Name that tune to author your life

The writing was on the wall but I refused to read it.

Then one morning, with my hand on the front door to leave her place, she says, “This isn’t working. I want to split up.”

I tried to talk it through but she’d made up her mind. It was over. Thanks, but no thanks.

As I left for the last time and got into my car I felt, what? Dreadful yes, but much more than that. An emotional orchestra was loudly playing different tunes at the same time. An overwhelming din.


This break-up took place early in my psychological skills training. By chance I’d recently been introduced to a way to manage strong emotions. When we name emotions accurately, we tame them. We can choose what we’ll do next rather than be helplessly under their control.

Marc Brackett, author of Permission to Feel, says “when we don’t have the words for our feelings, we’re not just lacking descriptive flourish. We’re lacking authorship of our own lives.”

So before driving off I had a stab at noticing the multiple emotional melodies.

Sadness was the loudest. It almost drowned everything else out. I gave myself a moment to tune in to just the sadness. Yup, there it was. I hear ya!

There was also hurt. Owwwwwwww. I acknowledged that too.

Next, I teased out loneliness and sat with it briefly.

There was something else. Something important, it was, no, surely not – it was relief! Yes, I was relieved it was over. It was true, it hadn’t really been working out. But I hadn’t had the courage to say so. She did.

I validated them all – sadness, hurt, loneliness and relief, all playing loudly together at the same time. What a racket!

And then, miraculously, they all quietened down. I’ve never recovered from a break-up so quickly.

The emotions were still there, but they were passengers rather than wannabe pilots.  I took hold of the wheel, put my foot down and drove off, slightly astonished.


Of course, we can’t label our emotions when don’t have the vocabulary. There are about two thousand words for emotions in the English language, and most of us use about seven!

It seems emotions are a bit like people. They like you to use their correct name. Not a similar name. The right name. 

How are we supposed to expand our emotional vocabulary? Here are three suggestions:

  1. Use Mood Meter, an app developed by the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence in partnership with HopeLab.  It starts you off by presenting a matrix of energy and pleasantness. You pick your quadrant then you’re presented with possible emotions which you select. Best understood by trying it.
  2. Use an Emotion Vocabulary table. I like this one by Tom Drummond.
  3. Read books. They’re full of words! When you come across unfamiliar feeling words, look ‘em up. It’s never been easier.

Next time you’re feeling challenged at work or home, try naming the feeling(s). They might not vanish but they may take a back seat. Leaving you at the wheel.

Don’t wait for an overdue break-up!

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