Putting our feelings into words is a basic counseling skill, and fundamental to effective communication. Now research indicates that it helps people regulate their emotions, to be in control of them.

Say What You Feel

... “affect naming,” ... boils down to simply putting your feelings into words. With reappraisal, you’re always trying to change the meaning of something. So reappraisal of the Gene Simmons photo might be “This isn’t as bad as it looks.” But affect naming might be as simple as “This person looks unhappy,” or “Looking at this person makes me feel queasy.”

Philosophers have long recognized the benefits of affect naming. Spinoza wrote in 1675 that “An emotion, which is a passion, ceases to be a passion, as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea thereof.” And William James, in 1890, wrote of emotions that “The act of naming them has momentarily detracted from their force.”

Lieberman and others have shown in modern-day laboratories that this simple act of naming produces nearly all of the same psychological and neurobiological effects as reappraisal.

... people seem to have no idea that affect labeling makes them feel better. [emphasis mine]

These laboratory findings have a larger application.

Women were empowered to identify their feelings of anger and injustice when feminism provided the vocabulary, words such as "sexual harassment" and "slut-shaming."

When nebulous bad feelings, which threaten our mental calm, can be named in a way that doesn't blame us for them or put us down for feeling, we're empowered to understand what's happening to us and begin to cope.

On the scale of culture, the ability of a people to collectively come to grips with grief, guilt, shame, or negative trends also depends upon the ability to name their dark nebulous bad feelings. Germany faced up to the public persecution of Jews in WWII. South Africa purged Apartheid.

Dominator Culture fosters a split in human nature into warrior overlords and submissive nurturers. Conflict resolution through war brings out and magnifies the worst in human nature such as pleasure in killing. When peace returns, atrocities are denied and buried, we pretend we're a noble just people and only enemies can be barbaric. The national identity includes only noble peace-lovers and noble war-makers, while our appetitive aggression, the foundation of effective war making, is hidden in our collective psychic basement.

Naming our darkest evolutionary heritage, and making our real war behavior public as Chris Hedges does in War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning is a first step to collective as well as personal wholeness and control.

Failing to name our inner "demons" leaves us careening between honeymoon style peace and conflict resolution war. That cultural trajectory, in the downslope spiral of Climate Destabilization, is a recipe for self-extinction.

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Replies to This Discussion

Chris Hedges does in War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning had a big impact on me when it first came out. He explained the patriotism that I never mustered and then didn't want to. 

Let's go over to those devastated countries, plant some trees, build some toilets, show the impoverished how to make their lives better. Some would scoff, not want to do the work; I imagine some would take a liking to the results of their efforts and take charge. 

Actually I think coming to grips with what Hedges reveals about ourselves is more challenging than trying to do reparations for the damage we've done, which can be perceived as condescending. It doesn't make us face our dark deeds the way public admission does, or prosecuting our fellows who did those dark deeds and got away with it. The US still sanctions torture. Let's start by changing what we're still doing. We still "whitewash" and glorify what our military does and has done in our entertainment too. He says the greatest lies are those of omission, failing to communicate our own dehumanization during war. Planting trees and building infrastructure makes us look good, it keeps the false face in place.


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