Faux Feelings

Feelings: emotions or sensations, free of thought and story. These are to be distinguished from thoughts (e.g., “I feel I didn’t get a fair deal”) and from words colloquially used as feelings but which convey what we think we are (e.g., “inadequate”), how we think others are evaluating us (e.g., “unimportant”), or what we think others are doing to us (e.g., “misunderstood”, “ignored”).


In NVC we like to clearly distinguish between feelings and thoughts. Many of the words we use in everyday life that we think are expressing feelings, are actually thought.

For example, if I say I’m feeling “abandoned”, what I’m actually saying is that I’m thinking that someone is abandoning me. There are lots of genuine (and painful!) feelings associated with that thought – maybe anger, sadness, fear, amongst others – but the word “abandoned” isn’t itself a feeling. We call these “faux” feelings – faux is French for “false”, and it also sounds like “foe”, meaning enemy, and that’s exactly what these words give us – enemy images.

They’re thoughts about what other people are doing to us, and usually leave us feeling powerless and afraid. It helps to really unpack what we’re feeling beneath those stories we’re telling ourselves. I’m not saying the stories aren’t true, necessarily – just that we can be more resourced and resilient by focusing on the feeling (which we might be able to do something about) rather than the actions of others (which we have zero control over).

Below is a list of words people tend to use as feelings, and some suggestions of the actual feelings that might be beneath them, as well as the precious needs that might be at play when we’re using such words.

Evaluative WordPrimary Feeling(s)Possible Underlying Need(s)
AbandonedTerrified, hurt, bewildered, sad, frightened, lonelyNurturing, connection, belonging, support, caring
AbusedFrightened, confusedCaring, nurturing, support, emotional or physical well-being, consideration, mattering
(Not) acceptedUpset, scared, lonelyAcceptance! And often underlying that is a need for self-acceptance. Inclusion, connection, community, belonging, contribution, peer respect.
BelittledHurt, tense,distressedRespect, autonomy, visibility, understanding, acknowledgement, appreciation.
BetrayedHurt, scared, disappointedTrust, dependability, honesty, honour, commitment, clarity.
BlamedScared, confused, bewildered, hurtAccountability, causality, fairness, justice.
BulliedScaredAutonomy, choice, safety, consideration
Caged/trappedScared, anxiousAutonomy, choice, freedom
CheatedHurtHonesty, fairness, justice, trust reliability
CoercedFrustrated, frightened, thwarted, scaredChoice, autonomy, freedom. Act freely, choose freely
CorneredScared, anxious, thwarted
Autonomy, freedom
CriticisedIn pain, scared, anxious,frustrated,humiliated,embarrassedUnderstanding, acknowledgement, recognition, respect
Discounted/diminishedHurt, angry, embarrassed,frustratedNeed to matter, acknowledgement,inclusions, recognition, respect
DislikedSad, lonely, hurt, anxiousConnection, appreciation, understanding, acknowledgement, friendship, inclusion
DistrustedSad, frustratedTrust, honesty
Dumped onAngry, overwhelmedRespect, consideration, peace
ExcludedSad, lonely, anxiousInclusion, belonging, community, connection
HarassedAngry, frustrated, frightened,anxiousRespect, space. Consideration, peace
HassledIrritated, distressed, angry,frustratedSerenity, autonomy, do things at my own pace and in my own way, calm, space
IgnoredLonely, scared, hurt, sad, embarrassedConnection, belonging, inclusion, community, participation, communication, to be heard
InsultedEmbarrassed, angryRespect, consideration, Acknowledgement,recognition
InterruptedFrustrated, hurtRespect, consideration, to be heard
IntimidatedAnxious, scaredSafety, equality, empowerment
InvalidatedHurt, frustrated, angryAppreciation, respect, Acknowledgement, recognition
InvisibleSad, lonely, scaredTo be seen and heard, inclusion, belonging, community
Left outSad, lonely, anxiousInclusion, belonging, community, connection
Let downDisappointed, frightened, sadConsistency, trust, support, dependability
ManipulatedScared, powerless, frustrated,thwartedAutonomy, empowerment, trust, equality, freedom, free choice, connection, authenticity
MarginalisedFrustrated, sad, lonely, distressedInclusion, belonging, community, connection
MistrustedSad, disappointedTrust
MisunderstoodFrustrated, upsetTo be heard, understanding, clarity
NeglectedLonely, scared, anxiousConnection, inclusion, participation, community, care, mattering, consideration,
OverpoweredHelpless, confused, anxiousEquality, justice, autonomy, freedom
OverworkedTired, frustrated, exhaustedRespect, consideration, rest, caring
PatronisedFrustrated, annoyed, stressedRecognition, equality, equity, respect, mutuality
PressuredAnxious, overwhelmedRelaxation, clarity, space, consideration
ProvokedFrustrated, angryRespect, consideration
Put downEmbarrassed, sad, annoyedRespect, Acknowledgement, understanding
RejectedHurt, scared, sad, disappointedBelonging, inclusion, closeness, to be seen, acknowledgement, trust
Ripped offDisappointment, angerConsideration, justice, fairness, Acknowledgement, recognition, consideration
SmotheredFrustrated, fear, desperationSpace, freedom, autonomy, authenticity, self expression
Taken for grantedSad, hurt, angry, disappointedAppreciation, Acknowledgement, recognition, consideration
ThreatenedScared, frightened, alarmed,agitated, anxiousSafety, autonomy
TrampledFrustrated, overwhelmedEmpowerment, connection, community, being seen, consideration, equality, equity, respect, acknowledgement
TrickedEmbarrassed, resentfulIntegrity, trust, honesty
UnappreciatedSad, hurt, frustratedAppreciation, respect, acknowledgement, consideration
UnheardSad, frustratedUnderstanding, consideration, empathy
UnlovedBewildered, sad, frustratedLove, appreciation, empathy, connection,community
UnseenSad, anxious, frustratedAcknowledgement, appreciation, visibility, empathy, understanding
UnsupportedSad, hurtSupport, understanding, cooperation
UnwantedSad, anxious, frustratedBelonging, inclusion, caring
UsedSad, angry, resentfulAutonomy, equality, consideration,mutuality
VictimisedFrightened, helplessEmpowerment, mutuality, safety, justice
ViolatedSad, agitated, anxietyPrivacy, safety, trust, space, respect
WrongedHurt, irritated, resentfulRespect, justice, trust, safety, fairness
Faux Feelings

Please note that I didn’t come up with this list – it came from a print out I was given at a workshop, and I believe it originated with Susan Skye – here’s what’s at the top of that printout:

Suggested Feelings & Needs BeneathEvaluative Words Frequently Confused with Emotions (What you think others are doing TO you)

These feelings and needs are suggestions only: this listing is neither complete nor definitive. It is intended as an aid to translating words, which are often confused with feelings. These words imply that someone is doing something to you and generally connote wrongness or blame. To use this list: when somebody says “I’m feeling rejected,” we might empathically translate this as: “Are you feeling scared because you have a need for inclusion?”– Wisconsin International Intensive Training Participants, April 2000. – Edited by Susan Skye