emoticons with different emotional faces

Tips for Identifying Emotions

Do you ever feel like your emotions are running wild, and you can't seem to understand what you're feeling? Identifying emotions can be a difficult task. Emotions are complex and often hard to understand.  

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It's normal to feel overwhelmed by emotions at times, especially if you’re neurodivergent, but it's important to recognize and understand them to effectively manage our well-being.

Emotions are a natural part of being human. They help us communicate with others, make decisions, and respond to different situations. However, when we don't understand or recognize our emotions, they can become difficult to manage. 

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emoticons with different emotional faces

The Importance of Emotional Awareness

Emotional awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your emotions and their impact on your thoughts and behavior. It's important to have emotional awareness because it can help you manage your emotions, improve communication with others, and make better decisions. Without emotional awareness, you may struggle to express your feelings, which can lead to confusion and misunderstandings.

Identifying emotions in order to process them has many benefits, including:

  • Improved self-awareness: When we understand our emotional responses, we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves.
  • Better communication: When we can effectively communicate our emotions, we can build stronger relationships with others.
  • Improved mental health: Recognizing and processing our emotions can help us manage stress and anxiety.

Emotions can manifest themselves in different ways, and sometimes, it's difficult to put a name to how you're feeling. However, emotions often have physical sensations associated with them, which can help you identify what you're feeling. It's important to pay attention to these sensations as they can help you understand and label your emotions.

Common emotions and their physical manifestations

One of the first steps in identifying emotions is learning to recognize their physical manifestations. Emotions are often accompanied by bodily sensations such as increased heart rate, sweating, or tension in the body. By learning to recognize these physical sensations, we can begin to identify and label our emotions. 

Here are some common emotions and their physical manifestations:

  • Anger: increased heart rate, tense muscles, clenched jaw, and a feeling of heat in the body
  • Sadness: heaviness in the chest, tears, and a feeling of emptiness or numbness
  • Fear: racing heart, sweating, and a feeling of tightness in the chest or throat
  • Joy: a sense of lightness or warmth in the body, smiling, and increased energy
  • Annoyance: clenched fists, gritting teeth, knot in your stomach
  • Excitement: heart beating faster, butterflies in your stomach, uncontrollable smile
  • Frustration: tapping your foot, clenching and unclenching your fists, letting out an exasperated sigh
  • Guilt: tightness or heaviness in your chest, droopy shoulders, avoiding eye contact
  • Surprise: wide eyes, open mouth (jaw dropping), rapid heart – maybe feels like it skips a beat
Tips for Identifying emotions

Identifying emotions and labeling them

Once you've identified the physical sensations associated with your emotions, the next step is to label them. This can be challenging, especially if you're not used to talking about your feelings. However, it's important to be specific when labeling your emotions. 

For example, instead of saying you're feeling “bad,” try to be more specific and say you're feeling “sad” or “frustrated.” This can help you understand your emotions better and communicate them more effectively to others.

Check in with yourself regularly

Emotions can hit us quickly, so make sure you remember to pause and reflect. Take a few minutes each day to check in with yourself and identify how you're feeling. Find a quiet spot, take a few deep breaths, and allow yourself to reflect on what you're feeling.

Scan your body for any physical sensations like the ones we talked about earlier – a racing heart, a knot in your stomach, tense muscles, etc. These can give you valuable clues about what's going on inside.

Use a feelings chart

There are many feelings charts available online that can help you identify and label your emotions. Sometimes, it's tough to put our feelings into words, but having a rich emotional vocabulary can be a game-changer. Start with basic emotion words like happy, sad, angry, and scared. As you become more comfortable, dig deeper with words like frustrated, elated, anxious, and proud. The more precise you can be with your labels, the better you can understand yourself.


Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you identify and label your emotions. Writing can be incredibly therapeutic. Consider keeping an emotions journal where you jot down how you feel throughout the day. Describe the events or situations that triggered the emotions. This practice can help you spot patterns, triggers, and recurring emotions that you might not have been aware of before.

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Embracing Neurodiversity and Emotional Expression

If you’re neurodivergent, I’m sure you know that emotional expression for you can be as unique as everything else about you. Neurodiversity encompasses a vast spectrum of cognitive differences, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more. Just as every person's mind operates uniquely, so too does their emotional landscape.

Validating Diverse Emotional Experiences

One of the first steps in embracing neurodiversity and emotional expression is to validate and acknowledge the broad range of emotions that you might experience. Emotions are not one-size-fits-all (regardless of what people say); they're varied and shaped by our individual neurology. Whether it's feeling emotions intensely or experiencing them differently from others, each emotional journey is valid and deserves understanding.

This may seem obvious to you, but for many neurodivergent people, they’ve been told their whole lives to “be normal.” Or they get asked, “Why are you reacting that way?” Or they’re just told they’re “too much.” 

To this, I say screw them (that’s about as nice as I get). But the people around you do need to be educated and it starts with this knowledge:

Your feelings and expressions are valid

Challenging Stigmas 

Unfortunately, societal stigmas surrounding neurodiversity can lead to misconceptions about emotional expression. 

Here are some of the stigmas or misunderstandings that you as a neurodivergent person may encounter or be told:

  • You lack emotions or don’t experience emotions as intensely as neurotypical people.
  • You have limited emotional range.
  • You lack empathy.
  • You're told to “toughen up” or “stop being so sensitive.”
  • You’re prone to uncontrollable emotional outbursts.

We have to challenge these biases and recognize that neurodivergent people are just as capable of experiencing and expressing emotions as anyone else. By dispelling myths and fostering understanding, we can create a more inclusive and empathetic society.

Recognizing Unique Emotional Expressions

Neurodivergent people might express their emotions in ways that differ from neurotypical people. For some, verbal expression might be challenging, leading to alternative forms of communication, such as through art, music, or physical movement. 

Celebrating Neurodivergent Emotional Intelligence

By now, you should know that I'm all about celebrating and owning who you are. Neurodiversity comes with its own set of strengths, and emotional intelligence is no exception. Neurodivergent people may possess a unique depth of emotional insight, keen observation skills, and a genuine empathy for others. By celebrating these strengths, we challenge the narrative that emotional expression must fit a specific mold.

Identifying emotions and understanding their impact is an important part of managing your mental health. By learning to recognize the physical manifestations of your emotions, identifying and labeling them, and developing techniques for regulating them, you can take control of your emotional well-being. 

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