What Am I Feeling?

Accuracy in interpreting the emotions and behavior of others is very important. Studies have shown for years that humans are not automatic experts in interpreting what other people feel, or why they do what they do, or say what they say. Even experts are not infallible at this; a degree in psychology does not make one an expert in reading others. The gift of language is an absolutely essential tool regarding communication of emotions.

There are many people who misinterpret others on a regular basis, but have no idea that they're off base. Interpreting an expression of fear or anxiety as anger, arrogance, or judgment is actually not uncommon. Interpreting a highly intelligent person who is deep in thought as unintelligent or uncomprehending is quite common as well. Facial expressions of joy are often interpreted as ignorance or naivete. Expressions of polite civility, hospitality or friendship are often very much misinterpreted as romantic gestures, flirting, fake flattery, or snootiness. Arrogance is often misconstrued as confidence, capability, and leadership, while true confidence and humility are often misinterpreted as arrogance or haughtiness.

Many humans also tend to assign emotions to certain "types" of other people. So a small woman and a large man who are expressing the exact same emotion for the same exact reason will be interpreted by this person completely differently. One may be said to be angry, and the other may be said to be frightened or frustrated, with no reality or logic-checking by the observer. 

Many of us even interpret our own emotions incorrectly; this is well known in psychological studies, especially regarding people who were raised to bury or hide their emotions. They may only recognize a few emotions, and label all of their other emotions incorrectly. "Anger", "sadness", "fear" and "worry" are often the only emotions they will name, and they will call other emotions by these names as well. This can cause difficulty for the person when trying to communicate in relationships or resolve personal issues.

We can help repair this issue effectively using language; matching names for emotions with our own feelings, and talking to others about theirs as well. It is perfectly healthy to ask a friend or family member what they are feeling. The more discussion there is on the topic, like any other topic, the more we will understand it and interpret more accurately.