There are more words out there to describe how you feel besides sad, mad, and glad—in fact, there’s a whole world of words that can describe your emotions in incredibly specific ways. For most people, there's a significant deficit in our emotional vocabulary training growing up.
Having a rich emotional vocabulary means being able to recognize, label and understand feelings in ourselves and others. Of course happy, sad, scared, and angry are four foundational emotions, but there are far more nuanced and complex emotions experienced regularly.
Having a solid emotional vocabulary helps us navigate complexity in relationships and deepen emotional intimacy.
Together the skills of identifying her emotions and reading and responding to other people’s emotions combine to create a skill known as emotional intelligence or emotional literacy.
Emotional literacy is necessary for us to regulate emotions, effectively connect with the people close to us, and manage social interactions successfully. The larger your emotional vocabulary the better equipped you are to discern different feelings, communicate your needs, and connect with the feelings of others.
So how do you expand your emotional vocabulary? Start by downloading this list. Use it for any of the activities below on your own or with someone you trust to expand your use and understanding of each word.
How to use your feelings list
1) Choose one emotion each day and try to notice where you run into it throughout the day. Maybe in a news story, or a book you're reading. Maybe someone talks about it on a podcast or you hear a story from a colleague at work. You might see it in a TV episode. Focus on noticing the places that emotion shows up for a day.
2) Choose one emotion at random and do a five-minute free write about where and when it has been present in your life. Think about the circumstances, players and resolution. Notice what physical sensations arise when focusing attention on this particular emotion. Notice if other emotions travel alongside the emotion you picked.
3) With someone you trust, randomly select an emotion from the list and tell a story about that emotion without naming the emotion itself. Have the other person guess what you're describing. This practice helps you develop more effective empathetic communication.
4) Imagine the emotion as a living being and draw it. Give it a body and face and use color if helpful. Notice if it's hairy or feathered, winged or legged. Most importantly, ask it what it wants most and how it might try to help you. Jot notes as needed to deepen your learning.
5) Keep this list handy while you watch TV at night and during the commercial breaks try to guess what the main character is feeling using words from this list. If you're watching with loved ones you can each choose a character to guess emotions for.
There are many other ways to deepen your emotional literacy but starting with these practices will help you expand your vocabulary and ultimately deepen your connection with yourself and those you love.
If you'd like support deepening emotional intimacy and expanding your emotional vocabulary give me a call, I'd be happy to help.
Gina Senarighi has been supporting loving couples and healthy teams for nearly twenty years. As a former couples therapist turned retreat coach, workshop facilitator, and author she's transformed partnerships, leaders and communication strategy all over the world.
Her uniquely non-judgmental, inclusive approach to couples work puts even the most concerned participants at ease. She's not your average sit-and-nod supporter- she'll hold hope even when it's hard and always help you grow.