I remember when I was in grammar school getting a list of vocabulary words on a weekly basis. We’d have to write each word ten times and then write a sentence using that word. I guess they believed what Mr. Sacca told me in my education class in college, “Repetition for Emphasis”. Memorization and utilization were the way to learn these words so that one day we could go take the SAT and do well on the verbal part of the exam. However, those exercises taught us general vocabulary. We’re a culture that doesn’t utilize a lot of emotional words so I’m wondering how extensive is your emotional vocabulary?
When I had a private psychotherapy practice I saw a lot of children. I had one of those posters that had 50 faces with a “feeling” listed beneath the face. Over time you could engage the child by utilizing one of the “feeling” words so we could both understand the true nature of their emotional life. Broadening their emotional vocabulary was a lifesaver. Many of the children in my practice were in foster homes as a result of placements by Children’s Protective Services. Giving these children the capacity to express themselves emotionally opened their world to healing.
So what happened to those of us who didn’t get these lessons as children? How do we come to develop our emotional vocabulary? What prompts us to want or need to learn how to express ourselves emotionally. I’ll venture a guess that the day you were diagnosed with an illness is the day you wish you had a host of ways to express yourself emotionally. When you’re flood with feelings, not having the capacity to get them out is like getting the wind knocked out of you. Your body, mind, and spirit search for the words, but for many there is nothing available.
I believe this is one of the gifts of support groups or workshops for those facing a health challenge. Being with others who can expose you to an emotional vocabulary and model their experience is inspiring and daunting. It gives you a sense of possibility to hit the nail on the head about your emotional life since your diagnosis. It relieves the pressure that builds up from keeping the struggle (if any) with your diagnosis inside. Having the capacity to express yourself emotionally is freeing.
The other advantage to establishing an emotional vocabulary is its impact on your physical health. Releasing the body of difficult emotions lightens the load. The body can direct its attention to building the immune system instead of trying to ward off the stress of stoicism. It replenishes your internal resources and you can never have too much in reserve.
How will you build your emotional vocabulary? Let us know so we can share your creative ideas!