Three Steps to Emotional Fitness - Step 2

Step Two: Name the Feeling

Now that you and the feeling have had some time together, you can move on to the second step, which is to name the feeling. In this step you call the feeling by whatever name seems most accurate.

You can do this naming quietly in your mind, or aloud, but be sure to use a specific name. Call it anything, but call it something! You might think, for example, Okay, I'm feeling cheated right now or What I'm feeling is overwhelmed or This makes me feel uncomfortable.

Even if you are not sure exactly what the feeling is, name it anyway. The very process of naming it will help you know if the name is accurate. I feel good. I'm feeling happy right now. This might lead you to Actually what I'm feeling is satisfied and proud. You gradually zero in on specific feelings.

You accept ownership of the feeling by naming it. You say, This is my feeling. Naming is the acceptance of the feeling (even though you might not like it) and your ownership of the emotional state (this is my feeling, not yours, nor his, nor hers.) There's no other just like it. Feelings might share names, but, like their owners, they are unique.

Note the shift in power that the second step gives you. By giving the feeling a name, you have shifted the power from the feeling to the feeler, to the part of you that has the capacity to choose what do to about the feeling. Until you do this, the hidden emotion is like a guerilla hiding in ambush, and it has the guerilla's advantage: it sees you, but you don't see it, so it can have its way with you. This step turns the tables.

The names of feelings used in the above examples are: cheated, overwhelmed, uncomfortable, good, happy, satisfied, proud, foolish, sympathetic, embarrassed, anxious, scared, angry, and resentful.

Art was feeling really good, and it was mostly because he just had a great conversation with a fellow worker, a woman he was interested in dating but did not know very well. They spent several hours at lunch talking about things they both like. It was a real high for him since he had never really talked to her that deeply before. The next day at work he sees this same co-worker and as he approaches her smiling, she gives him a scathing look, turns, and walks off in the other direction.

And he is left there bleeding. Hurt! Confusion! Frustration! Of course he is hurt, confused, and frustrated. Anyone would be. He has no explanation for what happened and he doesn't know what to do. So he throws up his hands and mutters something about the unpredictability of women.

As he noticed and named (first two steps) his normal feelings about this situation, Art gained enough confidence in what he was feeling to follow it up. He asked her about it. It turned out to be a misunderstanding based on office gossip.

So what I am suggesting to Art is–that's right–the first two steps: Stay with the frustration for a while, just feel it. Don't run, don't cover! Then call it a name: You are that $%^&* frustration (or hurt or confusion)!

Can you see how these two steps give Art some power and control over what he’s feeling? With these two steps he is also giving himself more time. And time is always a necessary ingredient to resolve confusion and frustration.

So now you have the first two steps in place: You noticed the presence of a feeling that exists in you because you have not run, you have not covered. You stayed with it and looked at it, that is at yourself, and at what you are feeling at the moment.

Then you have given that emotional state a name–sad, mad, glad, frustrated, etc.–and thus changed the balance of power in your favor.

© 2010 David Kundtz

Related information: Issues, Feeling Books: anger, assertiveness, depression, fear, forgiveness, general, grief, joy, loneliness, shame

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We know too much and feel too little. At least we feel too little of those creative emotions from which a good life springs. - Bertrand Russell


David Kundtz is a licensed family therapist in Berkeley, California. He presents seminars, workshops, retreats, and conference presentations in the areas of men's emotional health, stress management, and spirituality. He is the author of Managing Feelings:  An owner's manual for men and has recently completed a second book, Nothing's Wrong: A Man's Guide to Managing His Feelings. He makes his home in Kensington, California and in Vancouver, British Columbia. You may contact David at E-Mail or visit his web site at www.stopping.com

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