How to Identify and Talk About Your Feelings

By Jessica Hicks

Think back to the last conversation you had with someone you care about. Not just any conversation — one where you felt seen and heard, and really connected. Odds are, this was a conversation where one (or both!) of you opened up about a feeling or emotional experience you’ve had lately, which led to a richer, more engaging dialogue. 

Being able to identify your feelings and talk about them with someone you trust is more than just an in-the-moment rewarding experience — it’s good for your relationships and your overall mental health. Recognizing feelings is key to managing them and developing resilience. Those who struggle to identify their feelings may experience more distress when faced with a negative or uncomfortable emotion. 

Being in tune with how we’re feeling isn’t easy, though. Emotions are not like primary colors. They come in different hues, and sometimes they’re mixed to create a complex emotion you’ve never experienced before. That is the beauty and challenge of our emotions.

Why Is It Hard to Talk About Our Feelings?

For starters, our society doesn’t promote vulnerability. There are norms and gender stereotypes that often reward putting on a “brave face” and pretending we’re OK when we’re not. And while surveys suggest that Americans are becoming more open about mental health, it can still be difficult to connect with older generations who may not see mental health as part of overall health. 

What’s more, we often aren’t taught how to engage with our feelings and share them with others. It’s not a subject covered in school, and many of us don’t have the “emotional vocabulary” to pinpoint what we’re experiencing and why.

If you struggle to identify how you’re feeling and to share it with others, you’re not alone. Try these tips to connect with your emotions and have meaningful conversations with others about what you’re going through.

How to Identify Your Feelings

Use Emotion Tools 

A feelings wheel or an app like How We Feel are great tools to label what you’re experiencing. A wheel can help you get familiar with the wide range of emotions you experience every day, and an app can be useful in tracking emotion patterns over time. 

For example, you may notice that you frequently feel stressed out on Sundays. With that knowledge, you can take steps to identify the root cause of the stress (in this case, it might be the anticipation of the upcoming school week) and better manage your feelings. These could include breathing exercises and implementing strategies to stay calm when you’re stressed about school

Write It Down

Journaling about your feelings — with pen and paper or via the Notes app on your phone — can help you process your emotional experiences in a safe space. Writing about your experiences can help you connect with yourself without worrying about how someone else will respond.

Look to Art

Displays of emotion are all around us, from paintings and movies to music and poetry. Try engaging with an art form that speaks to you and see if you can pinpoint the emotion the artist is trying to portray. It’s useful to pay attention to how you feel in response to the art.

You could also create art yourself, whether it’s writing, making a collage, dancing, or engaging in another type of movement that feels good to you. It’s a great way to express your feelings without consciously labeling them.

Tips to Get More Comfortable Expressing Your Feelings

Embrace the Uncomfortable 

Whether you’re telling a romantic partner how you feel about them or explaining to a friend how they hurt your feelings, emotional conversations are just plain difficult. There usually isn’t a way to get around this challenge — so we have to do the best we can to embrace the awkward and uncomfortable. 

That might involve saying some positive affirmations in the mirror before heading into the conversation: “I am capable” or “I can do this!” Or it might be having some self-care strategies at the ready, so you can recharge after the conversation. Maybe going for a walk or diving into a good book is especially relaxing for you. Plan to do one of these activities after having the emotional conversation.

Practice With Someone You Trust

It can be easier to open up to someone who offers support rather than judgment. Identify those people in your life who make being vulnerable a little less scary. It can be a friend, relative, coach, or someone else you trust — you really only need one person. 

Then, make a point of sharing your feelings with them on a regular basis. You might confide in  them when you’re feeling disappointed after not performing well on an exam or tell them how content you feel when spending time with friends.

Use a Conversation Starter

When in doubt, you can lean on one of these frameworks to get the conversation going:

  • Share a feeling you’ve been having a hard time coping with. Ask your conversation partner if they’ve experienced it and how they manage the feeling.
  • Talk about a feeling each of you would like to have more of in your daily lives. 
  • Recall a recent experience and share your “rose” (a highlight from the experience and how it made you feel) and your “thorn” (a less enjoyable aspect of the experience and how it made you feel). Ask your conversation partner to do the same.

Get more tips for starting the conversation.

Honor Your Limits and Needs

Despite all the work you put into better identifying and connecting with your emotions, you still can’t control how others will respond. If you share with someone and they react with judgment or disregard, it’s OK to set a boundary and move on from the conversation. You might say something like: “I think I’ve shared all I’m comfortable with right now. Can we talk about something else?”

Search Resource Center

Type your search term below
Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.