The Importance of Developing a Vocabulary of "Feeling Words"
Updated: May 12
Have you ever heard of a phenomenon called alexithymia? It literally means having "no speech for feelings" and basically consists of difficulty identifying, understanding and expressing feelings. Though this tendency is said to occur in only 8% of men and 2% of women, often times people struggle to identify feelings beyond a generic report of feeling things like happiness, sadness or anger.
Recently, I had a chat with someone that really hates their job. They've just come back from a glorious vacation and are planning to go back to work in a matter of days. Though they can tell me all the reasons they dislike their job, they can't tell me what feelings working that particular job elicits in them. They can say, "I just don't want to go back." But my work as their therapist is to help them figure out if that's because they feel frustrated, disempowered, anxious or bored in that position. And yes, the distinction matters.
Emotions come from deep within the brain, are triggered by certain hormones, and provoke bodily sensations and reactions. Feelings, the cousins of emotions, come from the thinking parts of the brain and result from a combination of personal experiences, beliefs, memories and thoughts.
I think the ability to identify your feeling states can benefit you in three major ways:
1. It helps with the development of introspection, which promotes personal growth.
2. Since thoughts precede feelings, feelings help you catch (and break) the habit of thinking in negative or defeating ways.
3. Being able to tell others exactly how you feel aids you in getting the support you need - much more than general or vague statements do.
So, let's take a look at three of the most common reported feeling states and drill down with more specific feeling words. Feel free to add to the list!
And there you have it! Just 3 feeling words have turned into thirty words you can use to better express yourself. Try using these words on occasion and see how it improves the ability you have to reflect on your internal experience, relate to others, and get more of what you want out of life.
For more exhaustive feeling charts and lists, visit: