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Noticing and naming your feelings. Sounds simple, right? Noticing and naming your feelings seems like Feelings 101, doesn’t it?

Maybe, but for those of us who grew up in homes or who received messages that it wasn’t safe or OK to feel, we may truly struggle with noticing or naming our feelings.

If that’s the case we do have to return to Feelings 101 by trying to pay attention to and name what it is we’re actually feeling. And I have two tools that can help you do this.


1) The Body Scan

Our bodies know far more than our heads ever do, so whenever a client is struggling to notice what it is she’s actually feeling, I always invite her to do a body scan.

She sits back on the office couch, closes her eyes, and begins to notice what’s going on in her body.

I invite her to notice to any parts of her body that may be calling for attention.

If she becomes aware of a particular sensation, I invite her to describe in more detail – what’s the temperature (hot? cold?), the texture of that sensation (spiky, tight?), and I invite her to guess as to what the feeling contained in her body is.

If she’s succeeded at noticing what’s going on in her body but is struggling to actually name the feeling, or if her emotional vocabulary is limited, we next turn to the filing cabinet.


2) The Filing Cabinet

I’m not talking about an actual filing cabinet, but rather an imagined one.

Specifically, a filing cabinet containing four major drawers: Sad, Mad, Glad, and Scared, the four meta-categories of emotions that then contain hundreds more specific emotions.

So when a client is struggling to guess or name how she’s feeling, I invite her to consider which of the four major drawers her feelings could, at that moment, most likely be filed under.

This usually helps by giving us a starting place to work from.

Try it the next time you’re struggling to name exactly how you feel. Check in to see if the general sense of your experience is one of sadness, gladness, madness, or are you scared?


Using and practicing these two tools can help you create a better sense of connection with your emotions. Try them the next time you’re feeling numb or detached from yourself and see what happens.

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