Name It to Tame It
High drama means high emotions. And when your emotions hijack you, they take over your ability to express yourself and make good decisions.
Have you ever been so upset that you feel like you are “losing your mind?” With all that is happening in the world today, many express this in various ways. Fear and uncertainty can lead to “not thinking straight.”
This happens because the part of your brain that controls your ability to communicate your unique experience can shut down, leaving you literally speechless.
The executive part of your brain doesn’t work well with strong emotions, which can frustrate you even more, locking you into the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) . We have all had brilliant insights, after the fact, that we wished we would have thought of in the moment but couldn’t at the time because the language part of our brain was overshadowed by the emotional brain.
After your emotional storm passes you may feel more ashamed and victimized by the torrent of your emotions. Or you may become defensive and strike out, blaming others for the situation that caused your strong emotions and drama.
Emotions are fuel that propels you into action. Positive emotions tell you what you care about and give you energy to create what you want. Heavier, darker emotions inform you about those things to avoid and, thus, can protect you. Emotions are a core aspect of your human experience, as we wrote about last week in “The Reality of Victimization” essay.
But when emotions overwhelm you and prevent you from being the person and leader you want to be, it is important to have simple tools that can help restore your balance.
“Name it to tame it” is a phrase coined by author and psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel. By putting this simple tool to work, your emotions can inform you and not overwhelm you. Here are the basics of how “name it to tame it” works:
- When you are in high drama and are having an intense emotional response, your limbic brain starts pumping stress hormones to your muscles to tighten and prepare you for action. This fight-flight mechanism is deeply wired inside your nervous system and takes over. This is a good thing if you are alone in a dark alley to help protect yourself—not a good thing if you are running a staff meeting and get angry at a co-worker.
- Once you notice you are having a strong emotional reaction, the next step is to describe, or name it—whether to yourself or out loud. For example, saying mentally “I am feeling angry” or “I have a tight ball of nerves in my gut.” Choosing words to describe subtle emotions jump-starts your executive brain and calms down your emotional limbic brain.
- Calmly hover over your emotions, which gives your executive brain time to filter and organize your reactive, drama-filled emotions.
- Now you have a greater capacity to choose your response in the moment. This is when stepping into the TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)® roles of Creator, Challenger, and Coach become possible.
It is important to build your capacity to be with strong emotions. If not, you may become fearful of your emotions, especially anger, and shut them down. The cost of restricting your emotions may lead to shutting down all emotion, including your sources of joy and pleasure.
The key is strengthening your ability to monitor your emotions and body sensations by naming and taming them—not allowing them to hijack your ability to think and make good decisions—and feel the joy!