Having Feelings

There’s a phrase that a lot of people use when talking about their feelings. They’ll start their sentences with “I am…” As in:

  • I’m angry.
  • I’m sad.
  • I’m scared.

From a grammar angle, these ways of expressing emotions aren’t any different than saying “I’m hungry” or “I’m ready to leave the party.” But when you look at it from the perspective of how people process feelings, there’s a big difference.

If I say to you “I’m angry,” it’s easy for me to equate my anger with my entire self. I can forget that although the emotion is intense and is taking up most or all of my attention, it’s not actually everything there is about me. Even if the feeling is incredibly powerful and consuming, it isn’t the only thing I’m experiencing in that moment. I might also feel tired, sad, sleepy, excited, pain, or distracted. But if I say “I’m angry,” I can easily forget that.

While this might seem like linguistic nit-picking, I find that it has some pretty significant implications for how people navigate strong emotions. Big feelings often seem like they are all that there is. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget that emotions rise and fall. When things get intense, it’s easy to focus on the most intense feeling to the exclusion of anything else that you’re experiencing. That’s especially likely during emotionally flooding.

When that happens, you might buy into the story that you’ve created about what’s going on. This seems to be especially true for “negative” emotions like sadness, anger, fear, or shame. It doesn’t seem to happen quite as easily with excitement or joy or happiness, though it can. And when you reinforce your stories about your feelings, when you equate them with your entire identity, they can end up feeling even larger, less manageable, and more threatening to your well-being.

Fortunately, you can make an easy change in how you talk about your emotions that sidesteps all of this. Instead of saying “I am…”, try saying “I’m feeling…”:

  • I’m feeling anger.
  • I’m feeling sadness.
  • I’m feeling fear.

The difference that this makes can be quite profound. The emotion becomes one thing that you’re experiencing, which leaves room for additional emotions to also be present. That creates space for the complexities of your emotional landscape, rather than only focusing on whatever is the loudest part of it.

This shift also makes it easier to remember that while the feelings might seem all-consuming, they don’t have to be. Describing the emotions as something that you feel rather than something that you are can make it easier to remember that you can encompass the feelings, that you can manage them, and that you can move through them. That’s a far more powerful way to approach your emotions because it helps you tap into your emotional intelligence and your ability to self-regulate your feelings, instead of letting then run wild. If you try making this change in how you talk about your emotions, you might find it helpful to describe them as nouns (anger, sadness, fear), rather than as adjectives (angry, sad, scared).

There are some other phrases I’ve heard people, including:

  • I’m noticing a lot of worry coming up for me.
  • I’m having some anger about this.
  • I’m recognizing some grief coming to the surface.

These are some more nuanced ways of saying the same thing, and it can be useful to have some alternative phrases. But if they feel contrived or strange, stick with “I’m feeling…” and see how that goes.

Try it and see if it makes a difference for you. Some people don’t notice it for themselves, but they find that their partners, friends, and family members respond differently to “I’m feeling” than they do to “I am.” So you might need to experiment a bit and figure out how it goes. And some people have told me that they didn’t see any changes at first, but after trying this for a few weeks, it helped them get a better handle on their emotions. As is often the case, you might need some time to get results.

I often find that changing how we talk about our emotions can change how we experience them and how we move through them. While this particular approach doesn’t work for everyone, it has been useful for enough people that you might find that it’s worth experimenting with.

As a somatic sex educator and relationship coach, I want to help you find new tools to create the relationships that support you and make you thrive. I offer in-person sessions in Seattle, as well as coaching over video. Get in touch with me to schedule a free Get Acquainted call. Let’s talk about what’s going on for you and how I can help you make sex easy.