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Naming Feelings

Name Your Feelings
by David A. Morris, LCSW

Mixed emotions are typical and naming them can be freeing.

Mixed emotions are typical and naming them can be freeing.

There’s power in naming our inner feelings. Once when a client was telling me a story and the distress they were experiencing, I said absently “Whoa! I bet that guilt felt horrible?”. The client looked at me with both surprise and relief, “that’s it, I was feeling guilty” was their reply. Just identifying the feeling, then naming it was empowering, relieving, and the start of coping with it.

The Japanese use the feeling word age-otori—the regret one feels after getting a bad haircut. The Dutch use the feeling phrase gezellig—that warm, delighted, yet comforting sense you get when spending time with dear friends. Russians have razliubit—the emotion of falling out of love. Every culture recognizes the importance of attaching a feeling word or phrase to important life experiences both positive and negative.

Emotion centers in the brain appear to be in the limbic system but empirically, there’s no biological circuitry researchers can find yet. Instead, many psychology researchers believe our inner feelings appear to arise from complex systems of chemical and electrical interactions within and between cells.

Here are a few ways to improve identifying and naming your feelings the next time you have conflict:

Some feeling words to get you started
Disappointment, relief, embarrassment, shame, guilt, remorse, defeat, exhaustion, fear, frustration, anger, pride, content, hopeless, appreciation, joy, curiosity, and excitement.

  1. Start with concrete, tangible recent situations
    After an argument, you can develop mental representations of each moment leading up to the argument. Think of specific details. How were you feeling when you woke up? Was your routine different? What happened just before the argument? Form mental images for each moment.
  2. What actually happened
    What did you actually argue about? What was the most distressing part? What was the expressed reason for the conflict? The key is not to judge or blame yourself. This only leads to a distortion of what happened.
  3. Facts, Images and your emotional response
    You’ve collected the facts without judgment. You’ve gained mental images for each moment. Now it’s time to name each emotion and your response. This will connect your behavior with how you were feeling. Your behavior might make sense knowing you felt disrespected, under-appreciated or demeaned.

If you are having trouble naming your emotions, New Directions Counseling Services has a variety of empathetic, patient, and caring clinicians to help. Call the number in the right hand column to talk to someone today.