Read time: 3 minutes

Emotional Words: Slave To Thought

Scott Palasik

Elizabeth Gilbert said, “Your emotions are slaves to your thoughts, and your thoughts are slaves to your emotions.”

Emotions push, pull, tug, and drag us all over our conscious and unconscious minds. From our dreams to our daily lives, emotions stand present. They are ready to run. Poised to pounce. Avid fans of avoidance. Fixed on feeling.

The challenge is, how many of us have the language to describe our emotions accurately in order to address them and connect them with our thoughts and behaviors so others can better understand what we are experiencing?

Let’s start with some emotional language. ow many emotional words can you name? 5? 10? 15? The average person can name about 7-10. Not bad, right? Did you know there are upwards of 271 words we can use to describe our emotions.

The Berkeley Well-Being Institute created a list of words that can help us describe our emotions. Words like, worthy, self-compassionate, obstinate, restlessness, cheeky and so many more! They of course have the classics, caring, happiness, anger, fear, confused and so on. See
here for all 271 words.

Why talk about words to describe emotions? I’m glad you asked! Because we need language to understand, and make sense of ANYTHING in life. We need to know, understand, and use language with any purchase we make. We need to know, understand, and use language with any job we take, any text or email we send, any math problem we solve, or any new invention we create.

Anything and everything revolves around our knowledge, comprehension, and use of language. This applies to our knowledge, understanding and use of emotions. 

Let me give one example of the importance of talking about and knowing emotional language. My father was an abusive alcoholic. I write this with love and appreciation for all of the lessons he taught me, that must be expressed here too.

Was he angry? Yep. Was he confused? For sure. Was he frustrated, in despair, overwhelmed, self-critical, tired, and so many other emotional words? Yes to all of the above. The important question is not “Was he feeling these emotions?”, the important questions are “Did he understand these emotions?,” “Did he know he was going through these emotions?,” and “Did he talk about how he used these emotions?”

The answer to all of these questions is NO. He became more and more about living and feeding off the emotions that he never understood and never was able to discuss. These emotions were feed by thoughts about a past he could not change, and he would not talk about.

So again, like Elizabeth Gilbert said, emotions are slaves to thoughts, and thoughts are slaves to the emotions. This is where the practice of exploring our emotions, owning them, and associating thoughts and emotional words, along with our actions, can help use defuse potentially harmful situations, and feel more of the positive emotions we want to hold onto. 

In other words, the more language we have to describe what we feel, the closer we can get to understanding how those feelings (emotions) are impacting our thoughts and how our thoughts are impacting our emotions, along with how our thoughts and emotions are impacting our BEHAVIORS.

Justin Bariso, the author of EQ: The Real World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, wrote: 
By using specific words to describe your feelings, you can better diagnose them, helping understand of where they come from.”

How can you start to get closer to your emotions and use them to your advantage instead of to your detriment? Try the following steps to get yourself stepping toward exploring your emotions (modified from Justin Bariso, Emotional EQ, p. 37).

When you feel an emotion today, ANY EMOTION, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What is this emotion? Try to use the most accurate emotional word from the
Berkeley List.
2. What is this emotion telling me? Try to answer this in as much detail as you can.
3. Can I use this emotion to motivate me? How can you be motivated in a positive way? If you can’t, then perhaps the emotions is not workable for you.
4. How is this emotion linked to my values? Values like honesty, kindness, compassion, learning, and growth are positive influences on our emotions

For more about emotions and emotional words, check out Episode 60 from the

Listen to us talk about how we struggle with talking about emotions, yet the more we practice, the closer we can get to the person we wish to be.  
So come on, walk with us and find yourself, and feel all the feels!

If you want to learn more about Act To Live, check out our past blogs and our biweekly podcast:

Be well. Be you.

With compassion, kindness, and hoping for a little flex in our minds,

Scott Palasik

Co-Host of the Act To Live Podcast and Blog



  • Lama and Paul Ekman.
  • Tchiki Davis. 271 Emotional Words.
  • Justin Bariso(2018). EQ Applied: The Real World Guide To Emotional Intelligence.
  • Brene Brown (2021). Atlas of the Heart.

    © Photo Credit by SHVETS production from Pexels via

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About the blogger

Scott Palasik, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Scott values compassion and kindness toward himself and others. He values honesty and the power of creative expression. With these core values, Scott chose to pursue a life of helping others with communication disorders as a skilled Speech-Language Pathologist. 

As a person who stutters, Scott has seen the ups and downs of struggling with daily communication and what comes with trying to manage the negative perceptions both internally and externally about communication disorder. 

With 3C, Scott hopes to spread the idea that we can all support each other with education, collaboration of ideas, and to help us all build social capital for an accepting and caring community of communicators.

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