PQ 6.1 — Do I use words the same way my partners do? Do I often find myself in discussions about the meanings of words?

a drawing of a man distended into a circle so that he is eating his own feet. In the center of the circle, it reads "ANGER."
Image by Tommaso Meli / CC BY

PQ 6.1 — Do I use words the same way my partners do? Do I often find myself in discussions about the meanings of words?


“When I think about it, it just makes me mad,” I say to Skyspook.

We’re sitting in a food court. One of those travel plazas. Both eating okay pizza since the fried chicken place always gets the orders wrong, and neither of us feels like the chaos today.

“Why would her not having a good time make you mad?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I just feel bad.”

“You don’t seem angry.”

He has a point. And I know it. But for some reason, I don’t have the tools to address it.

“Are you mad at me?” I ask him.

“No.” He laughs. “Not at all.” He touches me gently on the arm and smiles.

Breaking Up the Mad Mob

I spent my formative years raised by someone who used a single word, “mad,” for a wide range of negative emotional states. And because it wasn’t safe (emotionally or physically) for me to express negative feelings, I have struggled over the years to differentiate well between the following, in myself and others:

  • angry
  • upset
  • frustrated
  • irritated
  • annoyed

For the longest time I wasn’t sure how they were different. I had a hard time telling them apart, and it caused problems when I was trying to communicate.

And the worst part of it was that I didn’t know that this was happening. I just had my one word, “mad.” I couldn’t handle or deal with negative emotions.

If I felt something negative, I tried to flood it in positivity. If someone felt negatively toward me, I tried to please them.

I was so desperate to make negativity go away, and as quickly as possible, that I didn’t take the time I should have to understand what was being felt. Sure, I would analyze the situation. External circumstances. Look for underlying causes that way.  But I was profoundly uncomfortable sitting with negative emotions, others and my own.

It’s been a difficult process learning something that seems second nature to many others. But getting better at understanding negative emotions is paying off.

And it all started with trying to accurately name them.


This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.


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  1. Perfect post… sometimes emotions are hard to adequately describe. Happened to me and it’s very disconcerting. It’s like waves of an ocean… Pounding you but you can’t describe how you truly feel. Sigh… Causes meltdowns in my world… Sugar

  2. Yeah, it’s definitely super hard. I think it’s an ongoing process, something we progressively get better at the more we do? I’m starting to suspect the work will never end, so I might as well enjoy it. 🙂

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