Identifying, Translating, and Expressing Difficult Emotions

· January 24, 2019
Most emotions are quite difficult to process. Difficult emotions combine feelings that seem contradictory to each other. However, by identifying and expressing them appropriately, they promote good communication with ourselves and with others.

Difficult emotions are those that don’t present themselves in a pure state. Most emotions are somewhat difficult. For example, feeling hate and love at the same time is more common than you’d think. Another common example is the common combination of compassion and anger or anger with sadness. We sometimes enjoy generalizing our experiences and we catalog them as simply burdensome. However, it’s important to learn to identify the emotions that cause each different emotional state.

Sometimes, we have to work really hard to identify such feelings, translate them into thoughts, and then express them out loud. Each of these steps can be quite complex, but they’re also the way out of an emotional state we don’t want to stay in.

One thing is certain: there aren’t enough words to express difficult emotions. That’s perhaps why poetry exists. Poetry is more than just an artistic manifestation. Those who write it believe it’s a great way to communicate their difficult emotions to the rest of the world. The same goes for the rest of the people who choose to let their emotions out through any other art form.

“Sometimes words are not needed, and the simplicity of expressing yourself through an art form is one of the best ways of communication.”

-Emmanuel Jal-

Two people dealing with difficult emotions.

Difficult emotions and their expressions

The fact that words have no direct translation from one language to another reflects how complicated it is to determine and express difficult emotions. There is no possible way to take their meaning from one language to another, precisely because they’re particularly complex or are associated with a specific social context. Let’s see some examples of this:

  • Freizeitstress: This is a German word that refers to the stress we experience when we carry out certain activities just to kill time.
  • Lítost: This Czech word has to do with the sensation we get when we realize we’re irreparably miserable.
  • Gigil: It’s a Filipino term that means wanting to “squeeze” something because of how cute it is.
  • Sukha: This is an expression in Sanskrit used to define the kind of happiness that doesn’t feel ephemeral. It refers to intense, long-lasting happiness.

On many occasions, there’s no possible way to translate these strange terms from one language to another without extending the text. The same goes for difficult emotions. So far, we haven’t found a way to identify, translate, or express them. This can make us pretty uneasy since being able to address an emotion begins with identifying it.

How to identify difficult emotions

Most of us are used to classifying our emotions into five fundamental groups: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. Our usual feelings correspond to some of those basic emotions. However, there are also times when we want to be precise and can’t because these emotions are too global. Perhaps our fear is squeamish or our anger is cowardly.

What shapes difficult emotions is the fact that they’re a mix of many emotions that, apparently, are very different from one another. In order to identify them, the first thing we have to do is make our thought process more flexible. It’s important to understand that we can’t divide them into categories since they don’t correspond with the “usual” emotions.

We must also stop valuing emotions from an ethical point of view. As a matter of fact, there are no good or bad emotions. Actually, one specific emotion can be great or bad depending on the situation.

What’ll ultimately decide the main characteristic of a certain emotion is the way we manage it and the energy we link to it. In other words, an emotion may precede our actions but never justify them. We need to understand that it’s okay to feel a sad joy. We don’t need to make sure one predominates over the other. This means we should accept our emotions as they are.

Wooden clips representing different emotions.

The importance of defining and expressing emotions

Self-expression makes you feel free. On the contrary, keeping everything bottled up inside makes you stressed and anxious. Likewise, verbally expressing what we feel enriches communication with others, as well as improves the quality of our internal dialogue. It also fosters understanding (both with ourselves and others), empathy, and inner/external peace.

To voice difficult emotions, we must analyze and separate the emotions that originated the global state, as well as the influence of each one.

If we feel a raging joy, then we’re dealing with joy and anger. When it comes to a squeamish and fearful sadness, there are two basic emotions and one specific emotion involved. All of these concepts can be better defined. For example, anger is a synonym for irritation, annoyance, and frustration, among others. It’s important to find the word that best suits what we feel.

Here’s an exercise that helps complete that process of identifying, translating and expressing difficult emotions. Take the following phrase: “I feel… when…” and fill in the blank spaces. Try to apply this phrase to all the emotions you’re feeling. Then, review what you wrote and put it all together. This is an interesting exercise that sometimes results in poetry and that always results in a better understanding of our emotional states.

  • Montañés, M. C. (2005). Psicología de la emoción: el proceso emocional. Universidad de Valencia.