Red Green Repeat Adventures of a Spec Driven Junkie

Nonviolent Communication - Chapter 4

Identifying and Expressing Feelings

This chapter focuses on the language one can use to express their feelings. Psychoanalyst Rollo May notes that a mature person is able to differentiate their feelings into as many sounds as there are in a symphony.

“How are you feeling?”

In real life, I answer this question with just: “good” 98% of the time. How could anyone differentiate my response? At the same time, when I ask this question and others respond with ‘good’, I use this is an opportunity to ask another question to move the conversation on and away from expressing feelings.

Just by saying ‘good’ to express all of my positive feelings seems I am not taking full advantage of all the possible ‘sounds’ I have at my disposal. It’s like I am only working with a bugle instead of a symphony!

Others Directed Feelings

I learned one probably knows more words to label someone else than to express their own feelings.

Could this partially be a result of schooling? Where one spends their time in school wondering what others think of them? Especially in high school! “What are they thinking of me?”

Also, it seems like the times one wants to express their feelings as an adult, they are just labeled childish, which any adult person would not want to have such a term applied to them. So they choose not to express their feelings, and they choose to label others, especially when they were judged themselves.


When one expresses their feelings, it is easy to misinterpreted it as criticism. For example, “You are slower than a turtle.” may be one way of expressing another person does everything slow, but it is easily heard as criticism.


Add to the criticism, the comment may also lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Either the receiver disagrees with the comment, and responds OR does not respond and comply with the statement.

Although one may have been expressing their feeling, the result is disconnecting each party further.

Feeling vs. Non-feeling

Using the word: feel does not automatically express a feeling. There are traps when using the word feeling.

Substitute for think

One trap for the word feel, is the word feel is really a substitute for think. If a sentence can make sense with think, a feeling is not expressed.

  • I feel I am late.
  • I think I am late.

The sentence with think makes just as much or even more sense than the sentence with feel.

Following Pronouns

Similarly, if the following pronouns are after the word feel, a feeling is not expressed: I, you, he, she, they, it, or any other names or nouns referring to people. Think is probably a better word:

  • I feel my partner is never around.
  • I think my partner is never around.

Thinking and feeling are not the same, but it is so easy to mix them up! Distinguish feelings from thoughts!

Expressing a Self Evaluation

Some cases, the word feel is another way of expressing what we think we are instead of how we are feeling.

  • I feel inadequate as a programmer.

Here, I am describing my ability as a programmer, not actually describing a feeling. Another way to put it:

  • I am disappointed in myself as a programmer.

Projecting an Evaluation

It is easily mistaken feel as a way we are describing how others are behaving instead of our own feelings.

  • I feel unimportant among my coworkers.

Here, unimportant is more about how I feel others are evaluating me instead of an actual feeling.

  • I feel disappointed at work.

Projecting an Assessment

It is easy to project an assessment of someone else’s understanding and not of one’s own a feeling

  • I feel misunderstood.

Here, misunderstood is one’s assessing others who are not understanding them. A better way to express a feeling may be:

  • I feel anxious.

Feeling does not need feel

In most cases, there is no need for the word feel to express a feeling.

  • I am feeling annoyed.
  • I am annoyed.

True feelings do not require the verb to feel to have it expressed well.

Building a Symphony

One of most important ideas from this chapter is figuring out how to find the feeling to express. Until now, I have been saying things from my head, almost every time I can replace the word feel with think and my sentence would make more sense.

Finding My Feelings

Now, I find the feeling I want to express by taking a moment and breathing, let my head be silent, and listen for a signal from my heart. Link that signal to a word and say it.

I feel peaceful.

It was not easy for me to switch to this. I had to practice taking moments, but also trusting the signal that came from my heart.

Expanding my Feeling Vocabulary

In this chapter, I learned I need to expand my feelings vocabulary so I am not just using good or bad to link all the signals I receive to just two words!

  • When my needs are met, I feel .
  • When my needs are not met, I feel .

I will work to grow my list every day by adding a word. Life is more vivid when I can express my feelings better. I can’t imagine life without feelings, or even just good or bad.


This chapter has been all about feelings. I would kind of shudder in the past when I would hear: “Let’s talk about our feelings.”

Now I understand, feel is so misunderstood that most of the time. It is really hard to distinguish thoughts from feelings.

When I want to express a feeling, I don’t consult my head anymore, but to my heart and wait for a signal. It’s kind of weird, but I feel others connect to me better because I am expressing what I really am feeling, instead of thinking.