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Expanding Your Emotional Language

One benefit to starting therapy that many people seem to overlook is the chance to expand your emotional language. When we are going through difficult situations in life, it may be hard to express what we are going through with others if we do not have the language to communicate our reality. We may sense that something is off, but continue to push it under the rug. We may continue to navigate life on autopilot, hoping that somehow things will just naturally get better over time. It is not until we acknowledge our emotions, become truly aware of them, and take action to express and understand them do things really start to change.

There are six basic human emotions that seem to be recognized cross-culturally including sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust. Many other emotions that we experience may fall under one of these six categories. For example, you may describe your emotional state as “frustrated” rather than angry, and one can understand the subtle difference in experience. But sometimes we spend our life describing our emotions in basic terms like “angry” or “sad” without considering the many other emotional descriptors that may be more accurate and could lead to a greater understanding of ourselves and others.

Note the difference in these two statements: “After the tornado destroyed half of our town, I felt sad.”

“After the tornado destroyed half of our town, I felt helpless.”

The first statement expresses feeling down about the situation, whereas the second statement describes the powerlessness that one feels after something out of their control occurred.

Think about the quality of conversations you have had recently with others. What did they sound like? How did the conversation go?

If you are like most people, you may have had this exact conversation with someone not too long ago: “Hey, how are you?” “I am good, how are you?” “I am doing good as well. What is new in your world?” “Oh not much, what about you?” “Same old, same old!”

Imagine if you were able to change some of that emotional language. Imagine if we felt empowered through expanding our emotional language to express ourselves more accurately. What would those conversations look like? Who might we reach on a deeper level?

“Hey, how are you?” “Eh, I am actually feeling a bit resentful today. What emotion are you experiencing the most today?” “Oh no! That sounds difficult, would you like to talk about it? I am feeling energized today and I have the emotional space to listen if you feel like opening up.”

One thing I hear a lot from clients is this idea that other people “don’t really want to hear what is going on” or that it is “just easier to pretend everything is okay”. The reality is that supportive people in our lives DO want to hear what is going on with us and that opening up to others and being vulnerable helps create an authentic connection. So, I want to challenge you today to practice expanding your emotional language. Here is a list of emotions that may help you express yourself a bit more accurately:

Compassionate, Contemptuous, Hesitant, Melancholy, Exhilarated, Bitter, Anguished, Wounded, Alienated, Adrift, Admiring, Alarmed, Shamed, Stunned, Spiteful, Mocked, Eager, Sorrowful, Apprehensive, Indifferent, Safe, Shocked, Disgraced, Curious, Awkward, Calm, Brave, Uncertain.

Language is powerful. The words we choose to use when we communicate to others can shape the entire perception of the listener. If you are struggling to find the right words to describe what you are currently experiencing, therapy may be a great tool to get started on expanding your emotional language. Learning new emotional descriptors is only the beginning. Therapy can help you accurately label experiences you may be going through, patterns of behavior you’ve carried with you for decades, and uncover maladaptive core beliefs that drive these continued behaviors. And yes, all of that therapy jargon will eventually make sense! Call 253 Therapy and Consult today to learn how we can help you start your journey to expand your emotional language and awareness.

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