Yesterday, we talked about the subjective nature of emotions and how, in fact, the labels that we attach to our experience do not exist as the absolute reality of “how things are” but instead exist as “our perspective of how things are”.
A label, by definition, is a classifying phrase or name applied to a person or thing (and interestingly, the second part of the dictionary definition adds “… especially that is inaccurate or restrictive”). When we label something or someone we are saying to ourselves “I know this thing and this thing is insert whatever our label is here.
On the one hand, labels allow us to be efficient. The work is done, we “know” the thing we are labeling and there is no need to investigate any further.
On the other, labels are restrictive, because for the exact same reason they allow us to be efficient, they also convince our brain that there is no need to investigate any further.
The same is true for our emotions. When we experience a physiological change in the body (the scientific definition of emotion) and we label it as ‘x’ (joy, anxiety, fear, happiness) we prevent our brain from experiencing it as new. We limit our innate curiosity to investigate, search, and reason and to create a new experience; an experience that is different from any that we have traveled through before.
What’s more, we can “map in” particular sensations or feelings in the body with different emotional states. For example, perhaps I am riding and feel a tightness in my chest. My emotional brain searches for experiences in the past when I have felt this and decides that I am anxious.
In truth, something is just changing in my body. What that is could be any number of things. By labeling it as something specific (in this example, anxiety) however, I interrupt the ability of my brain to produce a new and adaptive response and instead, cycle through the same predictable experience of emotion that I have come to call “my anxiety”.
Your labels are subjective, and they are learned. When we apply them, we tell our brain, “you don’t need to investigate any further, we know this” and we continue to repeat what we know.