I recently used the metaphor of a forest to coach a friend through a difficult period. It helped them understand the importance of emotional literacy and in this article, I share the details of how to apply the metaphor to the 4 quadrants of the Universe of Emotions. Let us start by asking ourselves the following question. Have you caught yourself struggling to express your emotional experiences because of inadequate vocabulary? In this article, we explore how to become more emotionally literate and increase your emotional repertoire. How? The help of an imaginary forest landscape works as a good metaphor for the inner landscape of emotions.
In a forest landscape are bright, sunny areas; shaded parts; overgrown, chaotic patches; and dark, dingy places. Think also of emotions as points on a grid with two axes. The vertical axis represents the energy of the emotion – higher energy at the top and lower at the bottom. Heart rate and adrenaline levels increase as you go up the scale. The horizontal axis represents the degree of stress – high stress on the right and low stress on the left. Emotions become more positive and cortisol levels decrease as you go to the left.
As you become aware of your emotions, using nature and the grid as a trigger, notice where you are spending your time.
You can use the Universe of Emotions in the Complete App to explore this emotional universe.
These examples are just a few of the possible emotions in each sector of the emotional universe.
In reality, there are thousands of emotions and there are 2000 in this app. The English language has about 30,000 distinct words describing an emotion.
But most people have a much more limited range of emotional experience, confined and expressed by an emotional vocabulary of 10 to 20 words at the most.
How do you know which words are emotions? If you say the statement “I feel X” (x being the word referring to an emotion) and if it makes sense then chances are you have a word that describes an emotion.
If I asked you to write down all the emotions you’ve felt in the last week, how many would you list
and how many would be positive? If our inner emotional landscape is impoverished or barren, does it matter? Yes, for several reasons. If we just feel ‘ok’ or ‘bad’ – a binary choice – then that’s a
whole range of human expression that we are condensing into just two emotional opposites.
If we expand to a handful of emotions, at least we now have some choice, some different emotional ‘gears’ we can engage. We can be more responsive. But we have the potential to go even further, and it really matters. If we can’t tell the difference between emotions, we may respond inappropriately.
Imagine that ‘anxious’ and ‘angry’ are coalesced. We might step forward to act in anger when we should be stepping back to allow anxiety to subside.
And one final reason for great emotional literacy; a bigger emotional repertoire makes for a richer,
fuller, more enjoyable life. So try and stay in the bright, sunny top left or in the shaded, restful bottom left as much as you can and enjoy the forest.