Do you ever feel confused as to what you are feeling, or feel as if you are drawing a blank? While seemingly unfathomable, this phenomenon is actually common. There are times when emotions are muddled and vague, making them difficult to discern. While perhaps daunting, identifying feelings is a life skill that can be honed through practice.

Let’s explore the reasonings, and ways you can strengthen your ability to name feelings.

Reasons:

1.The feeling has not yet crystallized. Still developing, the feeling may not be identifiable. While you may feel physical manifestations in your body (e.g. accelerated heart rate), you have not yet connected the physical signs to applicable emotions.

2. The feelings are tangled. Sometimes emotions are not clear. They can be entangled in such a way that is confusing and disorienting. Difficult to distinguish between them, you may vacillate between the emotions and experience ambivalence.

3. The feeling cannot be identified in the English language. There are numerous emotions that are not well-represented in the modern English language. To fill in the gaps in the English language of emotions, brand new words have been slowly curated (e.g. John Koenig’s The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows). Here are just a few examples:

  • Sonder- the realization that random passersby are living a life just as complex as yours
  • Dès vu- the awareness that this moment will become a memory
  • Onism- the frustration of being stuck in just one body that inhabits only one place at a time
  • Chrysalism- the tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm
  • Adronitis-the nostalgia for a time you have never known
  • Anemoia-the frustration of knowing how easily you fit into a stereotype
  • Mimeomia- the frustration of knowing how easily you fit into a stereotype
  • Kairosclerosis- the realization that you are happy in the moment and the desire to savor the feeling

4. The feeling has not been experienced before. Sometimes an emotion is just foreign and new. You may not know how to identify it with a specific name simply because you are not familiar with it.

5. The feeling was censored. Maybe you grew up in an environment where certain feelings were “blacklisted” and punishable, such as anger and frustration. Consequently, those feelings are unhealthily stifled into adulthood and expressed through other ways such as substance use, people-pleasing or explosive outbursts. Buried under coping defenses, the repressed feelings are yet to be discovered.

6. The feeling is disengaged. Maybe you experience dissociation. A common defensive mechanism, dissociation allows individuals to cope with overwhelming feelings. During the process, emotional paralysis can occur, rendering you numb and oblivious to feelings.

7. The feeling is a mystery. Not well-known, alexithymia is the inability to identify and describe emotions, and is linked to genetics, traumas, brain injuries, autism and mental disorders. Individuals with alexithymia have difficulties experiencing, identifying and expressing feelings, rendering emotions inconceivable.

How to Identify Your Feelings:

  1. Identify your baseline emotions. Take each emotion you are feeling, record them (e.g. journal) and break them down. Are some of the emotions stronger than others? When did you start experiencing them? Where do you feel them in your body (e.g. headaches)?
  2. Explore the causes of your feelings. Ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” Did something triggering happen? Did someone say or do something? Did something not go according to plan?
  3. Be compassionate with your emotions. In order to be better attuned with yourself, working towards better identifying and clarifying your feelings is key. However, if you judge your own feelings, it is nearly impossible to do so. It is important to validate how you feel, even if it is not rational or reasonable, and avoid imposing self-criticism.
  4. Talk about your feelings with appropriate people. Sometimes it is beneficial to talk about what you are feeling to a friend, family member or co-worker to gain a better grasp of your situation. If you need an objective viewpoint, seeking help from a mental health professional is a great step to take. In a safe, knowledgeable environment with a mental health professional, you may find the guidance and support necessary to better identify and articulate your emotions.

Evidently, there are several reasons why acknowledging and identifying feelings can go haywire. However, there are steps you can take to initiate the process of becoming vulnerable with yourself, making space to explore and giving yourself permission to discover the unknowns.

Staff Blogger: Jennifer Wendell

Jennifer Wendell (she/they) is a recent cum laude graduate from University of Delaware with dual degrees in Human Services- Clinical Concentration and Sociology. She is currently the Website and Communications Associate at The Mental Health Association in Delaware. She is passionate about advocacy, social issues and human rights, especially for the LGBTQ+ community and disability community. In her free time, she likes to be creative, go on adventures and explore nature.

References:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201702/6-reasons-why-you-may-not-know-what-youre-feeling

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326451#what-is-alexithymia