Feelings - name them to tame them

Dr Dan Siegal, Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, calls this technique ‘Name it to Tame it.’ It’s a simple, yet effective method for reducing the intensity of feelings.

You can use Name it to Tame it whenever you're feeling stressed or anxious (or experiencing any other uncomfortable feeling).

Note: I define a feeling as being one or more emotions combined with one or more physical sensations.

How does it work?

There are several reasons Name it to Tame it works.

Matthew Lieberman (a Professor at UCLA Department of Psychology, Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences) and colleagues did some research that showed how acknowledging and naming anxiety can move reactivity in your brain from the automatic and reactive centres to the more conscious and deliberate ones [1]. In other words, to name a feeling, we have to use the left prefrontal lobe of our brain (our ‘thinking brain’) and this shifts activity from our limbic region (the ’emotional brain’).

Lieberman also found that the more words people used to describe their anxiety, the more their symptoms of anxiety reduced.

Subjects in the study didn’t expect that putting their anxiety into words would reduce the feeling. Many thought that saying the feeling out loud or writing it down, was going to make the feeling grow in intensity, or make it last longer, but that was not the case. 

Another reason Name it to Tame works is that naming our feelings enables us to dissociate from them. Dissociation, in this context, means ‘watching oneself as if from a distance.’ We become an observer of our feelings. We step out of the experience or memory and observe ourselves from a bystander’s point of view. This perceived distancing has the effect of reducing the intensity of the feeling associated with the experience or memory.

[1] Affect labeling enhances exposure effectiveness for public speaking anxiety - Andrea N. Niles, Michelle G. Craske, Matthew D. Lieberman, Christopher Hur

You can name a feeling verbally or in writing

Lieberman’s study found that the reduction in anxiety occurred regardless of whether the ‘labels’ people used for their anxiety were spoken or written.

Voicing the feeling

When you voice the feeling, it’s more effective if you name it aloud rather than just inside your head. You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops, it’s okay to whisper it.

When naming the feelings, use language such as:

“I am having the feeling of..." 


“I am noticing the feeling of …”

Using this format means you are reminding yourself that the feeling is not a ‘thing’, and it’s not something you ‘have’. It’s something your body is creating and something you are experiencing. 

Since you are the one creating and experiencing the feeling, you have the ability to either stop feeling it or reduce intensity of the feeling.

When I use this technique, I use more words and say something like: “Hello, I’m experiencing anxiety again. Hi anxiety, I know you're only trying to help me but, I’m safe and in control right now, so you can go.” I say this in a kind of playful, lighthearted way.

Naming the feeling in writing

As well as naming the feeling aloud, writing - "I am experiencing the feeling of…” on paper and expanding on it as per my example above also helps to reduce the intensity of the feeling.

Sometimes you might not know exactly how you’re feeling, or you don’t have the words to describe it, which makes naming the feeling difficult. Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions is a great tool for increasing your emotional vocabulary – check out this interactive, online version: Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions: Feelings Wheel

Practice Name it to Tame it periodically throughout your day

Periodically, throughout the day, simply pause and notice how you feel. It takes only a few seconds to ask, “What am I feeling right now?” Don’t judge whatever you are feeling. Instead, name the feeling and observe how naming the feeling changes your experience of it. By practicing the technique in this way, you’ll become more aware of your feelings and discover that you have greater control over them than you realised. The more you check in throughout the day, the more you are going to realise that your feelings always ebb and flow and change.

Would you like some help controlling your feelings?

Would you like some help controlling your uncomfortable feelings?

If you said 'yes' then take action today and click the button below to schedule a 30 min Zoom consultation with me, where we can explore how I can help you gain relief from whatever it is you are feeling. Alternatively give me a call on 021 056 8389 or email tony@tycoaching.nz.