You’ve might have heard before the phrase ‘name it to tame it’ when talking about getting your emotions under control. Another name for it is ‘labelling’ the emotion and it is a proven technique to help us calm down when we are stressed and our Elephant has thrown down the Rider. If you haven’t read the article about the Rider and the Elephant, I strongly recommend you do, as it sits at the base of this reasoning.
So, when we are stressed, the amygdala is triggered. In parallel to triggering the fight/flight/freeze response, it also sends signals to other brain parts to help regulate our response to stress.
If we talk in evolutionary terms, at this time, our caveman is already running to escape the bear/sabre-toothed tiger, etc., but it cannot run forever, which is why the limbic system (the Elephant) asks for help to find a more sustainable solution.
Labelling the Emotion
And one of the simple things that will really help regulate is labelling the emotion. I know talking about your emotions might be a challenge, especially if you’re a man/teenager and you grew up listening to ‘you’re a big boy! Boys don’t cry. What are you? A girl?’
If you remember from the above-mentioned article, language, our capacity to speak, is a function of the cortex – of the Rider. And it is supported by the sense of language and by the sense of self, which are also functions of the cortex. And, of course, the ‘name it to tame it’ technique makes use of language.
Once we label the emotion – we consciously name it, our prefrontal cortex gets reactivated (because we use one of its functions) and it will send signals to the amygdala to calm down and stop the fight or flight response because we’re not followed by the bear, it’s just an email from that annoying client.
Let me explain this in a little bit more detail: so, when we put into words what we are feeling, our emotions, two very interesting things happen at the brain level. So, when we verbalise what we are feeling, one thing that happens is that by using the function of speech, our capacity to use language, corresponding to our Rider (the cortex), the latter gets activated.
So, when we experience an emotional hijack, meaning – a strong stress trigger, which would make our Elephant take control, making use of language moves the blood and oxygen flow towards the neocortex, the regions which participate in producing language.
When we express our emotions in language, in words, something else happens. Saying what we are feeling will actually help us experience what we are feeling. It will help us to really get in contact with that emotion.
So, if I’m nervous and angry, and I stop for a moment and say to myself: ‘Oh, I think I experience a lot of anger in relation to this situation’, in my brain, a good number of regions will be activated, which will move even faster the energy towards the Rider, towards our neocortex, as this is the part responsible for our speech function. But this part is also capable of introspection, of realizing the emotional states that were communicated by my limbic system, and now, when I put those emotions into words is like I metabolise that feeling, I stay with it, and I can start to deal with it, not hide it under the carpet.
In addition to that, verbalising our emotions is also very useful at a social level, as it improves our relationship with those around us. That is because when we express vulnerability and admit that we are sad, scared, angry, etc… we positively push the Relatedness button (see this article on SCARF buttons) of the other person’s Elephant.
The Wheel of Emotions
To be more aware of our emotions and get better at labelling them (you’d be surprised how limited our vocabulary is when it comes to emotions), you can make use of the Wheel of Emotions. That’s when ‘name it to tame it’ will become even more effective.
You can see a version of it here, but there are various models on the internet, and some of them are a lot more complex. Feel free to use whichever works best for you.
I hope you found this article useful.
Stay safe, stay healthy, stay happy!
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