Even more emotional vocabulary!

Thank you so much, commenters and Facebook pals! We did a great job with our first four emotions, and now I’d appreciate your help with the emotions Shame & Guilt, Jealousy & Envy, and the Suicidal Urge. Jealousy & Envy are especially difficult, because they’ve been mashed together in our language as if they’re the same emotion!

We’ll start with a social emotion that has a ton of words associated with it. As you read, let me know: Do all of these words work for you?  Have I missed a perfect word?

The Single Emotion Called Shame and Guilt

Photo of cat who should be ashamedIn the 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, but 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:


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 weasel phrase “I feel guilty” rather than the more honest emotive phrase “I feel ashamed.” Let’s work on this following list so that we can have a more precise vocabulary for shame!

Soft Shame

Hesitant ~ Flushed ~ Self-conscious ~ Speechless ~ Discomfited ~ Awkward ~ Humble ~ Reticent ~ Abashed ~ Flustered ~ Withdrawn

Mood-State Shame

Ashamed ~ Guilty ~ Embarrassed ~ Intimidated ~ Penitent ~ Regretful ~ Remorseful ~ Chagrined ~ Culpable ~ Reproachful ~ Sheepish ~ Rueful ~ Contrite

Intense Shame

Humiliated ~ Guilt-ridden ~ Guilt-stricken ~ Disgraced ~ Stigmatized ~ Mortified ~ Self-condemning ~ Self-flagellating ~ Degraded ~ Shamefaced

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 you can make amends and change your behavior. In the book, I call this kind of shame “appropriate shame,” because it relates to something real and fixable: If your shame is appropriate, it will stop you from doing something you shouldn’t, and it will help you change your behavior and make amends.

However, there is another form of shame that I call “applied shame,” which comes from the shaming messages you pick up from others and incorporate into your life. Applied shame can be pretty toxic (especially if it relates to you not being good enough, smart enough, lovable enough, etc.), and the work in the book helps you identify applied shame and work through it so that you can get yourself into a better relationship with your authentic shame. Yay!!

The Unique Emotions Called Jealousy and Envy

In the book, I describe jealousy and envy as distinct but related emotional states:

Photo of jealous catJealousy and envy are separate emotional states, yet they carry similar information: Jealousy arises in response to unfaithfulness or deceit in an intimate relationship, while envy arises in response to the unfair distribution of resources or recognition. Both contain a mixture of boundary-protecting anger (including hatred – so check your shadow!) and intuitive fear. Both exist to help you set or restore lost boundaries after they’ve assessed an authentic risk 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.

I call jealousy and envy the “sociological emotions” because they help us understand and brilliantly navigate our social world. Very few people share this view; 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 arise when you’ve detected a risk to your social and personal security. Shutting them down is like throwing a noisy smoke alarm out the window before finding out why it went off! When you stifle your jealousy and envy, you not only lose your awareness of the situations that brought them forward, but you lose your emotional agility, your instincts, and your ability to navigate through your social world and your relationships.

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 tellingly paltry — I’d say that we do not want to own up to these emotions!).

Soft Jealousy and Envy

Suspicious ~ Insecure ~ Distrustful ~ Protective

Mood-State Jealousy and Envy

Jealous ~ Envious ~ Covetous ~ Threatened ~ Demanding ~ Desirous

Intense Jealousy and Envy

Greedy ~ Grasping ~ Green with envy ~ Persistently jealous* ~ Possessive ~ Resentful ~ Threatened ~ Avaricious ~ Gluttonous

Cover of The Dangerous Passion*If persistent jealousy is a major stumbling block for you, please look into research psychologist David Buss’s excellent book on the sociological and biological necessity of jealousy: The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Love and Sex. This is an incredibly eye-opening book that defends jealousy as a natural and accurate emotion – even while it chronicles the horrific abuses caused by the repression and incompetent expression of jealousy. One fascinating finding Buss presents is that follow-up studies on couples who entered therapy to deal with one partner’s “pathological” jealousy uncovered clear instances of hidden infidelity in an overwhelming percentage of the cases (and clear instances of crippling amounts of internal insecurity in the rest). In each case, the jealousy was pointing to a truly endangering situation of external or internal insecurity and acting exactly as it should have – to alert its owner to serious threats to intimacy, mate retention, and social well-being.

Can you add any more words here?  These lists are so tiny! If I were the words jealousy and envy, I’d be envious of the vocabulary that other emotions get. Hmmph.

Tracking the Suicidal Urge

Suicidal feelings have a range from lite to intense, but if you are feeling any level of suicidal urges now, don’t feel as if you have to wait until you’re in the throes of torment to reach out for help. As a lifelong sufferer of severe suicidal depressions, I can tell you that if you can learn to catch your suicidal urges when they’re in the lite stage, 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 articulation can literally save your life!

If you’re feeling suicidal here in the the US, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 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 help is available.

The TALK Lifeline is available in the US; 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 Suicidal Urges

Depressed ~ Dispirited ~ Constantly irritated, angry, or enraged (see the anger list) ~ Helpless ~ Impulsive ~ Withdrawn ~ Apathetic ~ Lethargic ~ Disinterested ~ Pessimistic ~ Purposeless ~ Discouraged ~ Feeling worthless ~ Isolated ~ World-weary ~ Humorless ~ Listless ~ Melancholy ~ Flat ~ Indifferent

Mood-State Suicidal Urges

Desperate ~ Hopeless ~ Despairing ~ Morbid ~ Sullen ~ Desolate ~ Miserable ~ Overwhelmed ~ Pleasureless ~ Joyless ~ Fatalistic ~ Empty ~ Passionless ~ Bereft

Intense Suicidal Urges

Agonized ~ Tormented ~ Self-destructive ~ Tortured ~ Anguished ~ Bleak ~ Devastated ~ Death-seeking ~ Numbed ~ Reckless

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 Lifeline suicide hotline as a concerned friend (1-800-273-TALK (8255)), 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.
Be non-judgmental.
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 suicidal. Yow, it’s a horrible thing to go through, and most of us isolate ourselves as a function of the trouble. Thank you for reaching out.

Please Suggest Additions and/or Changes to These Vocabulary Lists!

When we’re done, I’ll organize all of our emotion lists into a PDF that you can download from a page of its own.

Thank you!

13 Responses

  1. Toria
    | Reply

    Thank you for including the emotions of animals too 🙂 It seems to me that we communicate through our emotions first and then through words. I work with children and they get very alarmed by high anxiety situations. They seem to adjust their abilities according to the level of angst directed at the activity.

  2. Louise
    | Reply

    Thinking of more words under lite suicidal urges – maybe extra lite – I think bored and indecisive come under that for me. Maybe passionless too, but I don’t know whether I would put that under lite or mood-state.

    • Karla
      | Reply

      Hello Toria and Louise!

      Louise, I’ve got a lot of synonyms for bored in lite suicide. Do you vote that we should add bored too? Oh, and indecisive is really very nuanced in the area of lite suicide. I’d also put it in lite fear. Good feeling work! Let’s see if others agree?

      Toria, angst is a great word. Where would you put it in the lists?

  3. JY
    | Reply

    Hi Karla!

    The romantic poets used to use words like “dull” pain, “numbness,” “passionless,” to describe their depressed emotional states. I’m not sure anyone has done it so well since!

    For shame, I’m thinking “withdrawn” and “timid” both fit. What do you think?

    I’d put “angst” in mood state-depressive.

    • Karla
      | Reply

      Thanks Judy — I added withdrawn in lite shame. If timid goes in lite shame, does shy go too?

      I have numb, and I added passionless (and also bereft) in the suicide urge, but dull isn’t singing to me.

      And oy! Angst means fear and anxiety. I had no idea! I always heard “teen angst” and thought of frustrated misery and acrimony. Whoops! I don’t think that word is going in the lists if two voracious readers like us had it in the wrong emotion!

      • Karla
        | Reply

        Okay, hurt got its hat handed to it. As a mixed emotion, hurt can find no place in these lists! I hope it’s not hurt.

  4. Katrina
    | Reply

    Actually, I woke up this morning thinking that perhaps there could be a category for “chord” emotions — the ones that are a mix (or blend) of several emotions.

    Like “hurt” and “wounded.” And I thought of a couple more this morning: “upset” and “overwhelmed.”

    Some people say they’re “upset” when they are, in fact, angry … but they don’t want to say, “I’m angry.” But when I’m upset … it’s usually a mix of emotions. I might be upset because someone made a promise — and I got really excited about the possibilities behind that promise — and then the person breaks his/her promise. Yes, I’m sad over the loss … but I’m also angry because someone I thought I could trust, someone I thought was honorable, turned out not to be. So I’m upset — sad and angry.

    Or I might be upset because I saw something really disturbing happen, and it shook me up. I’m feeling fear … because the disturbing incident triggered my own self-protective instincts … but I’m also feeling anger, because someone else’s boundaries were overrun. So I’m upset — anger and fear.

    How about “overwhelmed”? That’s such a common experience for HSPs (Highly Sensitive Persons) that many of us actually consider it to be a state of being all its own: “I’m in overwhelm.”

    It’s not merely being stressed. As HSPs, we are more sensitive to ALL stimuli coming at us — intellectual, emotional, physical, psychological. And you might say that our “meters” hit the “redline” faster than “average” folks — because we can’t “tune out” as much of the stimuli, and because our “threshold” or tolerance level is lower.

    When we “redline” — when we’ve taken in all the stimuli we can possibly handle, and the stimuli just keep coming — we enter the state of “overwhelm.” Which definitely has an emotional component. Fear — because we feel that we can’t possibly handle everything coming at us, so we begin to fear what will happen because we can’t handle it all. Anger — because people are overrunning our boundaries, and we just don’t have any energy or strength left to “hold the line” and push them back. And maybe even sadness — because we are losing our sense of safety and our sense of self in the midst of this tidal wave of stimuli.

    Fortunately, I have, over the course of the last few years, become a lot better about warding off the state of overwhelm … by taking time to do good things for myself that help to keep me refreshed, rejuvenated, and connected to myself and to what really matters to me. I’ve also cut out a lot of things in my life — so my energy is not being expended in a hundred different directions, leaving me more energy to deal with the essentials.

    Anyway, just some thoughts I had today on “chord” emotions.

    • Karla
      | Reply

      Hey Katrina, thanks for the mixed emotions. On the Facebook page, we also looked at stressed and tense as words that can be used like overwhelmed — to mean any number of emotions together or all at once. There are so many words for mixed emotions, and so many people have very different definitions of them. It’s a very interesting topic, and it might make a fun research topic!

      Renee — that’s Sofia Loren giving the perfect envious stare to Jayne Mansfield, who actually died quite young in a car accident. Trivia: Jayne is the mom of actress Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order: SVU.

  5. Renee Benmeleh
    | Reply

    love the Bridget Bardo and ???? picture…classic!

  6. Suzy
    | Reply

    In my opinion, jealousy is a very difficult emotion…not bad, but incredibly difficult to deal with. It also often seems that people use jealousy as an excuse to become raving lunatics and feel that their behavior is perfectly justified because they feel it is a sign of love. I suppose this is based on “crippling amounts of insecurity”…. when the jealousy really is unjustified, there REALLY is no threat to their relationship?

    If the person doesn’t recognize the true cause of their jealousy, how can it benefit them? It often seems like the jealous person demands that the other person “fix” things so that the jealousy will go away.

    Regarding suicidal urges… A friend of mine expressed feeling pretty much everything you have listed in both the lite and mood state suicidal urges….though he never expressed them AS suicidal urges. In the past people he confided in (hoping for support) would lecture him, tell him to “man up” and simply not accept his feelings as valid by saying things like “You should be grateful for what you have. Other people are much worse off.” ..which of course only made him feel worse. Having someone accept his feelings, be nonjudgmental, available to listen and be supportive appears to be extremely helpful. 🙂

    • Karla
      | Reply

      Hi Suzy, thanks so much for your comment about your friend and the TOTALLY unhelpful way that people behaved around his depressed and lite suicidal feelings. You’re so right — cajoling and lecturing can make things so much worse. You’re right that just being able to talk about it can be literally lifesaving. Yay!

      About jealousy: yes, if a person is just letting their jealousy ride roughshod over everything, it can be fecking miserable to be around. But really, people can cause misery by mishandling ANY emotion. In the book, I talk about the difference between expressing, repressing, and channeling an emotion, and with big and troubling emotions like jealousy, I almost always choose channeling over the other two options. Here’s a post about channeling emotions.

      Oh, and here’s one about reworking a toxic emotion. In that post, I used repetitive anger as an example, but you can use the same process with any emotion that’s gotten out of kilter. So a continually jealous person would do the work with jealousy. Each emotion has a vital function in our lives, and it’s important to be able to get an overblown or underutilized emotion back into balance within the whole. Yessir!

  7. April
    | Reply

    I would love to hear more about “confusion”, as discussed in the book.
    It isn’t included on this list here.

    In the book, you say to list your intention. What do you really mean by list your intention reg. making a decision in a confused state? How does this work? The example in the book was a person deciding b/t two jobs – and maybe the individual should choose neither because of insurmountable problems with each.

    What is an example of what their intention might be that would lead them to this decision?

    I am in a confused state and have been for months. It’s turmoil and I see no easy end in sight!

    Thanks much,

  8. April
    | Reply

    Sorry, I meant this list 🙂


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