Sometimes when people are asked to describe how they are feeling, they are unsure of what the right words might be to describe their emotions. After all, many of us have not been brought up with a wide vocabulary around emotions and feelings, so it is new and can be a bit scary. It can even put some people off the whole idea of counselling. So I have come up with some ways that can make it easier.
Often I encourage clients to start with saying ‘it’s a bit like….’ Then they might realise that the word they started with is not quite right and can then find a way to correct it to be more in line with how it actually feels.
Describing emotions with non-words
Starting with a word that’s not a word can be useful too. My personal favourite is ‘ooof’ (not sure how many ‘o’s’ it has – that doesn’t matter).
Or things like ‘I feel all ggrrrrr, y’know?’. And often, yes, I do get a sense of what you mean from that. I might ask you more questions for example – is that a ‘ggrrrrr’ like you feel furious? or a ‘ggrrrrr’ like that’s just typical and you’re a bit irritated? Or I might ask simply, what kind of ‘ggrrrrr is that? And just like that, we’re starting to talk about it.
You don’t need a huge emotional vocabulary to come to counselling.
If you like words, I’ve got an emotions wheel that we can look at together by sharing the screen on Zoom, or looking at together in the room. In the centre are the main emotions – fear, anger, disgust, sad, happy, surprise. So we can start by seeing if you can identify which one of those it’s most like. Then going out from there are a further selection of words. For example for sad, the additional words are guilty, abandoned, despair, depressed, lonely, bored. Then if one of these is getting closer to it, let’s take lonely as an example, there are then two further options – is it more like a feeling of being abandoned or a feeling of being isolated? And suddenly, we’re getting somewhere.
Checking in with colours
Another way to check in with how you are feeling is to use colours or the names of colours from paint sample charts. I love these cards in the image, and they’ve got brilliant names, which can really help describe feelings. For parents with children with additional needs ‘waiting game’ might come up if you are waiting for a diagnosis for example, or ‘battle drab’ if you are feeling bogged down with paperwork applying for an EHCP.
Some people find looking at images, such as a selection of postcards can be useful, or drawing their own image to sum up how things are. Sometimes our mood can match the weather, so doing a little doodle can help to shed a bit of light on those feelings too. There is no need to be a good artist to have a go at being creative.
Connecting mind and body
Some clients like to pause at the start of each session and do a little body scan, of:
- how does my body feel?
- what is in my mind?
- what emotions and feelings are coming up?
- how am I feeling spiritually or in connection to the wider world?
- pause to take a few breathes
There are many ways of helping to get the ball rolling if you’re not sure how to put words to your feelings. There is no way of getting it wrong either. So if it’s a whole new world to you, that’s absolutely fine and I can gently guide you.