Book Recommendation: Permission to Feel

Written by: Tiffany Oh, Psychotherapy Assistant Intern

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“And when we can’t recognize, understand, or put into words what we feel, it’s impossible for us to do anything about it: to master our feelings — not to deny them but to accept them all, even embrace them — and learn to make our emotions work for us, not against us.”Marc Brackett, Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive

Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett, Ph.D. explores the importance of emotions and how allowing yourself to feel these emotions can be beneficial. Humans have had a long history of disregarding their emotions, deeply rooted within stoicism. However, the author backs up his claim with evidence that shows how humans have survived with emotions from an evolutionary to a modern perspective that includes how we can adapt to various social environments around us. He emphasizes that these skills must be taught and created five steps (the RULER skills) on how to do this effectively:

  1. R: Recognizing Emotion
  2. U: Understanding Emotion
  3. L: Labeling Emotion
  4. E: Expressing Emotion
  5. R: Regulating Emotion

The book is separated into three different parts: learning what emotions are, the RULER skills and then applying these skills for success. He explains these beautifully with examples regarding both adults and children, and that allows it to be a great book for anyone. Even though this book can be used for personal growth, Brackett clarifies how these skills can be integrated into our education system to guide educators and students to express their emotions and fully experience them. 

One of my favorite parts about the book is that Brackett acknowledges the power of emotions without shying away from the difficult emotions that we are able to experience. For example, he says that anxiety can help us narrow our attention and become more detail-oriented. For some people, as a survival instinct, this could help them with their career when they anticipate something to happen or need to focus on details rather than the big picture. However, anxiety can become a problem when it becomes a fear of the unpredictable. When we feel these “negative emotions,” it helps us become more connected to our weaknesses, allowing us to see those and see how it can affect ourselves and others. He mentions that emotions can be a double-edged sword and how we can use them to our advantage. 

“An emotion scientist has the ability to pause even at the most stressful moments and ask: What am I reacting to? We can learn to identify and understand all our feelings, integral and incidental, and then respond in helpful, proportionate ways—once we acquire emotion skills.”

Marc Brackett, Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive

Brackett draws attention to the term “emotional scientist.” At the beginning of the book, I was extremely confused as to why he used this term because I feel as if scientists are more factual and rigid. Later, I realized one of the key traits of a scientist is curiosity. They have a question and feel the urge to explore the whys and hows. The author tells us to approach our feelings with curiosity rather than judgements. Curiosity provides room for explanations that would help us more if we experienced the same emotions or situations in the future. We are able to understand them better and respond rather than react. 

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in emotional intelligence and looking for ways to work on theirs. The book can serve as a great reminder to those wanting to understand others better and improve their relationships with themselves and their loved ones.

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Want to read more? Here are a few of my related blog posts you may be interested in checking out!

 “Book Recommendation: Emotional Intelligence”

– “Book Recommendation: Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money”

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