Emotional LanguageDo you speak ‘feelings’ as a second language? Are you fluent in expression of anger, frustration, or worry? Many of us are not!

Do I blow up and yell when angry, or do I shut down and stop talking? Do I name call and blame others? Do I feel guilty about and avoid conflicts? Do I say ‘yes’ and then get angry later about it? Do I do or say things I don’t want to when I feel like I’m on the spot? Am I quick to flare up when I hear things I don’t like? How we communicate our emotions is largely a product of what we learned and the language we grew up with.

We all learn our primary language of communication through the people and kinships that raise us. This is also true of our ability to communicate our feelings and emotions–in both effective and nonproductive ways. This plays out throughout our entire lives, and evidence of our fluency is seen in our relationships, the jobs/professions we choose, and the company we keep.

While we may be very aware of and connected to our own feelings and internal experiences, many of us are unable or unwilling to verbalize or ‘speak’ about our emotions with others. We often act, interact, and react in automatic ways without putting much thought to the words we use and the messages we are communicating to the world around us. The old saying “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!” goes a long way in human interactions and communication.

The idea of teens (and adults) needing to learn an effective, expanded language of emotional expression is not new. The concept of “emotional intelligence’ became a focus in the world of psychology beginning the 1990’s and is an increasingly targeted area of study. Key components of emotional intelligence include; perceiving emotions, reasoning with emotions, understanding emotions and managing emotions.

At WHS therapists and staff work tirelessly to increase the emotional intelligence of our young clients. One method is to teach adolescent clients effective language to identify, verbalize, and communicate their emotions to others. Our partnership with the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy will enhance our ability to teach our clients an expanded, more effective and appropriate language to utilize in their recovery living. The “Emotions Chart’ is one small way that WHS is Helping Children to Be Victors. Clients will learn to use cognitive behavioral skills to better perceive, reason, manage and understand their emotions and actions.

The process of learning this language of emotion is actively underway in the WHS residential treatment programs. As a vital component of our CBT infusion initiative, staff and clients will be challenged to immerse our programs in this ‘new’ language. We are excited to participate in and witness this transformation in milieu culture and the words we chose to use. The Emotions Chart will be a fundamental guide and tool that will help us on this process.

For more information on development and skill building of “emotional intelligence”, simply type the phrase into your search engine. If you would like to see an example of the type of activities and exercises that adolescents can use to skill build, copy/paste the address below into your browser. This workbook from the University of Illinois provides a wonderful resource for teens to expand their emotional intelligence: Emotional Intelligence Workbook.

Katrina Brock, LMSW, CAADC, CCS, is Director of Clinical & Quality Services at Wolverine Human Services. Katrina has over 16 years of direct clinical as well as administrative experience. She leads WHS’ Quality & Performance Improvement Department and is the agency lead consultant for accreditation with the Council on Accreditation. She is very proud of WHS’ new programs and evidence-based practice initiatives. On the side, Katrina enjoys doing outpatient therapy directly with clients and working with diverse populations of clients.