Use Your (Feeling) Words
Updated: May 17
I love it when I hear the phrase, ‘Use your words.’ It brings me back to the sweetness of parenting my boys when they were first learning to verbally express their needs. They would point to the items they wanted and use sounds like ‘ehh, ehh’ to convey a request (‘Hand me my cup.’ ‘I want another cookie.’) As I cued them to ‘use their words,’ they would practice saying ‘cup,’ or ‘cook’ to achieve their goal. Before long, their expanding vocabulary allowed them to get needs met, not just when in the care of mom, but with other care providers as well.
As we grow, we need to access increasingly complex understandings and matching vocabulary to communicate the goings on of our internal worlds to our friends and family members.
A part of our unfolding world is learning to make sense of the waves of sensory and emotional energy that flow through us. When we are young the powerful sensory and emotional experiences can overtake us, and we need the adults in our lives to help us move through intense internal states back to a place of safe and sound. They can do this by lending us their calm, and by giving us vocabulary and tools to express what we are experiencing with words.
A little at a time we learn to identify and name our feelings. We learn to understand what our feelings are telling us about what is happening inside and around us. We gradually come to recognize that feelings help us know how we are and what we need.
Today’s World vs. ‘When I was growing up.’
In today’s world, we have increased awareness of the importance of giving children pathways for understanding their internal worlds, regulating their body energy, and expressing their feeling experiences. Parents, childcare centers, schools, doctors, and therapists are often on top of teaching and equipping children with knowledge and activities to build these skills.
The further we go back in time, the fewer these resources were integrated into the world of young children. We used to focus more on building positive behaviors. Behaviors tended to be labeled as good or bad, and children as well-behaved or misbehaving.
We missed what is much better understood today- that behaviors merely reflect a need within a child. When we help a child learn to get their needs met in healthy ways, the problem behaviors dissolve.
Because the focus of previous generations was on behavior, many of us entered adulthood trying to manage our behaviors rather than understand the inner workings of our sensory, feeling, and cognitive experiences. We did not learn how to read ourselves well.
Many of us struggle in our adult lives with knowing how to read and respond to the internal states that move through our mind-body experiences. We do not always know how to name or use our feeling words, much less share this part of our experience with the people closest to us.
As a result, we may struggle with finding pathways to individual and relational well-being. It is difficult to build comfort with ourselves, or closeness with others if we are unaware of our internal experiences, and unable to share them.
Although it sounds a bit silly and overly simplistic at first, we all benefit from starting with small steps of understanding our self in these ways.
If you tend to ‘blow yourself off’ by telling yourself ‘You don’t need to make a big deal out of this,’ ‘Suck it up,’ ‘You’ll be fine,’ or ‘Just move on,’ you will benefit from beginning to slow down and check-in with yourself. Perhaps you are worried about the expression of your feelings resulting in a behavior that was at one time not welcomed.
Remember, “Beneath every behavior there is a feeling. And beneath each feeling is a need. And when we meet that need rather than focus on the behavior, we begin to deal with the cause, not the symptom” (@RaisingHumansKind).
Building and Using Your Feeling Words
We need to notice our self throughout our day, and ask how am I feeling?
Below are lists of sensory and feeling experiences that may help you start noticing yourself in a new way.
If you have a partner, it may help to begin sharing about your day in terms of your internal sensory/ feeling experiences. You may want to consider how you can respond to your own or your partner’s experiences.
*Most often a little compassion and acceptance, whether toward our self or our partner, will go a long ways. 😊