Over the past decades, our culture has become infused with the language of wellbeing and mental health. On the whole this has broadened our feeling-vocabulary for everyday emotions, psychological crises and everything in between. However, words can be used as invitations or as closed doors, as gifts or as weapons. They also ebb and flow in popularity and public usage – sometimes trending, the next day old-hat (like the phrase ‘old-hat’!). The world of psychology and therapy is full of jargon. I do my best to use words that are clear, understandable and in-step with public usage. But I also use words that, while perhaps not familiar or fashionable, I find really useful for capturing thoughts or feelings that are difficult to describe concisely. The Glossary below is where I describe less common words in more detail.
If you are interested in developing your emotional vocabulary, there are a couple of interesting projects going on:
The Atlas of Emotions The first is a beautiful and fun to explore map of emotional states called the Atlas of Emotions. The Atlas was commissioned by the Dalai Lama – “In order to find the new world we needed a map, and in order for us to find a calm mind we need a map of our emotions”.
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows The authors of the ‘Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’ take the expansion of emotional vocabulary into uncharted realms by identifying and naming complex emotions you won’t find in the Oxford Dictionary. By naming – even with a name we made up ourselves – we become able to take a breath from the feelings and gain some control over our responses to them.
A Glossary of Words Used on this Site
Many areas of therapy, wellbeing and mental health take a medical approach to our emotional lives. This approach tends to focus in on some aspects of our experience – our ‘symptoms’ – and treat them as a distinct condition or disease. Whilst it can be useful to have a name for such patterns, and some practical ways of working with them – this focus can often miss the wider picture of our experience of life. And we are much, much more than our diagnoses. A holistic approach is one that tries to make sense of our emotional struggles in context, as part of bigger patterns – our personal journeys through life, our social and cultural situation, and our emerging purpose in the universe.
Its modern definition literally means, ‘beyond the personal’. But there’s always something juicy to be found in the root meaning of words. A quick google on this term’s etymology is fascinating: Trans- comes from the Latin trans ‘across, on the other side of’; while Person comes from the Latin persona ‘actor’s mask, character in a play’. I find this delightful, because it instantly reveals the spirit of the word ‘transpersonal’. In transpersonal psychology, the personality – the ‘I‘ that we each identify with – is seen as one aspect or layer of the Self. Yet if we cross the threshold of our identity, dropping our masks of character and personality, we reveal and contact a deeper, more permanent layer to the Self. This ‘transpersonal’ layer is in direct relationship with the bigger context of life – the natural, spiritual and cultural realms that we share with each other. The transpersonal connects us to the universe, while the personal allows us to navigate it as individuals.
Much therapy focuses only on the blocks and traumas afflicting our personal self. Whereas transpersonal approaches such as Psychosynthesis encourage us to ask how our traumas connect with a wider whole. To address our blocks in order to go beyond our personalities, to cross into the deeper realms of experience that give our lives meaning and purpose.