Learning to Label My Emotions

Learning to recognise and label my emotions has been a rollercoaster ride for me. Throughout my adventure of emotional courage, I started to realise that there was a difference between knowing something and then doing or being or experiencing it.

Intuitively, I knew that learning to label my own emotions could give me insight in to what was happening in my internal world. And then that information could help me to take action towards living a whole-hearted life. However, even with that awareness, I had an inkling the adventure would be challenging!

Before we proceed, I would like to share the difference between emotions and feelings.


What is the Difference Between a Feeling and an Emotion?

Antonio D’Amasio, professor of neuroscience at The University of California indicates that – “Feelings are mental experiences of body states, which arise as the brain interprets emotions, themselves physical states arising from the body’s responses to external stimuli. (The order of such events is: I am threatened, experience fear, and feel horror.)”

Dr Sarah McKay, author of the Women’s Brain Book says –

“Emotions play out in the theater of the body. Feelings play out in the theater of the mind.”

You can read more on the difference here.


Why Label Emotions?

Labelling emotions gives you an insight in to what is going on inside of you. By labelling your emotions, you can add the information you gather, to your thought processes and body sensations, so you can develop greater insight in to your own inner world. This information and data can then help support your decisions in the outer world.


What is Affect Labelling?

Labelling emotions or affect labelling is simply the act of noticing and putting a name to an emotion. Another way to say it is – “you name and you tame it”. Naming or labelling emotions, helps us to untangle or unstick from them. For example, when we say “this is anger” or “fear is arising” we can start to feel some emotional freedom or separation from around the emotion.


Research Relating to Affect Labelling

Research on affect labelling has stood the test of time and shows that recognising and naming an emotion can have a powerful effect. In 2007, Liberman and his colleagues discovered that –

“…affect labeling disrupts the affective responses in the limbic system that would otherwise occur in the presence of negative emotional images.

Also in 2007, Creswell and his colleagues found that when we label difficult emotions, the amygdala (a brain structure that registers danger) becomes less active and less likely to trigger a stress reaction in the body.

Then in 2018, Bollen and his colleagues turned to twitter to take affect labelling out of the lab and in to the everyday world. They tracked 74,487 twitter users “by analysing the emotional content of their tweets before and after they explicitly report experiencing a positive or negative emotion”.  What they found was that –

“Just saying the words ‘I feel bad’ almost immediately brought emotions back down to the baseline”. ~ Bollen

Learning to Label My Emotions

There are many ways to label emotions, however I kept it simple to start with. I started to label them verbally to myself. For example – during the day I would check-in with how I felt. I would ask the question – “How do I feel? and How do I know?” Then I would respond – “I feel….” or “there is a part of me that is feeling….” and “I sense this in my… (insert part of my body – e.g. tightness in chest).”

After a while, I also started to write about my emotions as well in a similar way.

If you choose to do this, remember to bring your self-compassion. There are differences in how you label emotions. For example – there is a difference between using empathy to validate an emotion and labelling an emotion using a monotone voice. Aim to adopt a warm compassionate tone of voice for the label of your emotions (just like you would for a loved one).


Over to You….

I hope this post has given you some insight in to labelling emotions and the research behind it. Labelling emotions is just a first step in developing emotional literacy and emotional intelligence, however it is an important one. If you have any questions, please write them below in the comments section!


If you are ready to reclaim your courage and take the next step towards freedom and remember you are lovewhy not join our Toolkit?


References –

Creswell, J.D., Way, B.M., Eisenberger, N.I., & Lieberman, M.D. (2007). Neural correlates of dispositional mindfulness during affect labeling. Psychosomatic Medicine, 69, 560-565

Fan, R., Varol, O., Varamesh, A., Barron, A., van de Leemput, I., Scheffer, M., & Bollen, J. (2018). The minute-scale dynamics of online emotions reveal the effects of affect labeling. Nature Human Behaviour. 3. 10.1038/s41562-018-0490-5.

Lieberman, M. D., Eisenberger, N. I., Crockett, M. J., Tom, S. M., Pfeifer, J. H., & Way, B. M. (2007). Putting Feelings Into Words. Psychological Science, 18(5), 421–428.


  • Krishna

    Reply Reply January 10, 2020

    Nice article, thanks!

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