Feelings into words

A growing body of research has revealed that labeling an emotion, or putting one’s feelings into words, can help to down regulate that affect, as occurs with intentional forms of emotion regulation, such as reappraisal and distraction. Katharina Kircanski (2012), Matthew D. Lieberman, and Michelle G. Craske translated this basic research to a real-world example, in which spider-fearful individuals were repeatedly exposed to a live spider! The researchers compared the effects of affect labeling (telling your emotion), reappraisal, distraction from the feared stimulus, and exposure alone during this brief course of exposure therapy on subsequent fear responding. At a 1-week post test involving a different spider in another context, the affect-labeling group exhibited reduced skin conductance response relative to the other groups and marginally greater approach behavior than the distraction group; however, the affect-labeling group did not differ from the other groups in self-reported fear. Additionally, greater use of anxiety and fear words during exposure was associated with greater reductions in fear responding. Thus, perhaps surprisingly, affect labeling may help to regulate aspects of emotion in a clinical context. God knew we were going to be afraid and says don’t be afraid. We need to first admit our fear, tell ourselves what we are feeling and then know that God is with you. Invite someone to take a closer look at Christ and his church.

feelings into words