Why do I feel better when I fill out an Express Yourself E-Card?

Because your brain loves you when you get it right! It’s a fact. Something changes in our bodies the instant we find the words we’ve been searching for.

The best example is the feeling you get when you see someone you know coming toward you, but you can’t remember her name.

You know the feeling, right?

It’s physical. You smile awkwardly, while your mind scrambles through your mental Rolodex of names:

“Sarah?”

“Sandra?”

“Sally?”

“Shoot! What is her name?”

And then, it happens. Her sister shows up and instantly, you remember. “It’s Charlotte! Charlotte and Cherise Beignet. The Beignet sisters!”

The correct labeling of objects and feelings is soothing to areas of the brain associated with survival. Your life doesn’t depend on you remembering the names of the Beignet sisters. But it might depend on you properly identifying the word “snake” when you hear a hissing rattle coming at you in the desert.

Emotions come to us through our senses. We see, smell, taste, hear, or feel something, and our bodies react. We don’t consciously think “snake,” for example, and then run. We hear hissing and our brain says, “Run!” Only later—once we feel safe—do we have the luxury of time to reflect and accurately label the reason we reacted the way we did.

Anger is a destructive force in most relationships. It’s not a bad emotion. It’s just that its expression generally scares people without telling them anything useful.

Anger is blunt instrument. It does one thing extremely well. It pushes people away. But it doesn’t describe the other feelings that can bring us closer to the people we love.

Anger is blunt instrument. It does one thing extremely well. It pushes people away when we feel unsafe. But it doesn’t fully describe the complexity of the other feelings we’re having. It’s unusual to feel just anger, without also feeling hurt, embarrassed, lonely, dismissed, resentful, or controlled. And it’s the constructive expression of those feelings that can bring us closer to the people we love.

Filling out an E-Card makes you feel better because it helps you recognize, identify, and express the “all” of what you’re feeling: the hurt and the sadness, the disappointment and the loneliness, the heartache and the fear.

Many of my clients use the cards without ever sending them. They fill out the checklists as a way to clarify their thoughts and feelings before having a face-to-face conversation.

This naming process, and the soothing effect it has on us has been the greatest discovery for me in using the cards with my clients.  It turns out that learning to self-regulate by accessing the higher functions of the brain (where language is processed) is critical to self-mastery, and leads to more effective self-expression.

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