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Why the Vocabulary of Emotions is Critical to Emotional Intelligence

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Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is crucial in guiding us in our day-to-day social interactions with others, behaving appropriately, and understanding people’s feelings. However, its importance doesn’t stop there, as there is another equally critical component as well of which online school psychologists are well aware.

Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and president of TalentSmart, in reviewing the data of over one million people who have tested with TalentSmart, found that knowing how to express yourself is an essential key to emotional intelligence. Understanding words and how to use them plays a vital role in emotional intelligence.

Mr. Bradberry and others have found that having a useful emotional vocabulary increases your emotional intelligence. At the same time, feelings and emotions themselves are complicated. And finding the proper descriptor to express how you feel can be very challenging. Online school psychologists can often be of help.

But refraining from putting words to emotions can be costly. Leaving feelings unlabeled allows them to go misunderstood, leading to irrational choices and counterproductive actions. People with high EQs (like IQs but for Emotional Intelligence) can master their emotions because they understand them. This understanding allows those with high EQs to develop an extensive vocabulary of feelings which helps them.

While most people might say that they feel “bad,” those who are emotionally intelligent can identify whether they feel “irritable,” “frustrated,” “downtrodden,” or “anxious.” There is a direct correlation between the specificity of word choice and the degree of insight into exactly how you are feeling, the cause, and how you should react.

The Benefits of a Strong Emotional Vocabulary

Developing Emotional Awareness

It has been found that emotions play a critical role in acquiring language. In language acquisition, emotion words in particular are pivotal in developing emotional intelligence. This is because words that describe emotional states improve a child’s ability to comprehend abstract concepts.

It is typical for children who are developing their vocabulary to first learn words that label tangible objects before learning those words that describe abstract concepts. However, the ability to understand abstract concepts catches up fairly quickly; it begins to develop close to the child’s second birthday, with a rapid increase in the third year of life.

As a child’s vocabulary expands, it becomes progressively more natural for the child to discern different emotions that are being felt. And beyond greater discernment, there is perhaps an even more significant benefit of the child developing an emotional vocabulary. People’s emotions and feelings exist on a spectrum utterly independent of their labels or even identification.

To illustrate this, think about color. Colors are not limited to the names we give them: blue, red, yellow, green, etc. but in essence, there a million different shades of blue. Likewise, there could be a million different shades of happiness. It follows that the more terms available to describe emotions increase the potential to experience those emotions.

In other words, as a child’s emotional vocabulary grows, that child’s emotional awareness and understanding will grow accordingly. It is for this reason that aiding children with language proficiency and exposing them to a variety of emotional words is instrumental in helping them develop an understanding of their own emotions as well as those of others.

As previously mentioned, the more emotion words that children know, the more adept they become at discerning the different emotions they feel. This is not mere conjecture. According to a scientific study, individual differences in children’s emotional understanding were independent of their age but were closely related to their language ability. It was found that their language ability alone was responsible for 27% to 28% of the variance in their emotional understanding.

Connecting Emotional Vocabulary and Emotional Regulation

Developing an extensive emotional vocabulary has other benefits as well. It has been found that verbalizing emotional experiences helps to calm down our brain when we are anxious and regulates those explosive feelings we may be experiencing. Incredibly, it is expressing our feelings through the appropriate emotion word that works this magic.

While many of us know this through our own life’s experience, after all, who doesn’t feel better after venting to a friend, this phenomenon was recently corroborated by neuroimaging studies. In an fMRI study, participants were shown emotionally provocative images as researchers observed the limbic system (the area of the brain responsible for emotions).

These scientists then compared the brain activity of these participants who were instructed to silently process the emotional images to the brain activity of others who were told to express themselves linguistically as to how the emotional images made them feel.

The results showed that those participants who kept silent, refraining from expressing their emotions, experienced significantly more intense activity in their brain than those who were able to communicate through language, emotion words what they felt. In other words, this study showed that verbalizing emotional experiences calms down our brain and regulates our explosive feelings!

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