Beware of using these emotionally empty words

A psychologist emphasises building up our emotional vocabulary, which aids us in choosing the right words to identify and express our emotions

Man using emotionally empty words

I asked my neighbour’s 12-year-old son, “How are you?”, and pat came his reply, “Cool”. I responded, “What does that mean?” He shrugged his shoulders and added, “Just cool. I am okay, I guess.” Bingo! How often adults ask youngsters how they are and hear the words “I’m cool” in response. We presume they are doing fine. But probe a little further and you might hear your children telling you that they are actually “uneasy” or “sad” or even “angry”.

Often the word “cool” is used to remain in trend with the lingo used by their peer group. Even adults are seen using this word so often.

Have you ever wondered that the word’s actual meaning—of being calm and in control—is being camouflaged by a nonchalant response, when individuals might be actually suffering inside? Often, it is also used as a response to shrug off a conversation that one might not be interested in or even used as a defence to ward off a conversation that one does not want to engage in any further.

Your children are listening to your words

I saw a 10-year-old boy getting extremely angry and shouting at his classmate to stop pelting stones up in the air to a flying bird. The parent tried to calm down his son telling him, “Cool it baby. Don’t get angry.” His child was justifiably angry to watch the bird getting hurt. The parent’s correct response would have been something like, “I can understand why you are so angry. Let’s hope the stone did not hit the bird”, and further take some steps to stop his classmate from injuring anyone else. Such a response validates the child’s reaction [of objecting if he sees anyone being hit], whereas the response of asking him to be cool would make him feel that he is overreacting to the act he just witnessed. Helping his son regain his composure is important, but not at the expense of discounting his initial spontaneous response.

Expanding our emotional vocabulary is essential to improve our physical, emotional and mental levels of functioning

Take another example: When a child is able to stand up to the bully in her class and her parent says: “That was really brave of you”,  instead of “That was really cool.” The first statement is more authentic and will make the child become more aware of her inner strength.

Expressing emotions is therapeutic

Expanding our emotional vocabulary is essential to improve our physical, emotional and mental levels of functioning. Individuals with high emotional intelligence can come up with the most accurate word to describe their feelings and thus have more clarity as to what needs to be done next.

During one of her counselling sessions with me, a 30-year-old woman felt a surge of relief when she was finally able to voice her feelings over the break up of her eight year long relationship. “Today I feel real. I feel myself, as I was able to voice out what I actually feel. I feel very angry with my boyfriend. I am grieving inside. I can see my truth and I no longer feel ashamed. Life is real, it’s not just about being cool. It’s about coming in touch with oneself and rebuilding life, however painful it might be. Previously I would be hiding my feelings and telling my friends and colleagues that I am cool and that what has happened does not matter too much. Now I know I must accept reality and deal with my loss.”

There is no harm in taking shelter of the common “lingo”, provided it serves as a momentary respite to eventually leap out of our surreal cocoons and acknowledge reality. However, the need to identify and label the emotions that we are experiencing correctly is a skill that we must all develop to achieve greater emotional maturity and insight into ourselves.

The habitual vocabulary used for describing our state of mind deprives us from constructively changing how we feel emotionally about an experience

Beware of your habitual vocabulary

We all know that suppressed emotions can lead to the formation of many psychosomatic illnesses such as stomach disorders, migraines, skin problems, lethargy, muscle stiffness and many more. Therefore frequent usage of the phrase “I am cool”, although initially harmless, can reinforce a pattern of suppressing our inner emotions within and prevent us from getting in touch with our real selves and making constructive changes. The ability to acknowledge that one is anything other than “cool” requires great courage and can pave the way for greater self-awareness and emotional freedom. You could be experiencing negative emotions like “feeling used”, “broken”, “useless”, or even feeling positive emotions like, “joyful”, “happy”, “contented”—you should be able to convey them accurately.

The habitual vocabulary used for describing our state of mind deprives us from constructively changing how we feel emotionally about an experience. Another commonly used phrase is “I am depressed.” Clinical depression is poles apart from being disappointed and low. However attaching the word “depressed” to our experiences only serves to magnify its intensity and perceive it as disastrous when in reality is isn’t as bad. The more an individual keeps narrating the experience and loosely declaring that he is depressed, the more he reinforces the negative emotional state within. Rational thinking does not prevail and the consequent behaviours can be unproductive.

On the other hand, using words such as “anguished”, “sorrowful”, or “distressed” also describe what an individual is experiencing in very difficult situations, which have very different connotations from using the word “depressed” habitually.

Words convey our subconscious thoughts. It is important to use them with an awareness that would enable us to create a more meaningful relationship with ourselves and with others. Life would thus be more refreshing and cool in the truer sense, when there would be concordance in what we say with what we think and feel.

This was first published in the January 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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