How would you rate your ability to express your feelings in the here-and-now?
Often we find ourselves returning to the same, limited palette of happy, angry, sad, scared and don’t stray from the usual. Although it’s a good start, it’s often useful to develop our ‘emotional vocabulary’ in order to identify within ourselves what we’re feeling and also in order to better express this to others.
The reason it’s useful to get a fine-detailed understanding of how we’re feeling is that it could act like a sensitive thermometer to track, real time, what’s happening.
In my experience, people often get some things messed up when tuning in to feelings so here are some top tips:
- Feelings are fleeting – they can change hundreds of times in a minute – it’s useful to sit still, tune in and notice how they change and what different feelings are like
- Feelings can often be contradictory (I can feel delighted AND petrified about going out)
- Feeling are neither good or bad, they are just neutral. If we start thinking that certain feelings are good then we can start to avoid acknowledging the ones that we think of as bad.
So, how to develop your emotional vocabulary? Here’s three suggestions…
- There’s a useful ‘Feelings wheel’that can help us pick different words, more than just the basics: http://feelingswheel.com
- There’s also the idea of ‘free association’. There’s a few ways to do this – sometimes I ask clients to just talk, it doesn’t need to make sense, say words, start to notice any repetitions, patterns, omissions. Another way is to talk about dreams – maybe write them down, notice any imagery, associations, messages? Or if you find yourself humming a tune, is there any significance to this for you?
- Finally, try giving up languageto explore feelings and go to something like music or paintings or nature instead. The impact of looking at a ladybird crawling along a leaf in sunlight can be just as profound and truthful as an essay of our feelings.
If you’re struggling to access or moderate your feelings, counselling can help!