SEL Skills Articles

Why Does Naming Feelings Work?

Naming feelings is tricky! There are hundreds of feelings and every minute of the day you can be feeling a variety of them. Sometimes, it’s hard to pinpoint what you’re feeling.

Take your average “bad day,” for example. Nearly everyone has experienced a “bad day”. Some days, you are just in a bad mood. Maybe your day didn’t go as planned, maybe there was a conflict with a friend, maybe you made a mistake at school or at work. Maybe it was a little bit of everything!  


It can sometimes be hard to name our feelings. Sometimes, we may only have an “uneasy” feeling, or a pit in our stomach… And we don’t know why.

You get home and you don’t feel like talking to anyone. You don’t feel like doing anything. And frankly, you’re not even sure what the root problem is. 

You realize something is wrong, but you don’t have the mental energy to figure out what exactly you’re feeling. It’s easy to be trapped by your feelings and not bother exploring them because, what’s the point? 

However, the most important thing you can do for your feelings’ health and well-being is to name your feelings, especially intense or challenging feelings.

Naming feelings does three key things: 

  1. You acknowledge that the feelings exist. It’s very common for people to ignore their feelings and stuff them away. But, challenging feelings never disappear until they are dealt with; they always resurface someday.
  2. It makes your feelings “visible.” When they’re visible, it’s a lot easier to separate your feelings from you. In other words, your feelings do not define you.
  3. It puts you in control of your feelings. If you ignore your feelings they will control you. That person who had an angry tantrum at the register at McDonald’s… They are under the control of their feelings. But, when you name your feelings, they stop controlling you and give you a chance to decide how you will handle them.

What If I Don’t Know What I’m Feeling?

It can sometimes be hard to name our feelings. Sometimes, we may only have an “uneasy” feeling, or a pit in our stomach… And we don’t know why.

Feelings are first processed by unconscious sections in our brain. So, it makes sense that we will “feel” them before we can name them. When that happens, it helps simply to take note of that uneasy feeling… “I’m sensing something that’s kinda upsetting me. I don’t know what it is. I’m going to set this feeling on a (mental) shelf and come back to it.”

At this point, you haven’t quite named your feelings, but you’ve already “separated them from yourself.” And this process, alone, is a big deal!

“Follow It Back to the Cave”

The process of naming your feelings can be as simple or complex as you feel is right. It can be as simple as,

“I feel disappointed because my plans fell through.”

And then, you’re over it!

Other feelings need more time to identify and process. In this case, find some quiet time to think clearly. 

Then, follow that feeling “back to the cave,” back to where it originated (in the amygdala, also known as the “caveman” brain). 

Can you determine what triggered that feeling?

If you’re stuck, try having a conversation with a trusted friend or adult. Preferably this person is someone who won’t tell you how you should feel, but will listen and ask some guiding questions to help you find your own thoughts and feelings.

Naming your feelings is a simple yet critical self-awareness skill to master. 

Help your students to manage feelings and self-awareness…  Sign up for our “How Do I Feel?” Curriculum Kit, that includes our complete module on feelings.  


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