Talking to Our Emotive Brain

 A lot of the work that we do as therapists involves helping clients to become more comfortable with and aware of their ‘less-than-comfortable’ emotions – and indeed some of my articles before this one have addressed the importance of learning to become more open to negative feelings, instead of responding reflexively and shying away from them. In his article on “Unraveling Emotional Triggers”, George Altman examines what happens to us on a brain level when we have a negative emotional reaction and proposes some practical ways in which we can begin to create greater awareness and use language to speak and soothe our emotive brain in these moments.

In sessions, I work with clients to help them develop better skills to manage their responses to emotional triggers, which include both breathing techniques as well as language skills to identify and have a dialogue with the emotions that are bubbling up. With regards to the latter, simple statements such as “I acknowledge that I’m feeling (this emotion) in this moment”, again rather than trying to escape/distract or block out the unwanted feeling, can be effective in diffusing some of the intensity of the emotional response itself. In some ways, this mimics the same process involving dialogues around exploring and learning to stay with less comfortable emotions that clients are guided through in a therapy session. As Altman explains , this attempt to put a label to the emotion in the moment of arousal, allows us to talk to our emotive brain and acts to bring an individual out of the pure ‘emotive experiencing’ of the trigger into a more calm and regulated state. I also suggest to clients additional questions they can ask themselves in moments of arousal in order to facilitate a greater openness and awareness of what’s happening for them which often, in turn, also results in a willingness to consciously let go of whatever negative emotion has just arisen.


References (1) Reference Link: “Unravelling Emotional Triggers” by George Altman, (2012),

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