Have you ever had the experience of someone asking you what you’re feeling, only to be stumped on what to call the actual emotion? You know it has a certain feeling tone to it, but you can’t place the exact word to match what you’re feeling…
If this has happened to you, you’re not alone! Most of us didn’t grow up with the language of analyzing our emotions — if anything, we were taught to stifle them, gaslight ourselves out of feeling bad, and putting on a happy face!
When I was first learning the art of pausing and noticing what’s going on in real time (aka mindfulness), I would easily get hung up on trying to guess the exact right word for my feelings. Was it Irritation? Sadness? Boredom? Anger? I sometimes couldn’t pin the exact word with my limited emotional vocabulary, and my frustration would grow in the labeling phase of this mindfulness exercise…
Until that is, I learned the simple trick of broadly categorizing a feeling into three slots:
With this trick, I could more quickly identify and connect with my experience, without the hassle of putting a precise label on it. Just this much awareness can offer you the opportunity to realize:
There is no unpleasant feeling that doesn’t deserve to be met with self-compassion.
There is no pleasant feeling that shouldn’t be paused and noticed fully (especially with our built-in negativity bias!)
That neutral moments offer a sense of equanimity, and are most often ignored amidst the other two more intense experiences.
If you’re new to this awareness game of pausing and noticing what’s happening, it might feel easier and kinder to yourself to start here, with these three options. Then, as you get more words to describe your feelings, you can build on the foundation of offering yourself compassion for the unpleasant, enjoying the pleasant, and observing the neutral, one mindful moment at a time…