I’ve watched some of Brene Brown’s HBO Max special related to her book, Atlas of the Heart. I haven’t rea
d the book yet, but I had heard that it wasn’t necessarily a book you would read front to back. The book is basically a dictionary for emotions.
Why a dictionary on emotions? If you’re not a personal growth geek or haven’t yet dialed into how emotions fully impact us, the short of it is that our emotions drive our thoughts, which drive our actions. Along with that, naming emotions is considered to be one of, if not the first step in processing them. Often before naming the emotion, the first step is to identify the body sensations and thoughts one is having, to get very clear on what you’re experiencing so that you can name it.
In one of the episodes, she talks about how people have a tendency to either under or over state their emotions. This lines up for me. As humans, I’ve noticed that we have a tendency to over or understate most self-assessments. There are also numerous studies about how much more intelligent we are relative to the “average” person (hint: many people say they are quite a bit more intelligent than the average person). So, it came as no surprise that we would also under or over state our emotions.
As an example, Brene specifically goes to “overwhelm” instead of “stressed” because to her, “stressed” is not dramatic enough. What might appear as a simple disagreement on term, is actually a meaningful misdiagnosis. When she names her feeling as overwhelm, it becomes a more dramatic, more significant, more complex emotion and situation that she needs to be with, process or move through. This actually triggers her brain to become even more stressed about whatever it is.
I started to think about whether I under or over state emotions. If you know me, this may not come as a surprise: I am pretty sure I understate my emotions….for a while at least…
If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’m likely to tell myself I’m just stressed and downplay what I’m really feeling. If I’m feeling angry, I’m likely to tell myself I’m a little mad or disappointed.
This isn’t all that surprising. I lost my mom, my dad lost two wives, someone close to me attempted suicide. Compared to the big things I’ve witnessed and experienced, most of the day to day is on a smaller scale.
What’s the point? Right! Well, by looking at this, I realized this probably doesn’t serve me well either. I’m not acknowledging or giving myself space to feel what I fully feel. If I process the emotion, I don’t process all of it, so there’s very likely some(or a lot) left over that hasn’t even been looked at. And…as the good coach I am…I know, we can’t move forward or deal with things we don’t look at. So, upon realizing this, I’m trying to give my emotions the name they deserve, the accurate name, not the name of a feeling I believe is “okay” or the “right” way to feel. Of course it’s hard! But it is powerful!
What about you? Do you understate or overstate your emotions? (Or, anything else in your life?!) Is it serving you? What would be different if you called it what it was and stopped over or understating it?