Name and Tame: The Power of Knowing our Emotions

Last week, my usually agreeable 8 year-old was having a moment. She was restless and lashed out multiple times over the course of an afternoon. 

Like most parents, my first reaction was to…well, react. I reacted to the behavior that was so foreign to me when it comes to her, trying to stop it, rather than understand. Luckily the reaction only lasted a moment before I started trying to understand what was happening. I knew something was up. Her behavior, after all, was simply her own reaction to an emotion she was having. 

I stepped back mentally and thought it through. What happened that day? What could be going on? When did I notice the shift? It didn’t take long for me to link and connect to a moment earlier that afternoon, when she had had a disagreement with a classmate. She was feeling that interaction, but maybe not acknowledging it. Emotions will find a way to express themselves, whether we recognize them or not, afterall. 

We talked about it. I asked her how she was feeling. We named the emotions… remember George? And I noticed… She became more settled. She relaxed. By naming the emotions, we were about to tame them. 

Later that night, I reflected. I spent time trying to understand her emotions, more time than I spend on my own some days. It was a powerful reminder of the importance of understanding our own feelings and emotions. 

When we feel ourselves getting short, tired, emotional, or otherwise “off”, perhaps we can take the time to look deeper into how we are feeling. Name and tame the emotion. By naming, we are able to separate ourselves from the emotion. The emotion is not WHO WE ARE; it is simply present in our space. That means the emotion is temporary. The emotion will move on. And we will be okay. 

Not sure where to start? Look at this “Emotion Wheel” from American Psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik. His theory states that there are 8 primary emotions that are the foundations for all other emotions. It is interesting to look at this wheel and see how a combination of primary emotions can create unique emotions we also experience. 

Sometimes it is difficult to identify what emotions are occurring, but the wheel can be a place to begin. Again, once we name, we can begin to tame. It is a crucial and important step in self-care.

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