Most of us use the word “feel” dozens of times day. We say things like I feel like you don’t respect me or I feel like we should consider Jane’s concerns. In these cases, the word feel is doing an important job: it’s making it clear that we are speaking from our own point of view, rather than trying to make assertions about the world.

What it’s not doing, though, is talking about our emotions: how we are feeling. It’s hard to begrudge this, but it does make things a little complicated when that’s what we really want to do. We are so used to describing our thoughts as feelings that it can be hard to tease the two apart.

Further complicating the question are a few tricky words that sound a lot like emotions but actually are stories: words like ignored and attacked and betrayed. These words may describe our experience of a situation, but they also say what we believe about another person’s actions or motivations. Sneaky, no?

I’ve noticed that when I’m using these words, I’m usually trying to avoid more direct language. I’m choosing them because they are less raw than the words that most accurately describe my emotions: furious, hurt, frustrated, sad.

Tiptoeing around emotions that feel bad or hard is totally understandable. They are hard! And scary! And it is also true that when we see them for what they are and call them by their names, we have power and an opportunity to deal with them in a more direct way than we could if we only handled them through our stories.

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