Emotions are a critical part of our ability to communicate effectively.
Whether it’s telling our loved ones how joyous we feel when they’re around, communicating your distaste with the way a team member is performing or simply being aware of what emotions might be running through your boss’ head when she goes off the rails screaming at someone.
You might be struck by a feeling of displeasure at the prospect of “connecting with how you feel”, let alone expressing it.
For males, it’s often the image of the stern-faced man, showing no emotions. Anger and frustration, though, are acceptable emotions for a man to express.
Even for women, some emotions aren’t encouraged. Does the portrait of a submissive, compliant woman ring home? Often women can be expected to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their children, family or society at large.
Fortunately, society seems to be coming around and shattering these images. Being able to fully-express sorrow does not make you less of a man. If you need some time off to relax and recharge as a woman, this is becoming more and more acceptable (heck, even encouraged!) in marriages and families.
Developing an awareness (and subsequent expression) of our emotions helps us to lead happier lives. We’re more connected to what’s going on inside of us, and we’re able to communicate with others better and grow our relationships.
No more snapping at your partner when something pissed you off at work, but you can’t seem to put your finger on why you’re in a bad mood. Unfortunately, many of us often have a larger vocabulary of words which call people names than words which clearly describe how we’re feeling.
We often feel fear and anxiety by the prospect of expressing ourselves clearly and being vulnerable because we think others will take advantage of us.
I challenge you though, to try expressing yourself openly, without blame, taking responsibility for what you’re feeling.
The results might surprise you.
Saying “Feel” Doesn’t Mean It’s a Feeling
In expressing ourselves clearly, we first have to distinguish between feelings and non-feelings. In the English language, it is common for us to use the word feel without actually expressing a feeling.
When the word feel is followed by certain words, you’re not expressing your feelings.
Words such as that, like, or as if.
- I feel that people shouldn’t behave in that way.
- I feel like a wreck.
- I feel as if there’s a cloud over my head.
Pronouns I, you, he, she, they, or it.
- I feel I am the only one taking things seriously.
- I feel his lack of compassion.
Names or nouns referring to people.
- I feel Darren doesn’t care about the students.
- I feel Amanda wants to be more than she is.
All of these statements involve some sort of moralistic judgement; of either ourselves or others. We aren’t actually stating how we’re feeling, we’re describing how we think others or ourselves are.
It Quacks Like a Feeling, but it Isn’t
Additionally, it is helpful to identify some sneaky words that look like feelings but are actually how we think others are behaving.
For example, to say, “I feel misunderstood” is passing judgement on the other person’s level of understanding rather than what I’m actually feeling. In this case, you might be annoyed, scared, apathetic, or something else.
The problem with using these types of words is that it can easily put the other person on the defensive.
“Oh, no! I wasn’t bullying you! I was merely encouraging you. You’ve got the facts wrong.”
Building a Vocabulary of Feelings
The next challenge is for us to build a more comprehensive vocabulary of our feelings. We want to use words that refer to specific emotions rather than vague or general feelings.
When I started learning this process, I could hardly believe that my extent of positive feeling terminology was “good, great, awesome, excellent” and the like. All of which are basically synonyms of each other.
Our range of emotions is incredibly diverse. Words like happy, elated, jubilant and joyful are all technically synonyms, but capture subtle differences in your experience of reality.
Becoming mindful of them is like eating a piece of cake with absolute attention. You notice the creamy texture of the icing, the subtle hint of cinnamon, the freshness of the ricotta.
Photo is of Congwong Beach in La Perouse.