Undifferentiated Emotions

Posted on: June 14, 2007

Undifferentiated Emotions

One of my younger clients recently described a phenomenon which I, in previous articles, described as noise. She talked about feeling so angry and mentally confused that she could explode. What this individual was describing was a state in which one feels the physical sign of anger but with no ability to describe their emotional state; the emotions are essentially undifferentiated.

What are undifferentiated emotions? This is a state in which the individual’s emotions are so convoluted that their expression of them is only physical. In this state, they lack the language to describe how they feel. This is very confusing and as the physical pressure mounts an explosion of anger is often not too far behind.

Undifferentiated emotions can be dangerous. People often resort to physical aggression or loud verbal tirades when they lack the words to separate the many emotions that precede anger. Such ineffective means of communication only destroy relationships and restrict happiness in life.

Emotional literacy is therefore vital for anyone who wants to manage their anger. An emotional vocabulary helps us interpret the complex physical and mental signs that are emotions. Putting our emotions into words removes the mystery as well as the misery of not knowing what is going on inside of us. Let me illustrate:


On the left is an illustration of the tangled confusion that is undifferentiated emotions. Learning an emotional vocabulary brings clarity as shown on the right. No longer is it just anger. One is now able to Perceive, Identify and Name (PIN) emotions that lead to the anger. This change often leads the individual to take greater responsibility for their actions.

Instead of saying, “I feel angry” the individual who is emotionally literate can say, “I feel put down” and with good communication skills to assertively let the offending party know their needs. Emotional literacy is therefore a very powerful tool in improving emotional intelligence and anger management. Continue to visit for more on the connection between emotional intelligence and anger management.

Carlos Todd, LPC, NCC, CAMF

President of the American Association of Anger Management Providers

Carlos Todd is the owner of Todd’s Anger Management Solutions in Charlotte, NC


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June 2007
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