Learning the Language of Feelings
By Mark Linden O’Meara
An excerpt from Let Go and Be Happy – An Indepth Guide to Healing Negative Emotions.
Part of self growth and developing self-knowledge involves learning to express the feelings, ideas and thoughts you are having. To describe how you are feeling is a challenge given the fact that language is imprecise, and at times it is difficult to translate body sensations into words.
While taking some Chinese lessons, I questioned my teacher about the expression of emotion in Chinese. I was told that there are four basic emotions and the rest are combinations of emotion or impressions we have of our self or others.
The four basic emotions are:
- Bei – grief, sorrow, mourning
- Le – joy, cheerfulness, optimism
- Nu – anger, rage, fury, berating
- Xi – value, compassion, happiness, love
Other feelings or states such as jealousy and envy are described as impressions we have as a result of our thoughts and beliefs about other people. Some psychologists suggest that your feelings come from your thoughts. Others believe that emotions come from a deeper experience. If we consider the four basic emotions as soul experience and other emotions as impressions from thoughts and beliefs, then we can reconcile the two theories. Recent research using Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans has shown that our emotional centre reacts much faster than your thinking process.
Does this mean that the “thoughts into emotions” theorists are wrong? Not really! It means that we need a more complex model to describe what is going on.. In order to progress in your growth, regardless of the theory, you need to learn to express and communicate your feelings, both the soul and impression kinds.
In my travels to China I learned how precise the Chinese language is compared to the English language. It seems that many of the Chinese expression characters are actually a combination of words. For example the root word bei, which means sadness, can be combined with other characters to mean sad, sorrowful, melancholy, grieved, painfully sad, mixed feelings of joy and grief, compassion, bitter, miserable, sad and worried, grief over the death of a friend, grief and indignation, pessimistic and gloomy, overcome with grief, sad and choking with sobs.
The same goes for the word for happiness – xi, when combined with other words can mean outright glee, overjoyed, not feeling tired of it, buoyant, cheerful, fun, pleasure and contentment. I found that the Chinese language seemed far more robust that our English language.
There is also an important phrase “le ji sheng bei” which means “when joy reaches its height, sorrow comes in turn, extreme joy begets sorrow.” These words of wisdom echo the familiar phrase what goes up must come down. Other phrases more completely described concepts rather than just feelings. A word describing bitterness referred to “going through years of suffering, to be full of misery but find no place to pour it out.”
Imagine if we could all become more literate and complex in our describing of our feelings. I believe the best improvement in this area would be to try to describe the combination of feelings and the situation or movement that we are experiencing. This would help clarify and give deeper meaning to what you are feeling.
For example instead of saying “I am hurt”, try to go deeper. You could say “I am feeling sad and betrayed because I was let down when a promise was broken.” This is far more precise and communicative than the words “I am hurt.” Learn to be more descriptive! It is difficult to have self-knowledge if you are not in touch with your emotions.
So how do you feel? Take a look inside! Do a self-check; by trying to evaluate which emotions are present and which are not at a given moment. Which emotions have you experienced recently? Which emotions would you like to experience more often? Try combining words to try to express how you are feeling. There is no rule that you can only be feeling one emotion at a time!
Remember too, that sometimes you may have no words to describe how you feel. An emotion may be simply a sensation in your body. Sitting quietly, scan your body for tension. I would ask yourself “What am I feeling at this moment?”
Try to use the concept of using multiple words and describing the situation, expectations and what you hoped for, and what could have been done differently to express yourself!