Your emotional vocabulary matters!
A better emotional vocabulary — all by itself — can help you develop better emotional skills! Researchers are finding that a better emotional vocabulary can help you identify, work with, and regulate your emotions. A rich vocabulary helps you understand yourself and the world around you, and it helps you understand what you’re feeling when an emotion arises.
We’ve all seen that having a large vocabulary makes us more articulate and more able to express ourselves precisely; what is interesting is that a large emotional vocabulary helps us identify and regulate our emotions more quickly.
This can be immensely helpful! The sooner you know what you’re feeling, the quicker you can take effective emotional action.
A Free Emotions List for You
I (and many other people from all over the world, thanks!) created this alphabetized list of all of your emotions in three nuanced categories (Soft, Medium, and Intense) so that you can become smarter, quicker, and more articulate with your emotions. Excellent!
These ideas come from my books The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You and The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill.
Scroll to the bottom of this page to download your free PDF of the Emotional Vocabulary List. Now available in English, Spanish, Slovak, Polish, Czech, Dutch, German, and French!
Let’s Start With Anger
Most of us know anger only in its obvious, medium state, and I’d say this is due to the (deeply unfortunate) idea that anger is only negative, and is therefore something to be avoided at all costs. This enforced avoidance and resulting ignorance is not a very good idea, because anger helps you set boundaries, protect your sense of self, and take your stand in the world.
Anger helps you define your position, your standpoint, and your individuality. If you don’t have enough anger, you’ll tend to give up your position and your sense of self, but if you have too much anger, you’ll continually offend against the rights of others.
Anger is also concerned with justice; not only for yourself, but for others. Your anger can be evoked when you see someone being stripped of their sense of self, their rights, or their position. Anger is a very social emotion; if you can understand its nuances and subtleties, you can function more intelligently in your social world.
In The Language of Emotions, I separate anger into the categories of Anger, Rage, Fury, Hatred, Disgust, Resentment, and Apathy. In this list, these categories are reorganized under the master category of Anger.
Soft Anger, Apathy, and Hatred
Ambivalent ~ Annoyed ~ Assertive ~ Calm ~ Certain ~ Confident ~ Crabby ~ Cranky ~ Critical ~ Cross ~ Detached ~ Determined ~ Discerning ~ Disengaged ~ Displeased ~ Distracted ~ Frustrated ~ Honorable Impatient ~ Independent ~ Irritated ~ Peeved ~ Protective ~ Quiet ~ Rankled ~ Secure ~ Self-Assured ~ Separate ~ Steady ~ Uninspired
Medium Anger, Apathy, and Hatred
Affronted ~ Aggravated ~ Angry ~ Antagonized ~ Apathetic ~ Arrogant ~ Autonomous ~ Aware of Your Shadow ~ Bored ~ Bristling ~ Clear-Eyed ~ Cold ~ Courageous ~ Defended ~ Dignified ~ Disinterested Exasperated ~ Incensed ~ Indifferent ~ Indignant ~ Inflamed ~ Listless ~ Mad ~ Offended ~ Protected ~ Resentful ~ Riled up ~ Sarcastic ~ Self-Aware ~ Sharp ~ Sovereign ~ Steadfast ~ Well-Boundaried
Intense Anger, Apathy, and Hatred
Aggressive ~ Appalled ~ Belligerent ~ Bitter ~ Contemptuous ~ Disgusted ~ Energized ~ Fierce ~ Furious ~ Hateful ~ Hostile ~ Hypocritical ~ Integrated ~ Irate ~ Livid ~ Loathing ~Menacing ~ Numb ~ Passionate ~ Piercingly aware ~ Powerful ~ Projecting ~ Raging ~ Ranting ~ Raving ~ Righteous ~ Seething ~ Shadow-Resourced ~ Shielded ~ Spiteful ~ Transformed ~ Tuned out ~ Unresponsive ~ Vengeful ~ Vicious ~ Vindictive ~ Violent
When you know you’re feeling anger, you can make intelligent emotional decisions about what to do with it. In the book, I suggest that you ask the internal questions when your boundaries and self-image (or anyone else’s) are challenged:
What do I value? and What must be protected and restored?
Anger brings you a great deal of energy and clarity. Asking the internal questions will help you channel that energy into healthy action.
A reminder: constant anger — even the soft form — can be a sign of depression, especially in men. If nearly everything in your life evokes impatience, annoyance, irritation, anger, crankiness, indignation, sarcasm, and so forth, it’s time to check in with your doctor or therapist.
Your friends and family will thank you!
Good Words for Fear
Because fear is your intuition — it’s the emotion that tells you when change is occurring, when you need to orient to something in your environment, and when you need to take action, it’s important to understand fear in all its forms.
In this vocabulary list, I focus on Fear and Panic. See the vocabulary list PDF at the bottom of the page for vocabulary words for Confusion and Anxiety.
Remember that fear requires that you check in and figure out what you’re being alerted to. Asking the internal question for fear can help you connect to your instincts and intuition.
What am I sensing? and What action should be taken? (What should I do?)
Asking these questions will help you identify and work with your fear in useful ways. If you can work with your fear, you can understand what’s happening and what’s needed.
Soft Fear and Panic
Alert ~ Apprehensive ~ Aware ~ Careful ~ Cautious ~ Clear ~ Concerned ~ Conscious ~ Curious Disconcerted ~ Disquieted ~ Edgy ~ Fidgety ~ Hesitant ~ Insecure ~ Instinctive ~ Intuitive ~ Leery ~ Lucid ~ Mindful ~ Oriented ~ Pensive ~ Perceptive ~ Shy ~ Timid ~ Uneasy ~ Watchful
Medium Fear and Panic
Afraid ~ Alarmed ~ Attentive ~ Aversive ~ Distrustful ~ Disturbed ~ Fearful ~ Focused ~ Jumpy ~ Perturbed ~ Rattled ~ Ready ~ Resourceful ~ Safety-Seeking ~ Shaky ~ Startled ~ Suspicious ~ Unnerved ~ Unsettled ~ Vigorous ~ Wary
Intense Fear and Panic
Dissociated ~ Filled with Dread ~ Frenzied ~ Healing from Trauma ~ Horrified ~ Hyper-Activated ~ Immobile ~ Laser-Focused ~ Motionless ~ Panicked ~ Paralyzed ~ Petrified ~ Phobic ~ Reintegrated ~ Self-Preserving ~ Shocked ~ Survival-Focused ~ Terrorized ~ Violent
If you experience a repetitive sense of dread or danger that don’t track reliably to actual dangers — and don’t respond to any actions you can take, it’s important to reach out to your doctor or therapist.
Panic is a lifesaving emotion that primes your brain, your muscles, and all of your senses for action. If your panic is stuck in a feedback loop, you may become overwhelmed and exhausted by the activation it causes — which will activate more panic and eventually knock you into disarray.
It’s important to be able to calm your body so that you can get back into a workable relationship with your Panic. Panic literally saves your life in the face of danger, but if it’s continually activated even when you’re not in danger, you and your body will need support.
Tracking Happiness Through Your Life
Happiness is a lovely rest stop and a lovely emotion, but it’s not the only emotion you need. Each of your emotions has a specific purpose and a specific place in your life. One of the biggest keys with happiness is to let it come and go — and to not treat it as better or more important than your other emotions. Every emotion has its place.
If you treat happiness as your go-to emotion, you’ll suffer unnecessarily when your other emotions arise. You need anger, fear, sadness, jealousy, envy, grief, shame, and even depression (etc.) at times. If all you know and all you want is happiness, you’ll tend to avoid, ignore, suppress, or mistreat your other emotions, and then guess what? You won’t be happy very often.
What I notice in working appropriately with the supposedly “negative” emotions is that when we work with them skillfully, we often feel happy, contented, or pleased afterward. It is as if happiness arises to tell us, “Good job! You’re getting the hang of emotions now, aren’t you?”
Soft Happiness, Contentment, and Joy
Amused ~ Calm ~ Comfortable ~ Encouraged ~ Engaged ~ Friendly ~ Hopeful ~ Inspired ~ Jovial ~ Naïve ~ Open ~ Peaceful ~ Smiling ~ Unaware ~ Upbeat
Medium Happiness, Contentment, and Joy
Appreciative ~ Cheerful ~ Confident ~ Contented ~ Delighted ~ Excited ~ Fulfilled ~ Glad ~ Gleeful ~ Gratified ~ Happy ~ Healthy Self-Esteem ~ Invigorated ~ Joyful ~ Lively ~ Merry ~ Optimistic ~ Playful Pleased ~ Praiseworthy ~ Proud ~ Rejuvenated ~ Tickled ~ Unrealistic ~ Ungrounded
Intense Happiness, Contentment, and Joy
Arrogant ~ Awe-Filled ~ Blissful ~ Ecstatic ~ Egocentric ~ Elated ~ Enthralled ~ Euphoric ~ Exhilarated Expansive ~ Flighty ~ Giddy ~ Gullible ~ Heedless ~ Inflated ~ Jubilant ~ Manic ~ Oblivious ~ Overconfident ~ Overjoyed ~ Radiant ~ Rapturous ~ Reckless ~ Renewed ~ Satisfied ~ Self-Aggrandized Thrilled
In the area of intense happiness, I include mania to remind us that there can be difficulty in the area of happiness. Intense euphoric experiences are excellent and fleeting, and they can change your entire outlook on life. However, they tend not to mesh well with activities that lead to your everyday happiness and security, such as attending to your relationships, working toward difficult goals, and paying the bills.
Intense euphoric joy is excellent in its place, but part of its beauty is that it is (or should be) comparatively rare.
Looking at Sadness
Sadness is the wonderful emotion that helps you let go of things that aren’t working anyway. Most of us avoid sadness as if it is the thing that created the loss in the first place. It isn’t.
Sadness is evoked by the fact that you need to let go of something. Listening to sadness can help you let go of things that don’t work so that you can make room for things that do work.
The internal questions to ask for sadness are: What must be released? and What must be rejuvenated? Remember to ask both questions; sadness is not just about loss. Sadness clears away things that don’t work so that you can make changes in your life and make room for things that do work.
Let’s organize some vocabulary to help you welcome the gifts that sadness brings to you. In The Language of Emotions, I separate sadness into Sadness, Despair, Grief, Depression, and the Suicidal Urge. Sadness and Grief are listed here, and Depression and the Suicidal Urge are listed below..
Soft Sadness and Grief
Contemplative ~ Disappointed ~ Disconnected ~ Fluid ~ Grounded ~ Listless ~ Low ~ Steady ~ Regretful ~ Relaxed ~ Releasing ~ Restful ~ Wistful
Medium Sadness and Grief
Dejected ~ Discouraged ~ Dispirited ~ Down ~ Drained ~ Grieving ~ Heavy-hearted ~ Honoring ~ Lamenting ~ Melancholy ~ Mournful ~ Rejuvenated ~ Relieved ~ Remembering ~ Respectful ~ Restored Sad ~ Soothed ~ Sorrowful ~ Still ~ Weepy
Intense Sadness and Grief
Anguished ~ Bereaved ~ Cleansed ~ Despairing ~ Despondent ~ Forlorn ~ Grief-Stricken ~ Heartbroken~ Inconsolable ~ Morose ~ Released ~ Revitalized ~ Sanctified
Note for the grieving: Though grief is different from sadness, I’m including it here for ease of categorization. However, it is quite normal (and healthy) for grief to last a much longer time than simple sadness. This is because grief arises not when you need to let something go as sadness asks you to — grief arises when you have no choice about letting go, and when you’re losing something over which you have no control. Grieving is a slow and languid process that takes its own time.
If you’re grieving, re-read the grief chapter in The Language of Emotions, or contact your local hospice agency for grief support. In both of these places, you’ll find support for your grieving process, and you won’t be hurried or shamed out of your honest emotions. Grieving is a vitally important process — it’s not the opposite of happiness — and it takes its own time.
The Single Emotion Called Shame and Guilt
In my book, I take the word guilt out of the equation pretty quickly, because I see it as a weasel word in relation to shame. I know I’m unusual in this respect, and I’m not on a wild-eyed crusade to rid the English language of the word guilt! However, I do want to bring up the subject here so that readers won’t be confused by my inclusion of the word guilt in these lists.
Here’s an excerpt from The Language of Emotions on guilt and shame:
The Difference Between Guilt and Shame
In my early teens, I read a popular self-help book that branded guilt and shame as “useless” emotions. The book presented the idea that we’re all perfect, and therefore shouldn’t ever be guilt-ridden or ashamed of anything we do. That idea seemed very strange to me, so I went to the dictionary and looked up “guiltless” and “shameless” and found that neither state is anything to celebrate.
To be guiltless means to be free of mark or experience, as if you’re a blank slate. It’s not a sign of intelligence or growth, because guiltlessness exists only in people who have not yet lived.
To be shameless means to be senseless, uncouth, and impudent. It’s a very marked state of being out of control, out of touch, and exceedingly self-absorbed; therefore, shamelessness lives only in people who don’t have any relational skills. Both states – guiltlessness and shamelessness – helped me understand the intrinsic value of guilt and shame.
Fascinatingly, in a dictionary definition, guilt isn’t even an emotional state at all — it’s actually the knowledge and acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Guilt is a state of circumstance: you’re either guilty or not guilty in relation to the legal or moral code you value. You cannot feel guilty, because guilt is a concrete state — not an emotional one!
Your feelings are almost irrelevant; if you do something wrong, you’re guilty, and it doesn’t matter if you’re happy, angry, fearful, or depressed about it. When you don’t do something wrong, you’re not guilty. Feelings don’t enter into the equation at all.
The only way you could possibly ever feel guilty is if you don’t quite remember committing an offense (“I feel like I might be guilty, but I’m not sure.”). No, what you feel is shame. Guilt is a factual state, while shame is an emotion.
Shame is the natural emotional consequence of guilt and wrongdoing. If we don’t know that and don’t welcome our authentic shame, we’ll be unable to moderate our our own behavior. We’ll continually do things we know are wrong — and we won’t have the strength to stop ourselves. In our never-ending shamelessness, we’ll offend and offend and offend without pause — we’ll always be guilty — because nothing will wake us to our effect on the world.
Guilt is a factual state, not an emotional one. You’re either guilty or not guilty. If you’re not guilty, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. However, if you are guilty, and you want to know what to do about the fact of your guilt, then you’ve got to learn to work with the information shame brings to you.
Okay, now that I’ve made that clear, forget it, because the word guilt will never leave our emotional vocabulary. It’s far simpler for people to use the phrase “I feel guilty” rather than the more honest emotive phrase “I feel ashamed.” Luckily, we’ve got this following list so that we can have a more precise vocabulary for shame!
Soft Shame and Guilt
Awkward ~ Conscientious ~ Considerate ~ Decent ~ Discomfited ~ Ethical ~ Flushed ~ Flustered ~ Forgiving ~ Hesitant ~ Honest ~ Humble ~ Reserved ~ Restrained ~ Self-Conscious
Medium Shame and Guilt
Abashed ~ Apologetic ~ Ashamed ~ Chagrined ~ Contrite ~ Culpable ~ Dignified ~ Embarrassed ~ Guilty ~ Honorable ~ Humbled ~ Intimidated ~ Just ~ Moral ~ Noble ~ Penitent ~ Principled ~ Regretful Remorseful ~ Reproachful ~ Respectable ~ Rueful ~ Self-Effacing ~ Self-Respecting ~ Sheepish ~ Sorry Speechless ~ Upstanding ~ Willing to Change ~ Withdrawn
Intense Shame and Guilt
Belittled ~ Conscience-Stricken ~ Degraded ~ Demeaned ~ Disgraced ~ Guilt-Ridden ~ Guilt-Stricken ~ Humiliated ~ Incorruptible ~ Mortified ~ Ostracized ~ Projecting ~ Righteous ~ Self-Condemning ~ Self-Flagellating ~ Shamefaced ~ Stigmatized
Here is The Gifts of Shame post to help you understand the positive aspects of shame. The practice for shame is to understand it as anger toward yourself, hopefully for something you’ve actually done wrong — which means that you can make amends and change your behavior.
The Unique Emotions Called Jealousy and Envy
In my book, I describe jealousy and envy as distinct but related emotional states:
Jealousy and envy are separate emotional states, yet they have similarities: Jealousy watches over loyalty and connection in your intimate relationship, while envy watches over your access to resources, recognition, and fairness. Both contain a mixture of boundary-protecting anger (including hatred – so check your shadow!) and intuitive fear. Both exist to help you choose healthy relationships and social structures, and then set or restore lost boundaries after they’ve assessed an authentic challenge to your security or your position.
If you can honor these two emotions, they’ll contribute tremendous stability to your personality and your relationships.
If your jealousy flows healthfully, you won’t appear obsessively jealous or possessive — rather, your natural intuition and clear boundaries will help you instinctively choose and retain trustworthy mates and friends.
Similarly, if your envy flows freely, you won’t appear openly envious or greedy — instead, your internal security will allow you to celebrate the gains and recognitions of others (even when they’re undeserved) without ignoring your own need for gain and recognition.
However, if you suppress your jealousy and envy, you’ll have trouble identifying or relating to reliable companions, and you (and everyone around you) will be disrupted by your disastrous attempts to bolster your self-respect and security by denouncing everyone else’s and grabbing everything you can get your hands on.
Tragically, our culture pathologizes most difficult emotions, but jealousy and envy seem to be targeted more universally than others. People who express these emotions are rarely honored; they are often called insanely jealous or green-eyed monsters, which throws these emotions into the shadows. That’s never a good idea, especially in regard to emotions that carry intuitive and protective information.
Both jealousy and envy help you detect risks to your social stability and security. Shutting them down is like throwing a noisy smoke alarm out the window before finding out why it went off!
Okay, we know the difference between jealousy and envy, but most people lump the two together. In most dictionaries envy and jealousy are treated as synonyms for each other. I don’t like to squish them together like this, but the fact is that our vocabulary choices for these two unique emotions are completely intertwined (and also very — I’d say that we do not want to name or own up to these emotions!).
Soft Jealousy and Envy
Concerned ~ Connected ~ Disbelieving ~ Fair ~ Insecure ~ Inspired ~ Protective ~ Self-Aware ~ Trusting ~ Vulnerable ~ Wanting
Medium Jealousy and Envy
Ambitious ~ Amorous ~ Bonded ~ Committed ~ Covetous ~ Demanding ~ Desirous ~ Devoted Disrespected ~ Distrustful ~ Driven ~ Envious ~ Equitable ~ Generous ~ Guarded ~ Jealous ~ Just ~ Lonely ~ Loving ~ Loyal ~ Motivated ~ Prosperous ~ Romantic ~ Secure ~ Self-Preserving ~ Threatened Wary
Intense Jealousy and Envy
Affluent ~ Ardent ~ Avaricious ~ Fixated ~ Deprived ~ Gluttonous ~ Grasping ~ Greedy ~ Green with Envy ~ Longing ~ Lustful ~ Obsessed ~ Passionate ~ Persistently Jealous ~ Possessive ~ Power-Hungry Resentful ~ Voracious
I call jealousy and envy the “sociological emotions” because they’re intimately connected to how you manage yourself in relationships and social groups. These two emotions gather an amazing amount of information about your place in your love relationships and your social world. They’re amazingly valuable, and it’s so sad that many of us have been taught to distrust or even hate them!
Welcome these valuable emotions; jealousy and envy are crucial to your social life and the creation of fairness, love, loyalty, and justice for everyone.
Tracking Depression and the Suicidal Urge
Suicidal urges have a range from soft to intense, but if you are feeling any level of suicidal urges right now, don’t feel as if you have to wait until you’re in the throes of torment to reach out for help. If you can learn to catch your suicidal urges when they’re in the soft stage (for instance, at depression), you can often stop yourself from falling into the pit of desperation and torment.
In the territory of the suicidal urge, your capacity for emotional awareness and clear vocabulary can literally save your life!
If you’re feeling suicidal here in the the U.S., you can call the 988 Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988. Suicidal feelings can be very isolating, and this lifeline exists to give people the support they need to make it through the dark periods in their lives.
If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, please let them know that free, safe, confidential help is available.
The 988 Lifeline is available in the U.S.; if you’re in another country, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has a list of crisis centers and suicide prevention centers throughout the world.
Soft Depression and Suicidal Urges
Apathetic ~ Discouraged ~ Disinterested ~ Dispirited ~ Downtrodden ~ Fed Up ~ Feeling Worthless ~ Flat ~ Helpless ~ Humorless ~ Impulsive ~ Indifferent ~ Isolated ~ Lethargic ~ Listless ~ Pessimistic ~ Practical ~ Purposeless ~ Realistic ~ Resolute ~ Tired ~ Withdrawn ~ World-Weary
Medium Depression and Suicidal Urges
Bereft ~ Certain ~ Constantly Irritated, Angry, or Enraged (see the Anger list above) ~ Crushed ~ Depressed ~ Desolate ~ Desperate ~ Drained ~ Emancipated ~ Empty ~ Fatalistic ~ Gloomy ~ Hibernating ~ Hopeless ~ Immobile ~ Inactive ~ Inward-Focused ~ Joyless ~ Miserable ~ Morbid ~ Overwhelmed ~ Passionless ~ Pleasureless ~ Sullen
Intense Depression and Suicidal Urges
Agonized ~ Anguished ~ Bleak ~ Death-Seeking ~ Devastated ~ Doomed ~ Freed ~ Frozen ~ Gutted Liberated ~ Nihilistic ~ Numbed ~ Reborn ~ Reckless ~ Self-Destructive ~ Suicidal ~ Tormented ~ Tortured ~ Transformed
Please remember: when people are feeling suicidal, they’re not having a simple happiness deficiency or exhibiting a character flaw. Something very serious is going on. If you don’t know what to do, you can call the 988 Lifeline suicide hotline as a concerned friend (1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988), and they’ll help you understand what to do. Here are some ideas from the Lifeline website:
How to Be Helpful to Someone Who Is Threatening Suicide
Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad.
Don’t lecture on the value of life.
Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
Don’t dare him or her to do it.
Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
Take action. Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills.
Get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
Thank you for helping when people are feeling suicidal. Thank you for your emotional fluency and your willingness to reach out when others are in need. You make a difference!
Download Your Free Vocabulary List
English Vocabulary List!
Slovak! Slovník škály duševných stavov!
Thanks to the translation work of Štefan Sojka, we now have a free Emotional Vocabulary List in Slovak!
Polish! Słownictwo opisujące emocje w języku polskim!
Thanks to the translation work of Dariusz Klupi and friends, we now have a free Emotional Vocabulary List in Polish!
French! Les Vocabulaire des Émotions!
Thanks to the translation work of Aurelie Lasherme, we now have a free Emotional Vocabulary List in French!Free! Les Vocabulaire des Émotions!
German! Vokabelliste der Emotionen !
Thanks to the translation work of Yvonne Maier and Birgit Becker, we now have a free Emotional Vocabulary List in German!Free! Vokabelliste der Emotionen !
Spanish! Lista de Vocabulario de Emotionale!
Thanks to the translation work of Rossana Santis and the graphical work of Mary Geitner, we now have a free Emotional Vocabulary List in Spanish!Free! Lista de Vocabulario de Emotionale!
Czech! Slovník emočních stavů!
Thanks to the translation work of Věra Zvěřinová, we now have a free Emotional Vocabulary List in Czech!Free! Slovník emočních stavů!
Dutch! Lijst met Emoties!
Thanks to the translation work of Carla Clarissa for her book Born to Change, we now have a free Emotional Vocabulary List in Dutch!Free! Lijst met Emoties!
Pocket sized! Portable Emotional Vocabulary Lists
The Art of Empathy card deck contains a portable, full-color, fold-out version of this vocabulary list, which includes the Weasel Words that help you maintain excellent emotional awareness, even with people who refuse to talk about emotions!
You can also purchase these portable lists separately here: Portable Emotional Vocabulary Lists