The Art of Labelling Emotions Correctly

Apr 30 , 2021
By Kidist Yidnekachew ( Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at )

I was recently introduced to a lady with mild symptoms of bipolar disorder, a mental health condition characterised by extreme mood swings. What differentiates bipolarism is the intensity of the emotions experienced. When people with the condition are happy or in a state of mania, they are extremely happy and energetic; when they are feeling low, they do not want to do anything.

Many of us have difficulty labeling our emotions correctly and dealing with them accordingly. A typical human being can exhibit various emotions ranging from happy and enthusiastic to sad and deeply frustrated in the span of a day. This may not necessarily be an everyday phenomenon. Some days we are happy over the moon, everything makes sense. We are nice to everyone around us. Other days we are just sad, frustrated and helpless - we shut down and keep quiet, holding a conversation with our inner selves, listening to the voice in our head and heart. For many of us, this range of emotions is normal. But when these emotions become difficult to manage and keep fluctuating, it raises a concern.

The lady I met, who is bipolar, is in her late thirties and has been living with the illness her whole life. But she started taking medication and going to therapy just a few months ago. She has lost lots of friends and potential partnerships because of her condition.

Like “driving in a high-speed car with no brakes,” is how she describes the feeling.

She feels she has no control over her emotions. She lost the love of her life as a result. One day she woke up and decided she did not love him anymore. On an impulse, she cheated on him with one of his closest friends. It was an act she could not forgive herself for.

This was a saddening set of circumstances. Some people, though, do not comprehend the scale of the hardships people with the condition go through. When a colleague of hers learned she was bipolar, his first reaction was to break out in laughter.

“And I thought you were crazy showing up to work one day dressed like you were going to a wedding and the next with sweatpants and messy hair,” he said to her.

It was a shocking statement, however, the lady was used to it.

“I get that all the time,” she said with a smile. “At least now you know, and you could be more empathetic.”

Indeed, many people lack the emotional intelligence to distinguish between various emotions, recognise them and use this information to guide their behaviour and adapt to their environment. Notably, general and emotional intelligence are two different things. A smart person is not always emotionally intelligent. A high IQ score does not guarantee that a person can empathise. It is not even a good measure of intelligence.

Emotionally intelligent people are aware of their own and other people’s emotions, but they can also relate and empathise with others' situations. The colleague of the lady was not only rude but also apathetic.

There are many people like him who make fun of others’ misfortunes, knowingly or unconsciously, bullying those close to them. On the other side of the spectrum, people with a developed sense of emotional intelligence tend to be good leaders. They are good at reading other people’s emotions and communicating better with them.

In this day and age, we need leaders who can guide our emotions, communicate intelligently, and provide us with a sense of hope. More importantly, we need to rise to the occasion and prove we have the emotional intelligence to empathise with those around us.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 30,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1096]

Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at

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