelling emotions is the bridge between the first two RULER skills - Recognizing and Understanding - and the last two RULER skills - Expressing and Regulating. You need to know what you are feeling before you can appropriately express and regulate it."
Lisa claims that “emotion concepts [i.e. labels] are tools for living. The bigger your tool kit, the more flexibly your brain can anticipate and prescribe actions, the better you can cope with life”.
How do I get better at labelling emotions?
Where can I learn more?
What will students learn?
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to…
- Recognize the importance of precisely labelling feelings
- Distinguish between feelings based on their degree of pleasantness and energy
- Enhance their emotional literacy and granularity by participating in a range of activities that involve using precise emotion words
- Use the Mood Meter to check-in with themselves about emotional experiences and become more nuanced with labelling (and experiencing) emotions
- Reflect on their own emotions, organize thoughts and develop self-awareness through journaling
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Barrett, L., Gross, J., Christensen, T., & Benvenuto, M. (2001). Knowing what you’re feeling and knowing what to do about it: Mapping the relation between emotion differentiation and emotion regulation. Cognition and Emotion, 15(6), 713–724.
Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to Feel. Celadon Books.
Brackett, M. (2020). A Word is a World. Marc Brackett.
Comrie, B. (n.d.). Language and Thought. Linguistic Society of America.
Joseph, G., & Strain, P. (n.d.). Enhancing Emotional Vocabulary in Young Children. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning – University of Colorado at Denver.
Torre, J., & Lieberman, M. (2018). Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling as Implicit Emotion Regulation. Emotion Review, 10(2), 116–124.
University of California – Los Angeles. (2007, June 22). Putting Feelings Into Words Produces Therapeutic Effects In The Brain. ScienceDaily.