Differentiation: The true value of an emotional vocabulary

Posted on: December 4, 2007

In the animal kingdom differentiation is the hallmark of survival. Slight changes in the physical characteristics can help animals survive. In humans we have created complex languages that allow us to describe and differentiate among items that are the same so that we can communicate our needs—in a real way communicating these needs accurately has much to do with our emotional and physical survival. I becomes more complex when we have to communicate intangibles like emotions. We feel them but like air we cannot touch them. However make no mistake they impact the way we make decisions every day.

Sadly with something as complex as our emotions many have given little consideration to making differentiation in our emotional vocabulary. We are content to say we feel good or bad. Essentially there is little differentiation. That is like saying that the car one likes is a good car or a bad car when we really want to say the car is a “fuel efficient, hybrid that feels great to drive.” What a difference.

An emotional vocabulary helps us differentiate. It moves us away from a gut feeling to words that clearly define the emotional need that one is seeking to me met. It is the difference between saying, “I feel sad,” and, “I feel rejected.” It is the difference between saying, “I feel angry,” and, “saying I feel undermined.”

Learning to differentiate means knowing where to look to meet the emotional need and what the need is. To not differentiate is like hearing an internal noise that is undefined, but loud and hard to ignore. This undifferentiated noise can often lead to rage directed at others. Therefore differentiation can help the individual find relief to long standing emotional pain buy making that “noise” a clearly defined set of emotions. Stay tuned for more on this topic.

Carlos Todd, LPC, NCC, CAMF

President of the American Association of Anger Management Providers

Anger Management/Executive Coaching of Charlotte, North Carolina



3 Responses to "Differentiation: The true value of an emotional vocabulary"

Great article, and Blog! I found you doing some research and looking for some very good blogs that are dealing with relationships and marriage, but especially all the aspects of divorce… Because, I believe that it has and will always be a factor of communication that is the key to any good relationship and that the lack of it, is where the trouble starts for every marriage… Whether it be money, alcohol and drugs, adultery, pornography or and abuse in every form of mental, spiritual, and yes physical will all lead back to one thing, and that is no real communication, especially when it comes to mananging you anger… Keep up the good work on all of our behalf’s. Thank you, Howard M.

Great article!! I plan to introduce this concept to my anger management group. I encourage students to learn to identity their primary emotions – examine what their unmet needs are, or what value(s) do they perceive is being violated. These are some of the skills necessary to practice anger and fear control.

Great topic!

I teach anger control with a new technique called INTERNAL ENERGY PLUS and I always say that it’s okay to feel what you are feeling but don’t let it affect your judgment because it’ll create more problems and ruin ones focus.

I show them techniques they can do to calm the anger, regain focus, and then determine the best path to take. It’s beautiful to witness!

Scott Ahrens

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December 2007
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