Certain feelings are overwhelming. Or confusing and twisted; we can’t even begin to describe what’s going on inside of ourselves.
A person close to me once relayed a story about being with a therapist, and being overcome with feelings of anxiety. The therapist told her not to focus on naming the feeling, but just experiencing it. It happens that some people will “lock up” or retreat back into their shell if they have to put words to something that’s too big and confusing. And in doing so – worse than even locking up – they separate themselves from the raw experience of what is happening.
How do we give names to what we feel, and is it a good idea?
Names are Powerful
Emotions and feelings and personal states have names. Simple names like rage and love. Or complicated names like schadenfreude or yearning.
We know that names are powerful and shape how we think about the world. If you don’t believe about that, read about the malumas and taketes. A name is a symbol that stands for a thing. The name and symbol of love stands for an internal experience. And while the symbol stands for something, it is its own something. Which is why controlling how a person speaks about something, and how they think about the same thing, are such similar ideas.
How We Name
By comparison, we look for a previous experience that’s most like this current experience that we are having, which we’ve never had before. We pass that through a first filter of what others would find acceptable, because to communicate we can rarely separate ourselves from other’s perceptions of us. We then have to filter it again based on what others will understand, because to communicate it has to make sense to the listener. And out of this process comes The Name, or the description.
Is This Good?
It’s hard to know what we actually need in any given moment. If we need to connect with other people in order to help us through a moment, then learning to Say the Name of what we are feeling is critical for outreach, to recruit help. On the other hand – if communicating with others gets in the way of experiencing and knowing what we’re going through, then I think it is not good.
It’s useful to know that things do not need a name. In our own heads, we have our own private language that no one else on planet earth speaks. Things which make sense in this private space aren’t necessarily able to be communicated. The private language of the mind is where our personal reality lives though. The language we generate is only a translated, imperfect view of that private language.
And so, as a hierarchy of values, it appears that we should first seek clarity on what the private language is saying. With mastery of this, we can not only say its name, but say the right one to facilitate connection with others.