Most of us don’t have a great literacy of feeling words that we commonly use, so using a list of feeling words can be extremely helpful in capturing the nuance of what we’re feeling. Finding just the right feeling word(s) can help calm us down (research here), as does being able to find them in the body, and focusing on the sensations rather than the story we’re telling ourselves about what happened, which only amplifies the feelings.

Sarah Peyton teaches about “message delivered” – she explains that our body’s job is to tell our minds what’s going on for us … and when we ignore our feelings, our bodies can’t relax, having not been able to complete their job. I notice the increased sense of ease in my body when I find the right feelings words.

We also tend to have a lot of different feelings at once, and noticing all of them can help give us a more complete picture of what’s going on in us.

One of the most enlightening things I’ve learned about feelings is that they come from whether or not our needs are met*. Our feelings are like the dashboard lights in a car, telling us what’s going on with the engine (the needs). I used to try to bash out the dashboard lights with a bloody great hammer (my mind); now, instead, I attend to my needs, and the painful feelings go away on their own.

We also tend to confuse feelings and thoughts – many words we use as feelings are actually thoughts about what other people are doing to us. For example, “abandoned” is a thought that someone is abandoning me. There’s feelings underneath that, of course, such as sadness, fear, anger etc, and it’s much more useful to find those feeling words, rather than the thought “I’m being abandoned”, which tends to generate a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness, because I can’t change another’s behaviour, therefore I’m stuck. But sadness, fear and anger, I can do something about. Many such words ends in “-ed”, such as attacked, rejected, bullied etc. I find it helps a LOT if I look deeper and find what I’m actually feeling underneath those thoughts.

*I have a theory that there are two kinds of feelings. We have an initial feeling, which is our response to a need being met or not met. And then we start telling ourselves a story about what happened (eg “He was manipulating me!”, “She was being SO rude!”) which generates a whole heap more feelings, such as self-righteousness, hopelessness or anxiety, and these “thought feelings” are much less productive to work with. What I’ve found in my own experience is that if I can capture that initial feeling, I can get to a sense of peace and clarity much more easily. For myself, I find that these “thought feelings” usually come from some kind of past trauma or distress.