So there you are, you are sitting in the fire created by your anger and working with it. Tending to the anger as mindfully as a mother who nurses an infant. In the process of doing this, you’ve learned to let yourself express your anger and learned how to help yourself mindfully endure your anger. You’ve done the latter by teaching yourself safety behaviors that encourage you to slow down and practice self-compassion.
In your commitment to helping the yourself grow, you’ve also made a pact with yourself to understand your anger and teach yourself how to label the emotions of fear that arise when anger is present. We label emotions because in doing so, we can keep ourselves from automatically becoming completely wrapped up in emotional responses that arise when we are confronted by some situations. We also do this because we understand that these strong emotions, that are initially there to help us, can become maladaptive behaviors in the long run if not tended to mindfully.
In this last part of “Dealing With Anger Mindfully,” we learn of another skill that will help us with labeling our emotions and becoming more flexible with our emotional responses — expanding our emotional vocabulary.
Expand your emotional vocabulary
Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology from Boston College argues that “the way we distinguish one emotion from another is based not only on differences in physiological reactions, but also on experience and context.”
When Feldman Barret was working as a clinical psychologist she discovered people often used similar emotional words to describe different things. The “pain” people would use to describe a hurt shoulder is the same “pain” they would use when describing grief after an emotional disturbance. This observance was used as the starting point for her theory that how we experience something is based on what we learn and how much impact that emotional experience has on us, based on context. For example, depending on the situation, you may call your emotional response to a situation as “surprise” one time and in another situation “fear.”
Feldman Barett’s concept is called “conceptual-act model of emotion.” In a Psychology Today article Feldman Barrett states:
If people have 20 words for anger (irritation, fury, rage, hostility), then they will perceive 20 different states and better regulate their emotional states as a result.”
Despite this theory being contrary to how some in the science community say emotions in the brain work, studies have shown that labeling your emotions can help dampen emotional reactivity to stimulus in the short and long term. This finding somewhat supports Feldman Barett’s other finding that those with a larger emotional vocabulary are less likely to react strongly to stressful situations.
One way you can increase your emotional vocabulary, is by taking a Non-Violent Communication (NVC) class or just studying the concept behind NVC. In addition to helping people express themselves with greater clarity and compassion, the classes focus on helping people expand their emotional vocabulary.
They have a feelings list and a needs list. Studying both of these list will help you expand your emotional vocabulary. The feelings list lists primary emotions and lists other words that involve the primary emotions. Take a look.
So what can do you when you’re angry? Plenty. You can slow down your anger response, treat yourself with compassion, understand your anger, work on labeling your emotions, and expand your emotional vocabulary. This may seem like a lot now, but with practice and work, the frustration it takes to master dealing with your anger mindfully will pale in comparison to your ability to assert yourself fairly, without being hostile, and act in ways that benefit you and those you are in conflict with.