Emotions: Identifying and Expressing Feelings

An emotional vocabulary is key to understanding compassionately

e•mo•tion (dictionary.com)

1. an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive and volitional states of consciousness. 2. any of the feelings of joy, sorrow, fear, hate, love, etc. 3. any strong agitation of the feelings actuated by experiencing love, hate, fear, etc., and usually accompanied by certain physiological changes, as increased heartbeat or respiration, and often overt manifestation, as crying or shaking. 4. an instance of this. 5. something that causes such a reaction: the powerful emotion of a great symphony.


1. the function or the power of perceiving by touch. 2. physical sensation not connected with sight, hearing, taste, or smell. 3. a particular sensation of this kind: a feeling of warmth; a feeling of pain. 4. the general state of consciousness considered independently of particular sensations, thoughts, etc. 5. a consciousness or vague awareness: a feeling of inferiority.

I continue to be surprised by people who, I think would be skilled at expressing feelings, will confuse expressing feelings with expressing thoughts. In my culture (U.S.) saying "I feel like I am living with a rock," is considered expressing a feeling. Using NVC this could be expressed as "When I talk to you and you don't say anything back or make any movements or facial expressions that let me know you heard me, I feel frustrated and think I am living with a rock." I have had counselors and psychotherapists in my classes with Master's degrees and Ph. D.'s who are surprised to learn the NVC method of how to clearly express an emotion. One asked why wasn't I taught this in school?

Why is it important to express an emotion when we use the word feel. The person talking is not aware of what they are doing, however the person on the receiving end will notice it. He or she will notice something is not quite right. If your intention is to create connection then using the word feeling to express a thought it is not an effective strategy. Try this out yourself if you don't believe me. Have someone read aloud the statements below and notice how it feels to you.

Keys to Noticing When Thoughts are Masquerading as Emotions

1. Feel followed by use of words such as like, that, as if:

Note: Observations are included in the clear responses to create a reference for the feelings.



  1. I feel like he did it on purpose.
  2. I feel that you don't like me.
  3. I feel as if you aren't even here.
  1. I feel hurt, because I am thinking he did it on purpose.
  2. I feel sad, because I think you don't like me.
  3. I feel lonely, because it seems like you are not even here.

2. Feel followed by the use of pronouns I, you, they, it, she, he or names or nouns referring to people.



  1. I feel she is lying.
  2. I feel my professor is playing favorites.
  3. I feel you don't understand me.
  1. When she says she didn't do it, I feel suspicious.
  2. When I saw the grades, I was upset because I thought the professor was playing favorites.
  3. When you look at me like that, I feel impatient and I am guessing you are not getting what I am saying..

3. The word feel used to express an opinion or guess at what someone is thinking.



  1. I feel he'll never finish his project.
  2. I feel inadequate as a parent.
  3. I feel rejected
  1. He told me what he had finished so far, I am concerned because I don't think he will finish his project.
  2. When I yell at my kids, I feel disappointment and wonder if I'll ever be a good parent.
  3. When you said no, I felt frustrated because it seemed like you were rejecting my idea just because I am the one who suggested it.
Disconnecting Expressions of Alleged Emotions Emotions Expressed Clearly
I feel I should be more organized
I feel that you are not listening.
I feel intimidated
I feel you should do the dishes like you promised.
I feel like you seldom pick up after yourself.

This is from the Peace Pilgrim and is her take on emotions:
One final comment about negative feelings, which helped me very much at one time and has helped others. No outward thing— nothing, nobody from without— can hurt me inside, psychologically. I recognized that I could only be hurt psychologically by my own wrong actions, which I have control over; by my own wrong reactions (they are tricky, but I have control over them too); or by my own inaction in some situations, like the present world situation, that need action from me. When I recognized all this how free I felt! And I just stopped hurting myself. Now someone could do the meanest thing to me and I would feel deep compassion for this out-of-harmony person, this sick person, who is capable of doing mean things. I certainly would not hurt myself by a wrong reaction of bitterness or anger. You have complete control over whether you will be psychologically hurt or not, and anytime you want to, you can stop hurting yourself.
(Copied in accordance with the publisher's instructions.)

Where to go from here? Test your ability to recognize clear expressions of emotions with the emotions challenge. After emotions, the next component is Needs.

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