Our Language around Emotions

Our Language around Emotions - Feeling Magnets


Only recently did I realize how misleading our common language can be. The number of times I have said to myself or to someone else, “I am sad” or “I am angry”… is infinite. It’s a very common statement to make but there is something very wrong with it. It defines me by a momentary emotion that I am feeling. I am not my feeling. My feeling tells me a lot about me, what is important to me and the choices I make, based on my emotions, might say something about me, but I repeat: I am not my feeling.

I was recently in a Penn Resilience Program workshop, where one of the exercises involved identifying how we felt at a specific moment. I overheard the group next to me, where one of the people said “I think I felt angry, but I’m not an angry person, so that can’t be it.”

I couldn’t hold back and so I leaned over to say, “Sorry, I couldn’t help but overhearing what you just said. It’s not about being an angry person if you feel anger, it’s just that in this moment you might have felt angry. Having a feeling doesn’t define who you are as a person. There is a big difference between saying “I am angry” and “I feel angry”.”

She looked at me a bit puzzled but intrigued and we both went back to focusing on our own groups. She later came up to me and told me that what I had said really made her think. She had never thought of it that way and she wanted to know more…

Dr. Dan Siegel, who researches interpersonal neurobiology at his Mindsight Institute, defines the difference between saying “I am sad” and “I feel sad” as Mindsight. Saying “I feel sad” suggests the ability to recognise and acknowledge a feeling, without being consumed by it.”

Simply put, if we say “I feel…” we are  indirectly acknowledging that the feeling is momentary. Saying “I am…” makes the statement much more definite and long term.

Give it a try...

Let’s consciously make a choice not to let our emotions take us over or define us. If there is just a slight chance that saying “I am angry” when we feel angry might have an unconscious and unwanted effect on us, it’s worth changing the words to “I feel angry”.

Observe yourself, how you speak about yourself and about others. It matters. When it’s a feeling, make a conscious choice to use the word “I feel…” or “he feels…” instead of “I am…” or “He is…”. Don’t let yourself or anyone else be defined by a feeling in a specific moment. It only does harm.

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Siegel, D. (2014). DrDanSiegel.com website. Retrieved 05:40, Dec 8, 2014, from http://www.drdansiegel.com/about/mindsight/

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