Increase Your Vocabulary, Expand Your Emotional Reach

How rich is your emotional vocabulary?

The BBC recently posted an article exploring the work of Tim Lomas, a British researcher, whose premise is that our emotional experience is limited by the vocabulary we have available to identify and name our emotional experience. 

The article cites examples of words from other languages that not only say what we cannot say in English, but also, because we do not use the word, we cannot feel the experience. 

  • Desbundar (Portuguese) – to shed one’s inhibitions in having fun
  • Tarab (Arabic) – a musically induced state of ecstasy or enchantment
  • Shinrin-yoku (Japanese) – the relaxation gained from bathing in the forest, figuratively or literally
  • Gigil (Tagalog) – the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished
  • Yuan bei (Chinese) – a sense of complete and perfect accomplishment
  • Iktsuarpok (Inuit) – the anticipation one feels when waiting for someone, whereby one keeps going outside to check if they have arrived

If you limit your emotional language to “feel good” and “feel bad”, you may be missing out on the wonderful breadth of human experience. It may limit your capacity for healthy intimacy as well.

The journey to healthy intimacy includes a couple’s ability to listen deeply to one’s partner’s emotional experience. “I hear you”, is a necessary step toward the the ability to say, “I feel you”. Couples who enrich their capacity for empathy provide the genuine support for each other every person craves.

But what happens in a relationship when one partner (or both) have a very limited emotional vocabulary? The journey toward healthy intimacy may be undermined before it even begins.

Sexual addiction strips a person of his emotional vocabulary. Some (if not many) enter adulthood already compromised in their ability to experience the broad spectrum of emotional that others feel. This may be due early childhood trauma that has prevented the development of emotional vocabulary in the first place. 

When one grows up in an environment where it is not safe to speak to express one’s feelings openly, one may never learn to express one’s feelings at all. 

To enrich your own emotional experience, (and to share that experience with others), you do not have to learn a foreign language. Start by enriching your personal emotional vocabulary using good old English. Practice using new and perhaps unfamiliar words to convey what you feel. 

You may discover a range of emotion you never noticed before. This list from the University of Wisconsin will get you started!

Joyful Tenderness Helpless Defeated Rageful
Cheerful Sympathy Powerless Bored Outraged
Content Adoration Dreading Rejected Hostile
Proud Fondness Distrusting Disillusioned Bitter
Satisfied Receptive Suspicious Inferior Hateful
Excited Interested Cautious Confused Scornful
Amused Delighted Disturbed Grief-stricken Spiteful
Elated Shocked Overwhelmed Helpless Vengeful
Enthusiastic Exhilarated Uncomfortable Isolated Disliked
Optimistic Dismayed Guilty Numb Resentful
Elated Amazed Hurt Regretful Trusting
Delighted Confused Lonely Ambivalent Alienated
Calm Stunned Melancholy Exhausted Bitter
Relaxed Interested Depressed Insecure Insulted
Relieved Intrigued Hopeless Disgusted Indifferent
Hopeful Absorbed Sad Pity
Pleased Curious Guilty Revulsion
Confident Anticipating Hurt Contempt
Brave Eager Lonely Weary
Comfortable Hesitant Regretful Bored
Safe Fearful Depressed Preoccupied
Happy Anxious Hopeless Angry
Love Worried Sorrow Jealous
Lust Scared Uncertain Envious
Aroused Insecure Anguished Annoyed
Tender Rejected Disappointed Humiliated
Compassionate Horrified Self conscious Irritated
Caring Alarmed Shamed Aggravated
Infatuated Shocked Embarrassed Restless
Concern Panicked Humiliated Grumpy
Trust Afraid Disgraced Awkward
Liking Nervous Uncomfortable Exasperated
Attraction Disoriented Neglected Frustrated

Image by Ivan Frolov