top of page
  • Writer's pictureLisa Jones

How effective is your emotional vocabulary?

Sometimes talking to another person about how you feel gets tricky, not only identifying the emotion but also finding the right word to describe it. However, sometimes not having the right word is useful, it helps to personalise your experience and you don’t fall into the trap of being misunderstood. Finding other ways to describe how you feel helps the other person focus on you. Describing your feelings using colours, shapes, sounds, smells and bodily sensations keeps the experience personal and helps to release the emotion to the outside world.

Using emoticons in our text messages have helped us communicate how we feel in a visual way and they help us out when we really are stuck for words. Some of us, however, prefer to find the right word but we just don’t have the vocabulary. Mad, sad and bad just don’t do it for us.

Of course, none of this helps if we struggle to access our emotions in the first place, we might feel numb or empty or absolutely nothing! Learning to identify our feelings is useful for self-awareness and relationships with others. If we can learn this skill it promotes empathy which brings us closer to others and can be healing.

Here’s an exercise that might help you develop your familiarity with your emotions:

  • Throughout the day, keep a record when you feel a certain emotion.

  • Keep your list of emotions simple, draw a picture or use an emoticon.

  • Identify the time of day, the emotion you’re feeling, and what was going on when you felt the emotion.

Later, with your partner or a friend, go through your list and share what you’ve written down.

  1. Identify what was going on when you felt a certain emotion.

  2. Understand why the event led to this emotion.

  3. Describe how the emotion feels within your body.

  4. Talk about how it feels to share your feelings with another person.

There is no need to discuss them further than this list and if you are a couple maybe take turns to share. The other person listens and might ask questions to clarify what you have said so they fully understand. The important thing is that the other person doesn’t offer a solution. The exercise is to learn to access emotions, identify them and express them.

The Emotion Wheel, which shows groups of words around the core emotions, can be a useful prompt to find the right word. Finding the right word helps to engage the rational mind and moves us back to thinking when the emotions become too painful, it can reduce the intensity of the feeling. If you identify the word in the wheel, notice if there is a change in the emotion you are experiencing.

bottom of page