The Importance of Emotional Vocabulary

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Did you see our latest update on Facebook? The BitterSweet Score is officially Patent Pending. This is fantastic news as we work towards helping others on their path towards increasing their Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

When we speak about our work at The BitterSweet Score, people often ask what our goal is. In the simplest answer, “We want to help people build their Emotional Intelligence by helping them improve their Emotional Vocabulary.”

As most of you know, I am a therapist, Marriage and Family Therapist, or Social and Systemic Therapist, to be exact. During my work helping people, I found they had tremendous difficulty naming their basic feelings. For example the question, “How did it make you feel when your mother said that?” was often met with a silent shrug followed by, “I don’t know.” During these types of interactions, I would pull out the old-fashioned emoticon sheet showing facial expressions and the emotions they depicted, to help move us  forward.

Others with greater insight could name their feelings at a surface level.  After deeper probing though, they would end up having “a-ha” moments when they realized that the emotion they thought they were feeling was in fact another emotion altogether.  For example, when a person in this group was asked, “How did it make you feel when your mother said that?” my client would reply, “She peeved me. I was angry.” This was a great start, yet, after further probing, the client was not just Angry, in fact, they were actually Sad about the on-going conflict with their mother.  

In addition to people struggling with understanding their emotions, the lack of words to express what was felt created frustrations for many others. When asked the same question, these people would respond with flaying hands and other various facial expressions, leaving me to fill in the blanks for the words they could not find to express how they felt.

With all of this in mind The BitterSweet Score tool sets out to solve these problems. And please take note, while this tool can be instrumental in a therapy session, it’s intention is for everyone. We want to help everyone develop their Emotional Awareness and Emotional Vocabulary and from here, improve their Emotional Intelligence.

Research backs our premise, as it has shown, that knowing how to express the feelings you are experiencing, is key to Emotional Intelligence. In other words, having a good Emotional Vocabulary will increase your Emotional Intelligence. Unfortunately, feelings and Emotions are complex and finding the proper descriptor to express how you feel can be a real challenge, as you saw in the above examples. Determining how to categorize a feeling descriptor into an emotional state correctly takes practice.  Much like learning a language, before we can speak it, we must learn the words of the language, i.e. its vocabulary. Once we have mastered the vocabulary, speaking the language flows effortlessly.

The BitterSweet Score tool enables you to identify and select the descriptors that describe how you feel, so you can increase your awareness and understanding of your emotional state. By increasing your ability to describe your feelings and understand your emotional state, you will effortlessly increase your Emotional Intelligence.

The Curious Case of No Feelings

Did you know that not everyone has feelings?

To be more exact, some people have difficulty in experiencing, expressing, and describing their emotional responses. This is the definition of Alexithymia.

Alexithymia is a psychiatric term created by Dr. Peter Sifneos in the 1970’s while he was treating patients with psychosomatic illnesses.(1) Psychosomatic illnesses are physical disorders that are caused by or notably influenced by emotional factors. The term Alexithymia is derived from Greek; ‘a’ for lack, ‘lexis’ for word, and ‘thymos’ for emotion, meaning lack of words for emotions. Dr. Sifneos noticed in his work that NOT all his patients were able to find the appropriate words for what they were feeling, and often this lack of expression resulted in people seeking treatment for medical issues instead of emotional or psychiatric issues.(1)

It is estimated that 10% of the population suffer Alexithymia (~8% men ~2% women).(2) Sufferers have difficulty relating to others as they are unable to express their feelings.  They lack empathy with their partners and often appear to be stoic and unfeeling people. They come across as unemotional people.

Research shows that individuals with Alexithymia, in fact, DO experience emotions, because they can describe the physiological aspects of their emotions.(1) They will report sweaty palms or faster heartbeats, but they cannot tell you what emotions these sensations correspond to. They cannot identify if the racing heart is from excitement or anxiety. They just know they are feeling something. These feelings therefore, tend to manifest in physical form, as it is possible for sufferers of Alexithymia to identify them this way. Instead of seeking mental help, early and undiagnosed sufferers will seek medical help because, for example, they have constant stomach pains and cannot find a cause for it. 

Upon investigation, the treater will often uncover information that alludes to some emotional difficulty in the person’s life. The person’s lack of words and inability to express these issues, leads to the manifestations in the body. Where there are no words for Emotions, the Emotions find another system from which to be expressed. Be it headaches, nausea, excessive fatigue, severe pain in various parts of the body or even changes in menstruation,

Emotions always find a way to express themselves.

In a recent study, it was shown that Alexithymia and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) have strong negative correlations.(3)  Therefore, you can conclude that individuals who suffer from Alexithymia tend to have lower EQ. Furthermore, their inability to identify their own emotions means they cannot identify emotions correctly in others. They cannot utilize their emotions for understanding problems and therefore have difficulty with problem solving. They lack empathy and relating to others, and as a result, are unable to mitigate relationship problems successfully. 

It has been noted that increasing a person’s emotional vocabulary increases their EQ.(2) If increasing EQ by vocabulary building is possible, it is possible to use this to help treat Alexithymia. Tools such as journaling, expressive arts, novel reading and psychotherapy can all help in expanding a person’s emotional vocabulary thus improving their overall ability to express and understand feelings.(2)

If you work with or live with a person who suffers Alexithymia, it can be a frustrating experience. Talking to a person who barely registers a smirk when you are in a fit of passion can be disconcerting. Or, trying to gauge if your words are hurtful to someone yet are met with a poker face in response, can leave you not knowing what direction to take the conversation in.

Alexithymics often shrug and say everything is “fine.” But, imagine what it is like for them. Not knowing what Emotions you are experiencing is like only being able to watch television in black and white where everyone only speaks in monotone. Life is missing its color, its depth, and its complexity for them.

If you love or care about someone with this issue, it does not mean there is no hope. Be patient and work together to find ways to learn to express yourselves so you both understand each other. Employ some of the available tools and seek professional help if necessary.


References & Works Cited

1. Frankel, Freddy, et al. Peter Emanuel Sifneos . Harvard Gazette. [Online] May 13, 2010. [Cited: May 12, 2017.]

2. Serani, Deborah. Scientific American. The Emotional Blindness of Alexithymia. [Online] April 14, 2014. [Cited: May 12, 2017.]

3. The relationship between emotional intelligence and alexithymia. Parker, James D.A., Taylor, Graeme J. and Bagby, R. Michael. 1, s.l. : Elsevier Science Ltd., January 2001, ScienceDirect, Vol. 30, pp. 107 - 115.

4. Allan, Patrick. Increase Your Emotional Intelligence by Expanding Your Vocabulary. Lifehacker. [Online] February 18, 2015. [Cited: May 12, 2017.]




We recently had a quote of the day about Romantic Love. This got me thinking about Love in all its forms and the idea that 'Love brings Joy'. The concept of 'Living in Love' stems from a shift in mindset. When we can move our personal awareness into the realm of approaching all aspects of life with the frame of Love, our entire life changes. To digress, let me give you an example of shifting mindset. The next time you are out driving, I want you to do a little experiment and look for green cars. I am pretty sure you will begin to see more green cars than you noticed before. It might even seem as if suddenly, there are a lot more green cars. The truth is, that in shifting your awareness to seeking green cars, you notice more green cars. These green cars were probably always there, except now you notice them. This is the same for 'Living in Love'.

When we approach life with the frame of Love, suddenly everything seems, well… Lovely. In this mindset, the world changes from one that is unfair, difficult or stressful (to name a few) to one that seems full of possibility. When your heart is full of Love, it literally pushes out any negative, or as we say at BitterSweet, any Bitter emotions.

Imagine if you could harness positivity and cocoon yourself in Love? How would you approach your problems? Would they still seem Bitter? Or, would the world take on a Sweet tint?

I will argue that surrounding yourself in Love will give your world a Sweetness that will bleed into all aspects of your life. Love changes us. It makes things possible. It allows a level of happiness that can only be described as Joy. As a therapist, we sometimes use an exercise called “Go to your happy place.” In this exercise, you are tasked to think about things that make you happy. Go on… take a minute and play along.  What did you think of? I bet you didn’t think about things you hate. I bet you thought about things you LOVE!

'Live in Love' and you will find happiness. And, the best part, this place lives inside you, ready for you to use any time you need a Sweet boost. Try it! Let us know how it goes.

Turn Anger Into Millions

Our mission at The BitterSweet Score is about getting people to identify and use their Emotions for their betterment. Can you image how lucky I felt to find a story showcasing exactly that?

Hint Beverage founder Kara Goldin shared her story of success at Pizza & 40, a free monthly speaker series put on by The Hustle, an email newsletter for readers interested in business, design, and tech. Kara shared how a conversation with a competitor’s executive motivated her to keep her company and grow it to its current standing as a 90-million-dollar company.

As I read the article, what caught my attention was Kara Goldin’s remark, “I just put the phone down and lost him for five minutes.I wondered what was she doing for those five minutes? And why did she have to put the phone down to begin with? What were her feelings after hearing, “Sweetie, Americans love sweet.”

I can only imagine what she did for those five minutes, prompting me to attempt to reach Kara to ask her.  When we finally connected, Kara stated, "I stood there, eyes closed, and thought to myself, wait, did he just say 'Sweetie?' I was just so confused as to why he referred to me as 'Sweetie'."  We can all infer that the Primary Emotion Kara experienced was Anger. Being called “sweetie” is rarely a preface to a compliment, and clearly it was not one in this scenario. As an expert in Emotions I couldn’t help being fascinated at what Anger did in this situation.  Talk about grabbing an Emotion by the horns and letting it propel you forward to the tune of millions?

All Emotions have power. This story just shows how they can fuel your forward momentum.

Anger, in particular, has the ability to pump a person up as it releases adrenaline, preparing one for a fight. Anger creates a physiological response of power. We can take on the world when we are in that Emotional space. Anger keeps us from defeat, keeps us from giving up, it creates energy and it creates momentum. That is the Sweet side of Anger.

In Kara’s story, she took some time before coming back to that beverage executive. Part of the power of our Emotions is knowing what to do with them. Had Kara not taken pause, perhaps she would have responded to the executive poorly, leaving her credibility in question. Had Kara not taken five minutes, maybe she would have agreed with the executive and given up hope on her business.

When an Emotion comes on, it is very tempting to simply react "with" it, when instead, you may want to pause and determine the best way to react “to” it. Now, if you are dodging an oncoming vehicle about to hit you, you react with the Fear and jump quickly out of the way, no five minutes recommended. In a case like Kara’s, it is better to figure out what you are feeling and determine how best to use the Emotions. Taking a pause can change the outcome of a scenario. A moment is plenty of time, when you are in an Emotional state, to harness the Emotion. Emotions are powerful, and how we use them determines our successes in life.

Do you have a similar story you can share?  

She was wearing blinders...

One of my friends is recently single and dating again. Last night, she was sharing how reluctant she is to get back out there. The conversation led to an interesting observation I want to share with you. 

As my friend told me about this guy, she kept saying, “But he seemed so nice” and “He seemed so normal.” So many of us have been there. We’ve had relationships, either with friends, co-workers or even family, that have left us baffled at human behavior. People seem to do things that make no sense. This leaves us questioning their thinking, their integrity and sometimes even their moral compass. So, when my friend shared how hot her boyfriend was for her, and then how abruptly he went cold (even breaking up with her via text message) she was dumbfounded. “This was almost like a scene out of Sex in the City,” she cried.  How could he be this intense one minute and then gone the next?

After the conversation, I realized she was not dumbfounded by him. Instead, her angst came from her single, unanswerable question, “How was I so wrong?”

During our chat, she shared that her hesitation to date again came not from mistrust of others, but from not trusting herself anymore. She wanted to understand how she didn’t see it coming and questioned her own ability at judging others correctly. Her BitterSweet Score skewed Bitter: she was Angry, Sad and Afraid.



When we meet someone new, we quickly size them up and impose OUR opinion about them on them. This opinion becomes our expectation of the person: who they are, what their values are, how they will act and react. When our expectations about the person are wrong, we are left feeling betrayed by our own judgment. For some, the process is easy.  We concede we were wrong about a person, assess our part in the relationship, then learn from the experience and move on.  For others being wrong about people shakes them up.  Rather than embracing the experience as a lesson learned, they hold steadfast in their belief system refusing to be wrong, or worse, refusing to see their own role in it. Frankly, they put on their blinders.

Blinders keep people from learning, leaving them susceptible to missing vital clues about people. Instead of seeing the warning flags, they miss them because they never actually learned from prior experiences.  In addition, because they never internalized their prior lessons, they also miss how their own behavior helped shaped the outcome.  Failed relationships require an understanding of self as much as an understanding of others.  I am not saying you should blame yourself, but rather to remember that it takes two to tango. 

So, the next time you find yourself asking the question, “How was I so wrong about that person?” and feeling Bitter about it, question yourself first. Did this person trigger an emotional response deeper within you by reminding you of someone you once loved? Did this unconsciously lead you to trust them instantly? Did this person fit a bias you hold leaving you automatically making assumptions about the person? For example, people that wear argyle socks are smart, therefore this argyle sock-wearer is smart? Or is your own negative self-image blinding you because you do not find yourself worthy of better behavior from others?   

After checking in with yourself, try to identify what you have learned about your behavior when dealing with others.  Grasp onto the lessons and this time, internalize them.  Remember that being wrong about someone is OK.  It doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you human.   And, while this may create some emotional dissonance inside you, know that true personal growth usually comes about by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

Take some time to learn what your pre-conceived notions about people are and use them to question yourself in new situations.  Ask yourself if your bias is clouding your assessment of the situation.  And remember, while you cannot control others, you can manage your own responses to them. 

Luckily for my friend she has utilized her experience to learn about herself.  She is now using her Bitter Emotions to fuel her seeking a Sweeter outcome, and she is back searching for Love. She took off her blinders, learned about herself and is now feeling Joy in meeting new people again.

The Emotional Spectrum

As you may already know, there are 6 Primary Emotions, 3 Bitter and 3 Sweet.  The Bitter Primary Emotions are Anger, Sadness and Fear.  The Sweet Primary Emotions are Love, Joy and Surprise.  Underlying the Primary Emotions are Secondary and Tertiary Emotions with each tier bringing a greater level of granularity.  As we go deeper into our expression of Emotions, we realize our feelings are often more complicated than what we express on the surface, the surface being our Primary Emotions.  For example, I am sure many of you have been on one side or another of the conversation “Do you love me?”  Love is the Primary Emotion, and thus very broad.  Saying “I love you” can mean many things depending on the context and the people in the relationship.  It can mean lust when your love is about sexual passion.  It can mean affection when you are talking to your younger sibling.  It can mean longing as in missing your partner in a romantic relationship.  As you see these layers more narrowly, “Do you love me?” can become a tricky question to navigate, especially if you are not sure of your deeper Emotions.

The scenario explained does not just apply to Love.  It applies to all the Emotions.  Joy can be comprised of Pride just as easily as it can be comprised of Relief, Delight or Hope.  Surprise can be comprised of Amazement or Astonishment.  All very different feelings, when you get down to it, and all part of a respective single Primary Emotion.

If they are so granular, why not stick to Tertiary Emotions? 

Well…  to start, I don’t think “I care for you” or “I am infatuated with you” has the same potency as saying “I love you”. Try it on your significant other and see how that goes.

As individuals, we have developed a short-cut by using Primary Emotions when sharing how we feel with others.  We do this because most of us are not aware of how our Emotions are arranged.  Our Tertiary Emotions tend to all jumble together and not stick out as clearly as our Primary Emotions because we often experience multiple Tertiary Emotions at once.  When we tell our significant other we love them, it means lust, passion, caring, compassion and tenderness all at the same time!  But when was the last time you broke your feelings down to that level?  Unless you are actively in therapy, you most likely haven’t – ever!

Thinking about feelings and emotions at a granular level can create a traffic jam effecting you physically and mentally.  If you are feeling so many things at once, it makes it hard to communicate and hard to understand what you are truly feeling.  So, instead of answering the question, “Do you love me?” by saying, “Well, I care for you, long for you when you are away and feel tremendous passion for you,” usually we say something closer to “Yes, I love you!” and it all works out. 

By understanding our Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Emotions, we create a more sophisticated way of relating to ourselves and those around us.  By using The BitterSweet Score Assessment Tool, you can learn how to unravel the complexity of your feelings and how they relate to your Primary Emotions.  By understanding what Primary Emotion is dominating your feelings, you can learn how to use its power to make better decisions.      

Tell us about your traffic jams and the sticky situations you have landed in.  We’d love to hear your stories!


The Other Side of Fear

At The BitterSweet Score, we believe there is special power in the emotions that come with failure.  But, all too often, we play it safe, avoiding failure because we are afraid.  Fear is one of the 6 Primary Emotions.  To be successful, you will need to accept some failure in your life.  If you plan properly though, you can limit the risk associated with failure and use the emotions generated along your path-to-success to propel you forward faster.

On the Bitter side of your emotional spectrum you have Fear, Anger and Sadness.  On the Sweet side are Love, Joy and Surprise.

Think about how you might embark on a mission towards success and what emotions you will feel along the way.  You begin with Fear, afraid you may fail.  Then you try and FAIL!  Now Anger sets in.  But, you have learned to identify and use your emotions from The BitterSweet Score, so you use your Anger to plow ahead.  You embrace the Sadness from your failure and use its power to focus on the problem once again, seeking out new solutions based on what went wrong. 

But you aren’t done with your emotions yet!

Now you reach across the divide for your power tools.  You know your Sweet Emotions will move you along.  You Love what you do and your passion to succeed motivates you!  You execute your new plan for success and BOOM-IT WORKS!  You immediately feel a little bit of Surprise and then Joy!  The Joy that comes from success is all you were striving for and now it’s yours. 

To quote George Addair, the founder of Omega Vector, "Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear."  Therefore, use Fear to your benefit and find the Joy you are missing. 

Your emotions will tug at you from both sides...

Thanks to American politics, the world is experiencing an emotionally volatile week.  If you tune into the news or any social media outlet, you witness the spectrum of emotions across the nation and the world: Love, Joy, Surprise, Anger, Sadness, Fear.

All 6 Primary Emotions have been, and continue to be, on full display.  With that said, I want to take a moment to delve into the BitterSweet Score’s core, and thus explore the 6 Primary Emotions in a little more depth. With everyone’s emotions so tuned in, the last thing we want to do is ignore them and miss the chance to help people gain a better understanding of themselves, their emotions and the emotions of those around them.

Our Sweet Emotions consist of Love, Joy and Surprise. All three present in full force this past week.

Love manifested itself in many ways.  Images of the new President’s children showed them smiling, looking upon their father in adoration, as well as many spectators waving fiercely at the cameras, a glean in their eyes.  At the Women’s March, the protesters were seen hugging each other, holding each other’s hands as they walked down their city streets. Words of love plastered over many of their signs, the famous “Love trumps hate” seen as far as countries in Africa.

We saw Joy on the faces of many as they congratulated their new President.  The news showed a woman crying, overjoyed while attending the Presidential inauguration, the tears showing her hopes and dreams.  Social media pages were full of friends posting pictures of themselves, cheering as speakers such as America Ferrera urged them forward.

Surprise, reigned high this entire political cycle.  The unexpected outcome leaving many shocked, either in Joy or in dismay.  The daily news continues to Surprise the world with images of the defeated contender at the inauguration smiling pleasantly, to the Press Secretary denouncing the media in his first engagement with the press.

Our Bitter Emotions are comprised of Anger, Sadness and Fear. These Emotions are very powerful and can drive outcomes.

Anger has flared.  Friends and families are arguing with each other over differing political views to the point of exhaustion.  Both sides frustrated with the other.  Anger fueled the Women’s March due to outrage over statements the President has made about women.  Anger fuels the President’s supporters demanding “give him a chance.”

For many, the transition of power brought Sadness in losing a beloved President.  For others, there is Sadness in seeing so many on social media oppose the incoming President.  In both cases Sadness exists.  

Fear presides over the upcoming changes.  Fear of what will be lost.  Fear of the unknown.  Signs held by the protesters at the Women’s March showed fear clearly: “Please Don’t Destroy the Earth”, “No more wire hangers”, “I have Cancer. You are my death sentence”.  For many, their fear is that change will not occur and that skyrocketing health insurance premiums will bankrupt them.  And for others, fear is not regaining employment or that promises made during the campaign will not hold through.

Regardless of which side you are on, it is evident that this political arena polarized everyone one way or the other, and in this polarization, you feel a combination of all the 6 Primary Emotions. When it is an event of this magnitude, identifying your emotions is easier, as you feel strongly. When events magnify your emotional response, you feel alive, almost invincible.  But, this heightened emotional response can, and often does, lead to a lack of judgment.  It is in this state that you act impulsively, act without regard for the consequences or say things you cannot take back.  It is in this place that relationships are often ruined.

At The BitterSweet Score, we know that NO emotion is good or bad. We know that all emotions are part of the vitality we share as part of the human species. What we also know is that emotions that are not understood and not cultivated wreak havoc.  It is our mission to have you understand your feelings. By helping you gain insight into your emotions we know you will have better lives.

Without understanding and insight, it is impossible to master our emotions, leaving them to dominate the outcomes of our lives.  Take the above examples to see how your emotions influence your responses.  Ask yourself, “How does my current emotional state influence my decision making.”  Now, take this knowledge and do something different. Change your outcomes. Perhaps each of us can change ourselves and thus change the world.  We might even use our emotions to bridge the divide.

We welcome your thoughts and feedback.