8 mins

How to express your feelings in words – a guide

We’ve all been there – moments when words fail to fully capture what we’re feeling, when the emotions bubbling inside us seem too complex or overwhelming to articulate. 

Whether it’s the hesitation before sharing our feelings with a loved one, the struggle to express why we’re upset or more simply an overriding fear of vulnerability, the challenge of putting our emotions into words is a universal experience. 

But why is it so hard, and more importantly, how can we get better at it? Here we’ll explore the complexities behind sharing our feelings, its advantages, and provide tips for improving our emotional communication.

Difficulty expressing emotions verbally – why does it happen?

Difficulties expressing our emotions verbally often stems from something called the emotional deprivation schema. This concept refers to the possibility that during our childhood, our emotional needs were not adequately met. If the adults in our lives didn’t really tune into how we felt – maybe they didn’t notice, acknowledge, or properly respond to our emotions – it can make it hard for us to express those feelings now that we’re older.

Take a moment to reflect on your childhood. How did your parents or caregivers respond when you were upset or angry? Were you encouraged to talk about and explore those emotions, or were you told to brush them aside? If your emotions were met with a cold shoulder, misunderstanding, or even negative reactions, you might have started to keep your feelings to yourself, seeing them as something to be concealed or ashamed of.

This pattern from our younger years can stick with us, making it hard to share how we’re feeling as adults. We might end up thinking our emotions aren’t important or valid, and we can fall into the habit of keeping them bottled up. 

To move past this, it’s important to realise that the way we struggle with sharing our emotions isn’t about them being “too much” or wrong; it’s about how we learned to cope with our surroundings. Recognising that the emotional deprivation schema has played a role in our lives allows us to question and change these deep-seated habits, paving the way for more open and healthy emotional communication.

Why do we have emotions? 

Understanding the purpose of our emotions can help us get better at expressing them. Emotions serve three primary functions:

Information – emotions act as indicators. They tell us how we’re reacting to what’s going on around us or what’s running through our minds. Feeling anxious? That might be your brain hinting at a possible danger. Feeling angry? It could be a sign that something’s not sitting right with your values. But remember, our emotions are based on how we see things, which isn’t always the whole picture. Understanding that our emotions are responses to our individual perceptions can empower us to question and explore them further, developing deeper self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Communication – emotions convey messages to ourselves and others. Jealousy can point us towards what we want from life, and sadness can let people know that we need support. This communicative aspect of emotions is important. For example, when you’re frowning or crying, it’s a clear sign to others that you’re not OK, which can make them more likely to offer a shoulder to lean. Recognising these signals not only helps us understand our own needs but also strengthens our connections with those around us by fostering empathy and mutual support.

Motivation – our emotions aren’t just feelings; they’re also a big part of what drives us to act, like an inner survival toolkit. Take anger, for example. When someone hurts you, that fiery feeling can push you to sort things out or stand up for yourself. This motivation from our emotions can lead us to make changes, speak out, or take steps that not only resolve the issue at hand but also help us grow stronger and more resilient in the process.

So, why do we have emotions? They’re not just random feelings – they’re essential tools for navigating life. They guide us, connect us, and drive us to take action. By understanding and harnessing our emotions, we can improve how we express ourselves, deepen our relationships, and ultimately, live more fulfilling lives.

Benefits of expressing emotions 

Getting in touch with your emotions and actually expressing them can be a game-changer in how you navigate life’s ups and downs. Here are some of the benefits:

It’s like an emotional spring cleaning

Think of your emotions as clutter accumulating in your mind. If you don’t sort through them and decide which to keep, toss, or give away, you’re going to end up on an episode of “Emotional Hoarders.” Talking about your feelings helps you process, understand, and then move past them. 

Relationships get a level-up

Ever noticed how friendships and romantic relationships seem to deepen when you share more of your inner world? That’s because expressing emotions tears down walls and builds bridges. It’s like saying, “I trust you enough to show you my authentic self.” And more often than not, the other person will meet you halfway. This mutual vulnerability fosters a stronger, more authentic connection.

No more emotional “time bombs”

We’ve all been there: bottling up emotions until one day, they all come spilling out at once. You explode over something minor, like someone forgetting to replace the toilet paper roll. By expressing your feelings regularly, you defuse these emotional time bombs. It keeps things from building up to a critical mass where they can do damage to your relationships.

Your mental health will thank you

Here’s a not-so-fun fact: bottling up emotions can lead to stress, anxiety, and even depression. On the flip side, being open about your feelings can lighten your mental load and contribute to better overall mental health. 

Improved decision-making

When you’re in tune with your emotions and express them, you’re better equipped to make decisions. Why? Because emotions often signal what matters to us. For example, if you’re feeling uneasy about a job offer, that could be a sign it’s not the right fit for you. Listening to – and expressing – those feelings can guide you to choices that align more closely with your values and goals.

It’s empowering

There’s something incredibly empowering about owning your emotions and expressing them. It’s a way of saying, “This is me, feelings and all.” You’re taking control rather than letting your emotions steer the ship. It’s also a step toward self-acceptance and growth. After all, acknowledging how you feel is the first step in dealing with any emotion effectively.

Expressing your emotions isn’t just about offloading your troubles or having a good cry (though both can be incredibly cathartic). It’s about clearing out the mental clutter, deepening connections, avoiding unnecessary meltdowns, boosting your mental health, making smarter choices, and ultimately, feeling more in control of your life. 

How to express your feelings – steps to take

Expressing emotions in words can be developed with practice and mindfulness. Here are some strategies to help you get better at it:

Start with self-reflection

Spend time identifying what you’re feeling and why. Journalling can be a helpful tool for exploring our emotions in depth. It can help us better observe our experiences, identify and process different feelings, and more generally, build up the part of ourselves that is able to see from the observer’s perspective.

Use “I” Statements

When expressing your emotions, start sentences with “I feel…” This will help you take ownership of your feelings, without casting blame, laying the groundwork for genuine, open communication.

Expand your emotional vocabulary

The richer your emotional vocabulary, the more precisely you’ll be able to capture and convey your feelings. Start by reading more – books, poetry, articles – and pay attention to how emotions are described. Keep a diary or a note on your phone where you jot down new emotional words you come across. 

Practise “active listening”

Tuning into how others articulate their feelings isn’t just an act of empathy, it can enrich your own emotional expressiveness too. By truly hearing and understanding the emotional nuances in others’ expressions, you not only offer them validation but also gather insights to refine your own way of expressing feelings.

Start therapy

Diving into the world of emotional expression can sometimes be smoother with a therapist by your side. A therapist can offer tailored strategies for not only expressing your emotions more effectively but also for delving into their origins and understanding their impact on your life.

Embrace these practices and you’re not just learning to share your emotions – you’re unlocking a journey to emotional freedom. Along the way, you’ll find yourself building deeper connections, a direct result of your newfound openness… But more than anything, it’s about stepping into your power, and living boldly and truly.

Dr Elena Touroni

Dr Elena Touroni

8 February 2024

"Dr. Elena Touroni is a skilled and experienced Consultant Psychologist with a track record of delivering high-quality services for individuals with all common emotional difficulties and those with a diagnosis of personality disorder. She is experienced in service design and delivery, the management of multi-disciplinary teams, organisational consultancy, and development and delivery of both national and bespoke training to providers in the statutory and non-statutory sector."

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Athena Lazaridou

Athena is a Pilates instructor with 8 years’ experience in the field. After completing a Power Pilates Mat Certification in Athens, she went on to complete the Full Comprehensive Classical Pilates Certification with Equinox in Kensington.  She has been teaching Pilates at Equinox for the past 6 years in addition to her own private clients who she trains both face to face and virtually.

Athena has a passion for helping people get stronger and fitter as well as helping those recovering from injury regain their strength and mobility.  Over the years, she has worked with athletes to incorporate Pilates into their training and improve performance. Athena has also worked with prenatal and postnatal women who may be experiencing depression or other mental health difficulties and used Pilates to facilitate a positive impact on their mental health.

Athena is very passionate about improving physical and mental well-being and has recently incorporated Sound Healing into her work, as she believes it to be one of the best ways of ‘letting go’ and releasing stale energy whilst increasing greater self-awareness.