Identifying Our Emotions

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I’ve been feeling a bit down and having a hard time getting started on the things I want to accomplish. I had some vague ideas about what might be wrong, but kept trying to ignore how I was feeling. I’m supposedly excited about the things I’m working on—but the more I try to convince myself I feel good and ready to go, the harder it seems to get started.

The funny thing is, I’ve been trying to write to you about healthier ways to deal with our uncomfortable emotions. Clearly, the words I’m writing are words I still need to hear.

Finally, instead of trying to ignore what I was feeling, I sat quietly with my journal and let myself feel whatever was really there. As I sat with those feelings, I started to be able to name specific emotions—frustration, embarrassment, disappointment, discouragement, anxiety.

Although they’re not fun to feel, those emotions aren’t just there to make me miserable. Instead they’re really pointing to something that needs my attention. The clearer I got on what I was really feeling, the more I was able to understand what was behind those feelings.

Some things I want and need were missing. I want to show up here consistently and authentically. I want to connect with you and share things that are valuable to you. I need to believe I’m capable of contributing something meaningful.

So, when I’m having a hard time planning out a schedule of cohesive writing topics or I post something that feels rushed or I’m not sure whether a piece will resonate with you because I haven’t taken the time to get to know you, of course I start feeling uncomfortable.

Engaging with my emotions helped me remember what I really want to create here and uncover the parts that aren’t working. The more I understand what isn’t working for me, the better I can shift my decisions and actions to support my goals.

Taking time to feel also opened up space for more pleasant emotions. Looking at the unmet needs behind my uncomfortable feelings reminded me of what I’m really wanting and reawakened my excitement about what I can create. I can be both disappointed that I’m not where I hoped to be and also excited about the possibilities ahead.

Now all this doesn’t mean that all my uncomfortable feelings are gone because I spent some time working with them. Nope, they’re still there. But I better understand them and what they’re trying to tell me. Instead of overwhelming everything I try to do, they’re a piece of my experience—data to help me in choosing my next steps.

I know that my uncomfortable feelings can seem very large and very vague…and I’m guessing I’m not the only one. It’s overwhelming to try to face something when we don’t even know what we’re dealing with.

In his book, Nonviolent Communication, Marshall B. Rosenberg states:

In expressing our feelings, it helps to use words that refer to specific emotions, rather than words that are vague or general. For example, if we say, “I feel good about that,“ the word good could mean happy, excited, relieved, or a number of other emotions.

So just knowing we feel uncomfortable or even that we feel angry, afraid, or sad isn’t always enough to understand what is going on and make a decision about how we want to respond to those feelings.

It can be difficult, especially for those of us who have a long history of avoiding our emotions, to begin interacting with them in a healthier way. It can be a real challenge to even know what we’re feeling. I’ve found it helpful to practice identifying what I’m feeling as precisely as possible.

The Center for Nonviolent Communication provides a feelings inventory that can help us begin to build a deeper vocabulary of feelings and, in turn, a clearer understanding of which emotions we’re actually experiencing. Those uncomfortable feelings we’ve been talking about are found in the second list—feelings when your needs are not satisfied.

CNVC also provides a needs inventory to give ideas of what unmet needs might be behind those uncomfortable emotions.

Your Turn

Over the next week, I’d invite you to pay attention to your feelings—in the big, dramatic situations and the small, everyday ones—and try to identify them as specifically as possible using the feelings inventory .

Some people like to set specific times to check in with themselves throughout the day. Others prefer to just watch for when emotions are coming up for them. Do whatever works best for you.

Often, especially if we’ve developed a habit of avoiding emotions, this can actually be quite challenging. That’s ok. It gets easier with practice. Even if you have a hard time noticing emotions in the moment, try looking back to identify them later in the day. Practicing in retrospect is still practicing.

I’d love to hear how this exercise goes for you. What have you noticed? Has your emotional vocabulary expanded? How has getting more clear on what you are really feeling impacted your decisions and actions? What are your biggest challenges in dealing with difficult emotions?