Feelings and the limits of language

How are you feeling? A simple enough question, sometimes hard to answer. If you pay close attention, you know how you feel, but describing it to someone else seems impossible. The limits of language do not allow it.

Human beings love having words, or labels, for things. If we know what something is called, we think we understand it, but we don’t. Anger, anxiety, resentment, jealousy, and fear are all negative emotions. We intuitively think of them as different, but it is tough to make a case that they feel different physically; tight throat, racing heart, nausea, shakiness, sweating.

The differences we think we perceive are a matter of context, and our minds trying to explain the situation, usually on an interpersonal basis. The same is true for positive emotions. Language doesn’t exist to perfectly capture how we feel in every moment. And this is fine.

We need to separate feelings from words that, when strung together, form our stories about ourselves. Instead, pay attention to your feeling tone; pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. That’s it. Once you know the feeling tone, your subsequent story is cast in a revealing light, helping you examine it; positive, negative, or undecided.

The simple and quick task of separating feelings from stories, and identifying the feeling tone, sets the stage for continued curious introspection, necessary to optimize well-being.

Be well.