I’ve got this amazing ability (no, really!), to know how my clients are feeling the moment I greet them in the waiting room. All of my clients know this is true! I can feel the energy they’ve brought to the space, and if you’ve ever walked into a room where someone has been arguing, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Emotion is more of an energy that creates a physiological response, but still, putting words to those feelings is extremely important, especially in relationships. 

When I ask the clients how they are out in the waiting room, they always answer with “fine,” “all right,” “okay,” or “great,”— something along those lines. But when I get them back to the office I will say, “So, how are you really?” Or, I’ll just say, “You aren’t doing well. What’s going on?”

A lot of people find it difficult to put a name to what they feel. It’s a disconnect we experience on a regular basis. For some, though, the problem is much more insurmountable.

Inability to label emotions

Some people have no words to describe what they feel. In such cases, a person’s difficulty in labeling an emotion—no matter how complex the person feels—can lead to a general inability to regulate those emotions. That basically means that impoverished emotional labeling can lead to less awareness of what you actually feel. This makes it much more difficult to respond to situations productively, with anger coloring your perception of the event or situation.

Training your emotional responses

When something happens and you’re upset, you can feel the need to lash out. You think this is normal, that there’s absolutely nothing wrong in being honest and upfront, or in expressing what you feel. But words have destructive power, especially in relationships. When you speak the words and you’re coming from a place of anger, there’s nothing you can do to take them back. It’s reminiscent of that line from Jorie Graham: “Nothing is whole/ where it has been. Nothing/ remains unsaid.” One possible reading is that when you say anything you want with little thought or regard for where the other person is coming from, you destroy the fabric of your relationship wither it’s with a significant other or even your own child. You start an erosion of trust.

How labeling can help regulate your emotions

By labeling your emotions, you’re much more aware of what you feel. For instance, you aren’t just unhappy because she didn’t come home on time. You’re unhappy because of problems at work and there was no one you could vent to. And she was there and it was convenient. By knowing where you’re coming from, by being clear about what’s causing the anger and the hurt, the anxiety and worry, you can take steps to calm down, to downregulate your emotions, to lessen the damage. As a result, instead of lashing out, you can speak calmly, you can moderate your tone and you can forestall or deescalate a potential argument or a disagreement. You can keep the peace. You can express what you feel and go to bed without having brought on more negative emotions to deal with. By the end of the day, being able to simply talk about situations that anger you without letting the emotion rule you can lead to a relationship with better emotional health.  

How it affects your relationships

If you’ve ever been in a disagreement with a loved one, you know you’ve been together for a long time when you reach a point that you find yourself saying anything you want. It’s like the blinders come off along with the kid gloves and suddenly, you’re honest and brutal about his shortcomings or her failings. But if the relationship isn’t strong enough to handle that kind of brutal honesty, it could lead to lasting damage. It could put an end to your relationship. If you don’t know how to constructively handle your anger, you could find yourself lashing out at the worst possible moment and destroying the trust that your partner has in you.

How therapy can help

Professional assistance from Allen counselors can help turn the tide. By talking to your therapist about your inability to name your emotions, you could develop that skill. In addition, you could train your emotional responses in a way that encourages positive discussion and behavior from your partner. That matters. This ability can result in a much happier home life. That’s because people skills are essential. By learning how to regulate your negative emotions, you can find a way to calm down, says one Lifehacker. That’s a valuable skill. When tensions are running high, you can easily prevent conflict by defusing the situation with the right words. You can stop yourself from reaching a point where your anger blinds you to rational thought and common sense. By doing so, you can reach out to and communicate with your partner and your loved ones that much better.

This isn’t something you learn overnight, though. It can take months or years. That’s because emotions need to be handled gradually. Any changes that happen overnight aren’t going to last long. To learn more about how labeling your emotions can help and why it’s a continuous process, schedule a free consultation with an  an Allen counselor today.