The broader your emotional vocabulary, the easier you will be able to identify what you are feeling and communicate it with nuance. Trust me, there is a lot more to experience than happy, sad, and angry.
You just earned a huge promotion at work. You come home with pleasurable sensations throughout your body and you are excited. Your partner asks how you feel and you say: “happy.” I am quite sure that “happy” does not sum up the experience you are having though that is the only word you have available to describe the ecstatic experience of being credited for the hard work you have been performing. With more vocabulary, you may bring her in a little more.
You know, I feel this ripple of warmth throughout my spine, it feels ecstatic, I feel proud, yet nervous, knowing I am being asked to take on even more responsibility.
3. Respond Rather Than React
Once you cultivate a capacity to feel the sensations of an emotion distinct from the story, and you have increased your vocabulary, you can start to communicate your emotions to others. At first, you may just communicate the sensations that are arising.
Wow, as you question my financial security, I am noticing a huge lump in my throat and tight pain in my belly.
As you generate a greater propensity for awareness (and courage!), the same situation a little more vulnerable may sound like,
Wow when you question my financial security, I feel a lot of shame. Like somehow I should be making more money in order to keep you loving me.
Responding in this way opens another level of communication by bypassing our defensiveness, facilitating empathy in the other, and garnering more authentic and deeper connection.
As you develop your capacity to notice your emotions, feel the sensations, and communicate them, you are granting yourself practical access to a whole world of experience that offer depth to life. Rather than limiting conversation to the weather or sports, the coloring of your internal world can be shared and seen.
By accessing your own emotional world, you can start expanding this curiosity to the inner world of others, taking practical steps to living the meaningful and deep life you always desire and that the world is demanding of you.
Originally appeared in The Good Men Project
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