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Name It to Tame It, Part 1
When our daughter was 12 she bought a dress which didn’t fit and needed to be returned. She removed the tag and placed it somewhere safe never to be seen again (Upon reflection, I think I actually threw it away while tidying... oops!).
While Mom packed up the ‘return to the store’ bag our daughter looked and looked for the missing tag, growing frantic as she searched... Emotions flared, a fight erupted, and she had to go to her room to cool down. I entered her room to debrief, and asked her what she was feeling when we were arguing.
She would not tell me. Or rather, she said could not tell me; she didn’t know what she was feeling.
At first I found this hard to believe; I could tell what her emotions were, it seemed rather obvious. But then I remembered that I spent most of my life clueless as to what emotions were, to such an extant that during the early years of marriage if my wife asked what I was feeling I would always mumble, “I dunno.”
So with some patience and compassion, I asked my daughter to take some time writing in her journal to answer the question “What was I feeling when I argued with Mom?” She balked and objected, but eventually agreed, and I left the room while she wrote.
When I returned, I asked her to explain what she had written. Being an artist, she drew some pictures with arrows connecting to a few emotions: angry, sad, and afraid. We talked about it, and I expressed empathy and understanding for those feelings.
And the magic happened.
Before this, she had been tense, averting her eyes, and her speech was short, curt and angry. But after journaling and talking for just a few minutes, she softened. Her body relaxed, and she actually let me hold her (something she never does when she is angry and upset these days).
This experience drove home to me the reality that has been expressed with the phrase
“name it to tame it”
My daughter hates talking about feelings. She doesn’t see the point, finds it uncomfortable, and would rather scrub the walls of our shower.
But when our thoughts are disconnected from our feelings, and when our brains are disconnected from our bodies (or as some would put it, when our head brain is disconnected from our body/somatic brain), we become either rigid or chaotic, unable to process our current reality with flexibility.
Naming and talking about feelings integrates our mind/body state so that we can work through difficulties in adaptive ways.
Quote from Dan Siegel
“Inviting our thoughts and feelings into awareness allows us to learn from them rather than be driven by them.”
Untangle Workbook: A guided journaling process for untangling emotions and finding wisdom, by Marc Alan Schelske. I always hesitate to recommend resources I haven’t read or used myself, but this is near the top of my to-buy list and I’m sharing it because it looks really helpful and practical for working on emotion awareness and management (otherwise known as EQ).
Do you struggle to manage your emotions? Are you ever stuck in one of two extremes: ignoring feelings or being overwhelmed by them?
Who in your life can you talk to when you need to “name it to tame it”?
Are you willing to take 3 minutes next time you feel something to write or speak with someone you trust to name and tame your feelings?
How do you help others in your life, whether spouse, children, friends, colleagues, integrate thought-and-emotion and mind-and-body in difficult situations?