For most of my adult life I journaled about my key life events. Many of those pages are filled with emotionally laden experiences and feeling words. They describe a pouring out of my feelings of sadness, despair, fear, concern, disappointment as well as excitement, happiness, joy and love.
Let’s start with the difference between the words emotion and feeling. They are often confused. Here is a definition from Dr. Antonio D’Amasio:
Feelings are mental experiences of body states, which arise as the brain interprets emotions, themselves physical states arising from the body’s responses to external stimuli.”
Habits of Emotional Unawareness
When you were a baby your emotions helped communicate your needs to your caregiver. Noises came out of you automatically. Your parents put a label on how you were feeling. “Oh! I recognize that cry. She is feeling scared.” One of the jobs of caregivers is to support the child in noticing their emotions and appropriately expressing them with feeling words. Regrettably, many caregivers have shamed their children out of noticing and expressing their feelings. Congratulations to the adults in your childhood, if they validated your emotions and the expression of your feelings.
However, if you are like me, you may have developed a habit of bottling up your feelings until you can not contain them. In a state of feeling overwhelmed they used to come out like a dragon’s breath of rage. Yes, I had an anger management issue! Or maybe you have developed a tendency to merely swallow your feelings without any outside explosion. My mother did this and she was often frail and ill. It was as if her insides were exploding. Or perhaps you have blanked out your feelings; checked out of being present to yourself and your relationships.
These habits are typically developed in an emotionally unsafe environment never dare share a feeling. But you can work on regaining your emotional and feeling awareness. Why would you want to do that? So you can better meet your longings, develop authentic relationships, and be emotionally and mentally healthy. It worked for me!
Become Aware of Your Emotions and Express Your Feelings
- Become aware of the sensations in your body; that is your emotional state.
- Describe the sensation and give it the best label your mind offers. think or say “I feel (fill in the blank)”.
- Say to yourself or out loud “I feel (fill in the blank)”.
The research on Emotional Intelligence explores in depth this process of emotional awareness and the expression of feelings.
Classic Baby Emotional States and Feeling Words
Imagine watching yourself as if you are between 18 and 24 months old. Below are images of a baby and optional feeling words. Notice the body motions and facial expressions of these basic feelings.
LOW STATE ———————————————————————————————————–HIGH STATE
Sad is a message in your body that tells you that you do not have what you want, need or value. Your body may have sensations of emptiness, weakness, heaviness, lethargy, or pain in the heart (heart ache).
Hurt is the message in your body that tells you that what you want, need or value has been taken away. Your body may have sensations of discomfort behind your eyes, upset stomach or pain in the heart (heart ache).
Scared is a message in your body that tells you that what you want, need or value is at risk of being taken away. Your body may have sensations of muscle constriction, shakiness, tight nerves or weakness.
Anger is a secondary emotion. It is triggered after feeling sad, hurt, afraid or frustrated. It is a message in your body that tells you that you have the energy to acquire what you want, need or value. Your body may have sensations of on fire, out-of-control, high energy, moving forward, tight nerve ends or internal explosion.
Happy is a message in your body that tells you that you have what you want, need or value.Your body may have sensations of fullness, warmth, lightness, or calm.
Note: many researchers add the feeling of disgust onto the list of basic feeling words.
For a thorough list of feeling words look at a list compiled by The Hoffman Institute
Please consider how this information about emotions and feeling words might help you be more authentic at work and home. Daniel Goleman wrote in Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, “Emotional intelligence is the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.”
Let me know if I can be of further help in your re-discovery of feelings! I will be sure to respond.
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Patricia Morgan MA CCC helps her readers, clients, and audiences lighten their load, brighten their outlook, and strengthen their resilience. To go from woe to WOW call 403.242.7796 or email a request.