How to Improve Your Emotional Vocabulary

Words shape our reality. For this reason, those who don't have a rich emotional vocabulary often experience difficulties in understanding and being understood by others. We tell you how you can improve in this dimension.
How to Improve Your Emotional Vocabulary

Last update: 03 September, 2021

Your emotions accompany you every second of your life and condition your behavior. You take them into account whenever you make decisions, behave in one way or another, and interact with others. In fact, given their considerable influence, it’s always recommended that they’re identified and understood early so they can be managed. Nevertheless, this kind of learning doesn’t always take place. Therefore, we want to remind you of some aspects of emotional vocabulary that every adult should know.

Emotional vocabulary refers to the range of terms, concepts, and meanings that you use when referring to your internal states. As a matter of fact, the broader, richer, and more varied this is, the easier it will be to specify what you feel, understand, and transmit to others.

The importance of emotional vocabulary

Ideally, you should develop this kind of vocabulary in childhood. Then, as you grow, it becomes richer. In this respect, some studies have found that children who are helped to develop their emotional vocabulary display less challenging behaviors and experience better relationships with their peers.

However, emotional education hasn’t always been given as much importance as it is today. Therefore, if you’ve reached adulthood and feel that you’re lacking in this regard, in this article, we show you some basic steps you can take to improve matters.

1. Have a large emotional vocabulary

What do you answer when someone asks you how you are? Surely, like many of us, you limit yourself to answering that you’re either okay or not so okay. As a matter of fact, a study suggests that, in the school environment, people use less than ten percent of the emotional vocabulary actually available to them.

This might be appropriate when a question’s asked out of courtesy. However, in those circumstances when you need the other to understand what you feel, two or three words simply don’t provide enough information. In addition, it’s likely that you’ll also end up thinking back to what you said and not really understanding why you said it.

Expanding your emotional vocabulary consists of getting used to using different terms that allow you to express your emotional state in a more concrete and precise way. For example, instead of “okay” you can be happy, excited, hopeful, calm, relieved… And, instead of “bad”, you can be sad, worried, frustrated, angry or overwhelmed. As you can see, these nuances allow you a much deeper understanding.

Girlfriends talking while having coffee

2. Speak from your own perspective

However, it’s not only about possessing a vocabulary wide enough to be able to name and identify your emotions. In fact, it’s also important to know how to express them in an appropriate way. To do this, you need to speak about what you feel, and not about what someone else has done to you. This simple technique forms a part of assertive communication and allows you to avoid various conflicts.

For example, if, instead of saying, “you’re cruel and selfish”, you say “I feel really hurt by what’s happened” it’s more likely that the other person will be willing to talk to you and understand. If you focus on transmitting your feelings, instead of reproaching the behavior of others, it becomes easier to reach a decision and make changes.

3. Know how to differentiate your emotions

Even people with higher emotional intelligence can confuse their moods. Furthermore, it’s not always easy to differentiate between anger and sadness, anger and frustration, or anger and disappointment. In fact, the manifestations of these emotions often overlap. For this reason, you need to be able to reflect in order to identify the true origin of your discomfort.

Today’s world isn’t conducive to working on your interior. You’re always busy and distracted. Furthermore, perhaps you can’t really be bothered to look inside yourself, or it might even scare you. However, you should get into the habit of listening to yourself and reflecting whenever you feel bad. You could try starting a therapeutic writing journal. In this way, you’ll be in a position to make your emotions your allies and not your owners.

4. Maintain consistency in speech

Managing your emotions isn’t easy. However, it’s essential that you do this in order to reconcile your inner discourse with the kind you use when talking to others. To elaborate on your emotional vocabulary, ask yourself the following:

  • What’s happened that’s awakened a certain emotion in me?
  • How do I feel? Be as precise and specific as you can. Make use of your emotional vocabulary.
  • What do I need to do? Don’t rush. Try to identify your needs. Maybe, at this moment, you don’t want to talk. Maybe you want to spend some time alone to calm down. Or, you might require changes in someone else’s behavior. In any case, get used to expressing your needs and making requests assertively. It’s so much more productive to postpone a conversation or ask for a change than to yell, scold, and lose control.

If you maintain this coherence in your speech, it’ll become much easier for you to understand yourself, be compassionate with yourself, and give yourself what you need. In the same way, you’ll find yourself in a better position to make yourself understood, negotiate and reach agreements.

Woman with closed eyes near a window

Emotional vocabulary expands reality

Undoubtedly, you think in words, and, if you don’t have a term for something, it tends to not exist for you. Therefore, expanding your emotional vocabulary allows you to accommodate a far more complex and profound internal reality.

A lack of emotional vocabulary is a common problem. However, now you know what to do to take action. In fact, as soon as you start working with your emotional vocabulary, you’ll notice a huge difference in your life.

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  • Joseph, G. E., & Strain, P. S. (2003). Enhancing emotional vocabulary in young children. Young Exceptional Children6(4), 18-26.
  • Alzina, R. B., & Guiu, G. F. (2018). Análisis del vocabulario emocional en el profesorado. Revista electrónica interuniversitaria de formación del profesorado21(1), 161-172.