Emotions 101: Creating a Common Language

Shaun Lotter, MA, LPC

Most people think they know what emotion words are and what they mean.  Say the word “sad” and instantly each of us has a host of definitions, memories, and thoughts which define what the word means.  It is precisely this phenomenon which is the issue.  The definitions of emotion words are not held constant, and, as such, can be very subjective.  Think about your chosen profession.  One of the first things you needed to do was understand accurately the language of the profession.  This meant moving beyond a common knowledge of terms being used and growing into a professional/expert understanding.  We apply the same principle here.  Good communication between you and others doesn’t just happen, it takes work, and one of the first steps is the establishment of a common emotional language.          

Click Here for CORE FEELING HANDOUT (1)

Group 1ANGRY & GLAD:  The easiest to allow others to see, at least at a surface level.

ANGRY:  Anger is a surface emotion.  Using the example of a tree, anger composes the trunk and branches, the parts readily visible to others.  As in the caseTree_roots_cross_section of a tree, there are extensive roots which are not able to be seen, deep underground.  Anger always has roots, and these roots are comprised of a combination of the other emotions.  Anger itself is not sin, but how it is expressed can be.  By its very nature, the experience of anger can provide you with false sense of power and mastery.  It may be one of the only ways you feel you are taking control of your life,  As a result, you may no longer have to experience fear or other difficult emotions.  You may make a kind of agreement with anger in these cases, “If anger will allow me the illusion of safety, mastery, and control, I will rely on it.”

Other Words for Angry:  irritated, uptight, impatient, upset, agitated, offended, cross, disgusted, disagreeable, annoyed, critical, displeased, bothered, enraged, aggressive, indifferent, hateful, furious, hostile.

GLAD:  Sharing this emotion can often be pleasant.  It is the one on this list, you might, at first glance, say is the only “good” one.  Emotions simply exist, the notions of “bad & good” are irrelevant.  Others knowing about your gladness is generally not very threatening, and in many cases, the risk of vulnerability is minimal.

Other Words for Glad: secure, content, appreciated, relieved, alive, excited, loving, compassionate, joyful, calm, peaceful, committed, understood, satisfied, confident, patient, healthy, strong, determined, respected, important, whole, worthy, valued.

Group 2SHAME & GUILT:  Difficult to experience and often forced by circumstances, such as being caught in the wrong.  The depth and intensity of these Shame & Guiltemotions can often lead to two faulty conclusions:

1- Emotions are very painful and I don’t want to feel them again. 

2- Shame and Guilt were so deeply intense/consuming, they are my deepest emotions (I have gotten to the very core of who I am).  However, Group 3 emotions go deeper.

SHAME:  It is a condition of finding the motives of your heart as corrupt.  Shame is a deep recognition of your deficits in both character and motivations directing behavior.  It feeds your need to hide, regardless of the costs.  You will typically avoid having to feel shame, but when it is finally experienced, it can be nearly intolerable.  Since shame is difficult,  you may resist openness with other emotions.

Other Words for Shame:  worthless, abandoned, ugly, inferior, ashamed, helpless, humiliated, detested, weak, bad, ignored, unloved, failure, inadequate, rejected, ungifted, degraded.

GUILT:  If shame is admitting your motives are sinful, guilt can be understood as the emotion which occurs when those motives reach fruition via your behavior.  While shame ultimately deals with the condition of your heart, guilt is the acknowledgement of how this condition has manifested tangibly in your actions in relationships with others.  It pushes  you to acknowledge your destructive impact on both yourself and others.

Other Words for Guilt: embarrassed, tormented, humiliated, regretful, alienated, disgraced, despised, stupid, worthless, bad.

Group 3FEAR, HURT, SAD & LONELY:  The deepest and most difficult to acknowledge.  Intimacy can be achieved when these are allowed to surface. 

FEAR:  The other 4-letter “f” word.  Its been said that men don’t get afraid, they get concerned.  You might chuckle at this, but when is the last time you spoke with someone about your fears?  This is a direct question, making a bold assumption- that you have fear.  As men, we experience fear, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.  In some cases, it has been such a long time, maybe since you were a young boy, you don’t even know how to recognize it anymore.

Other Words for Fear:  terrified, shocked, frantic, desperate, anxious, unsafe, concerned, apprehensive, vulnerable, tense, suspicious, uneasy, pressured.

HURT:  To experience hurt, requires that you have been vulnerable, in some way, to harm.  Often, hurt is equated with having been weak at some point in life.  You may see being weak as a mistake which you cannotHurt be allow to happen again.  You may even have disdain for the the part of yourself which was vulnerable to harm.  However, hurt is experienced, not by those watching life from the sideline, but the brave who take the field.  Courageous play necessitates the risk of harm.  You were not hurt because you were weak, you were hurt because you had the courage to take the field.

Other Words for Hurt: defeated, victimized, fragile, wounded, destroyed, hopeless, rejected, crushed, miserable, sick, torn up.

SAD:  If you choose to live courageously, you will experience sadness.  Sadness is a healthy response to many situations but has a requirement.  For you to experience sadness, you must have cared.  If you experience great sadness, you cared deeply.  The man who is aloof or detached, appearing not to care, may not be a pillar of strength. Instead, he is risk averse.  This man skillfully hides within plain sight.  Great men know what it is to be sad because they have the courage to care.

Other Words for Sad:  depressed, trapped, exhausted, hopeless, helpless, overwhelmed, miserable, remorseful, misunderstood, upset, crushed.

SadLONELY:  You were created with the need for relationship, first with God, then with others.  At the suggestion  they are “needy”, most men wince.  It is a word equated with weakness.  You may be much more comfortable in the role of provider than you are in the role of recipient.  Women, in general, are more accepting of the reality of needing others.  If you attempt to live apart from accepting your relational needs, you will feel deep loneliness.  Answer a few simple questions: Who do you share the content of your heart with?  Who knows you intimately?  When do you rely on others, apart from  times of crisis, during which you have little choice?  There should be ready answers for these questions.  First, a substantial relationship with God, via the forgiveness provided by Jesus Christ death on the cross, must be present.  Second, the relationship with your spouse should be deep and meaningful.  They should have access to your heart.  Third, other men who choose to serve and honor God need to be part of your inner circle.  Without such relationships, you cannot get your needs met.

Other Words for Lonely: alone, not chosen, empty, abandoned, despised, friendless, alienated, isolated.

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