Lessons from Myths, Legends and Fairy TalesMusings

Lesson from Myths, Legends and Fairy tales: Part 4 Rumpelstiltskin

The story of Rumpelstiltskin is a well-known fairy tale. For many, the themes of this story are about power and greed (the miller, the King and Rumpelstiltskin) or about telling the truth and taking responsibility for your actions (the miller’s daughter).
My take away from this story is the power in naming someone or something. As we know from the end of the story, once the miller’s daughter (now the Queen) learned Rumpelstiltskin’s name, he no longer held power over her. And so it is with emotions, when we are able to name our unpleasant emotions, they tend to lose their power over us .
“Name it to tame it” was coined by Dr. Dan Siegel who suggest that by putting into words what we feeling, we reduce the intensity of the emotion, which helps us feel less overwhelmed by it. Brain activity studies support this: when we feel angry or fearful, there is an increased activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for reaction to threat – preparing the body to deal with the danger by flight, fight, freeze or fawn. When we accurately label the emotion, researchers noted a decrease in the amygdala and an increased activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved with planning, logic, reason and rational thinking.
Dr. Matthew Lieberman, neuroscientist at UCLA, uses the analogy of hitting the brakes when you see an amber light – when you put feelings into words, you are in essence hitting the brakes on your emotional responses, which results in you feeling less angry, fearful or sad. Noticing and naming our emotions gives us the chance to step back and make choices what we are going to with them.
When we know what an emotion feels like in our body and we can name it, it tends to make more and becomes less overwhelming. In effect, it loses it power over us. Noticing and naming our emotions gives us the chance to step back and make choices about what we are going to with them. We feel capable of handling them, even if we don’t necessarily like them. As we learn to identify, label and express emotions, we strengthen this area in the brain. In turn, we are better able to act more responsively and less reactively.
Naming your emotions also gives you the opportunity of acknowledging yourself. Learning to understand yourself is the corner stone to your mental health and relationships with others. If you are not sure of your feelings, you may not be aware of your needs and how to meet them. The more we practice being aware of our emotions and how we experience them in our bodies, the more we are able to understand the nature of our emotions: where they come from, what triggers them and how they affect us.
So next time you are experiencing strong emotions where you feel totally out of control or overwhelmed: pause, identify the feeling, name the emotion and let it pass.
Just as Rumpelstiltskin lost his power once the queen knew his name, so it is with our emotions, when we name them, we can tame them.