The emotion comes up. Stuff it down. The tears well. Wipe them. The anger boils. Cool it. Trying to get rid of emotions is an instinctual human response. Whether caught or taught, the idea that emotions can be dangerous permeates society. The way people act based on emotions can be dangerous. Emotions themselves, however, are neutral. Acknowledging them, is in fact, crucial to safety, both for self and for others.
So how does one deal with emotions if they are inherently neutral? Dan Siegel suggests that individuals need to “name it to tame it” (Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, 2014). This recognizes that a feeling is there. That alone sends feelings of safety to the body. Otherwise, the body may feel confused, sensing that something is wrong, yet not being able to acknowledge it. Confusion can exacerbate emotion releasing behaviors that can be dangerous (eg dysregulation).
A second step is to accept the emotion. This can be hard for people who associate certain emotions (eg anger) with safety. To accept emotions can be frightening, but is part of becoming a whole self. It also allows the person experiencing it to pause instead of reacting (Marriott & Kelly, 2017). Reactions are typically where danger comes into play. They are about survival and defense rather than relationship (James, 2016). People typically prefer to act in ways that preserve relationships when they have a chance to evaluate the emotion.
What about with the emotions of others, specifically children? How do caregivers deal with those? The same steps apply. First, name it. Naming an emotion allows the caregiver to connect with the child. The caregiver can then begin the process of co-regulating the child through relationship. Finally, the caregiver can begin to reason, to hypothesize, both about causes and about solutions. This follows the neurosequential model of engagement (Info NMT, 2020). In so doing, both caregiver and child brains can quiet.
What about the accepting part? Well, that is important, too. It is sometimes easy, as an adult, to put things in perspective. Children lack similar reasoning capacities. Children from hard places may be developmentally behind in their understanding. A caregiver who can accept an emotion can relate to the child more easily, and then continue up the framework of regulation.
It can be frightening to acknowledge and accept emotions. Doing so, however, creates feelings of safety. Feelings of safety create actual safety in the body, and in the mind, and in the world at large. “Name it to tame it” is good advice. What’s more: Accept it to direct it. Directed feelings result in more appropriately managed and expressed feelings, and that is what most people are after.
Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education. (2014, December 8). Dan Siegel: Name it to tame it. [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcDLzppD4Jc
Info NMT. (2020, April 2). 4. Regulate, relate, reason (Sequence of engagement): Neurosequential Network Stress & Trauma Series [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNuxy7FxEVk
James, M. (2016, September 1). React vs respond. What’s the difference? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/focus-forgiveness/201609/react-vs-respond
Marriott, S., & Kelley, A. (Hosts). (2017, November 28). TU:49 Five strategies to manage intense emotions & why emotional regulation matters. [Audio podcast episode]. In Therapist Uncensored. https://therapistuncensored.com/episodes/tu49-five-strategies-to-manage-intense-emotions-why-emotional-regulation-matters/