There once was a woman—I’ll call her “Alexis”—who told me her divorce compelled her to realize that she couldn’t identify her feelings. She knew she was feeling something, and usually it didn’t feel good, but what was it? Somebody told her that the three primary feelings are MAD, SAD, and GLAD, and that most emotions fit under those categories. “Mad” could be annoyed or angry or grumpy or furious or enraged. “Sad” could range from bummed to filled with grief, from just feeling down to severe depression. “Glad,” which we do encounter from time to time, could be anything from relief to ecstasy.
Determined to become emotionally literate, Alexis actually bought a chart of emotions. She figured out her basic category (“Okay, I’m mad!”) Then she checked the chart and compared it to her feelings. “Am I furious? Oh, wait, I’m not really mad now, I’m hurt, I’m sad.” Just paying attention to her feelings helped strong emotions to ease and sometimes to reveal their deeper dimensions.