“And sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in.” ~ Jane Austen
Knowing how you feel and how to accurately identify your emotions through words – spoken or written – is a powerful way to improve our connections with others, build understanding, and enriches our relationships. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done. Learning the language of emotions is difficult, and describing your feelings is tough. At least it is for most of us. According to Brene’ Brown’s research, the majority of people she interviewed are not comfortable with emotions and far from “fluent in the language of feelings”.
What is an emotional vocabulary?
An emotional vocabulary is one in which language accurately describes how you are feeling. While parents or adults often encourage kids to express their feelings with words (we tell them to “use your words”) we often fall short ourselves. We often instinctively restrict our vocabulary to anything but the broadest terms (such as “angry” or “happy”) or adopt lingo (like “cool” or “awesome”) to abstract and generalize our feelings.
Why are emotions so hard to explain?
Emotions are very nuanced, with slightly different meanings, and can be very hard to explain. Imagine trying to describe a particular shade of blue – is it more purple than green? Bright or dark? Is there a specific name for that shade such as sky, navy, or indigo?
Emotions are often mixed, and to explain them, you need to be able to identify and label the tones of emotion that make up what you feel. This can be difficult for people who are adept at expressing themselves emotionally, forget those of us who haven’t had much practice developing those capacities for recognizing what we feel.
As a result, we will often forget how to express our emotions verbally, even resorting to emojis, LOL’s, etc. my personal go-to’s, ;), to clarify our feelings. These behaviors are not only adopted by our kids but encouraged culturally as the very speed of communications shortcuts vocabulary and expression to anything but the mere essentials.
Why emotional literacy is so important.
Many of us only know or rely on a few emotional descriptive words, such as mad, sad, happy. How often do you use an emotional word in everyday speech? Can you describe your emotions? Many of us haven’t been taught. If our family didn’t discuss emotions on a regular basis, or we were shut down when you tried, we wouldn’t have learned all the ways they can be described and communicated.
Emotional literacy is an important aspect of language. If we can’t name or articulate what’s happening to us emotionally, we can’t address it correctly. Much like when you go to the doctor and you are must describe your symptoms. Without the right descriptions or words, the doctor is unable to accurately diagnose you, and therefore, offer the right prescription or treatment.
Learning to use accurate feeling words when expressing ourselves supports emotional growth. Developing and expanding our emotional vocabulary will help us approach feelings and relationships in a more sophisticated and well-adjusted way.
Here are some words to describe emotions (from Brene Brown):
Photo source: Susan Wheeler (lavender fields in Provence, France)