Anger and the Emotional Vocabulary

Some years ago I wrote a series of articles titled, “Change Your Language Reduce Your Anger.” In those articles I introduced the idea that anger management can be achieved if we learn an emotional vocabulary. Since then, my position has not changed; in fact, it has grown stronger. The more I interact with angry individuals the more I hear confusion that anger often brings. The statement, “I don’t know why I feel this way” or “I don’t know what I am feeling” is often the refrain of the angry. In that context I become the interpreter of emotions. I seek to help the individuals find words to give their emotions a name. Naming their emotions helps to clarify the primary emotions that are driving the anger and meet their needs with a higher degree of precision.

My contention is that those who have a poor emotional vocabulary are likely to have more persistent anger management issues because they can’t adequate perceive, and name their own emotions. They are in effect in an automated cycle where their emotions are driving their actions but they have no control. They are in a kind of mental chaos where they do not have words to describe their own emotions. Without language it is almost impossible to meet their true emotional need.  Think for a moment when human civilization was without a written and spoken language. We as a species were much more inefficient because of the challenges in communication. In the same way, humans who lack the vocabulary to precisely define and communicate their own emotions are bound to live a life disconnected from who they are and what they need. They will therefore make a series of life decisions that are not in line with their core desires which will lead to feeling disconnected, confused and angry at themselves and the world.

A good enough emotional vocabulary can bring about real change in the life of an individual because it will allow the individual to clear the fog of confusion, untangle the meaning of their emotions, bring precision and clarity  and take them on the path towards meeting their emotional needs. A very easy way of understanding this concept is to think of one of those signals on the dashboard of the car. Most people know the check engine light and are able to take some action to investigate the cause of the problem however fewer people know the tire pressure light. Imaging seeing that light and not knowing what it is or what it means. The irony is that regardless of whether you know the meaning it will have some impact on your life especially if it is indicating that you will have a flat tire soon. However if you have the language to define the light as the tire pressure light one can take action. Without that language it gets much harder to take the appropriate action. The same is true with emotions. They are there to tell us something about who we are and what we need. If we don’t have the language to name these emotions there will be certain chaos and anger in that individual’s life.

I am therefore beginning a project called Emotional Vocabulary 101 in which I will tweet a new word every day. I am asking that you follow me on Twitter and Facebook and share any thought(s) you may have on that word of the day. Join us as we become more emotionally literate.

Carlos Todd, PhD

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