6 Reasons Why You May Not Know What You're Feeling

Here are some eye-opening explacountries for feelings you can't identify.

Posted February 15, 2017 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma


It could seem virtually unfathomable that someone could not recognize what they’re feeling. But the phenomenon is a lot more prevalent than most human being realize. This post will certainly imply no fewer than six causes to clarify why people have the right to reprimary in the dark around what’s going on with them emotionally.

You are watching: I don t know why i feel this way

The one safe generalization that deserve to be made around all eactivities is that they don’t start out as feelings at all yet as physiological sensations. So even when a perboy can’t comprehend their feeling experience, they’re commonly aware of what’s happening to them physically. And this is true also once what they’re feeling is a “blank”—a starray numbness within them. For these “non-feeling,” dissociative experiences likewise warrant being interpreted emotionally.

So, standing “rock cold” via expressionmuch less eyes peering at a deceased loved one in an open up casket, reportedly devoid of emovement, still represents a state of feeling. Moreover, apathy may literally mean “without feeling.” Yet, unquestionably, we’ve all knowledgeable this curious “feelingmuch less feeling” at some allude in our lives.

Let’s take a closer look at why particular feelings have the right to be difficult, or even difficult, to discern:

1. The feeling hasn’t yet crystallized. In these instances, you’re just start to feel somepoint but it hasn’t yet come into focus. It’s not yet identifiable. You may feel something in your body—say, your throat tightening, a trembling in your limbs, an increased heartbeat. But in the moment you’ve yet to attach such physical activation to what provoked it.

2. You’re suffering even more than a solitary feeling, and they’re oddly “fsupplied.” Here you’re beset by more than one emotion at when, and also it might feel confmaking use of for you can’t separate or identify between them. I’ve created two earlier write-ups on this subject: “Angry Tears” explains being enraged and, at the same time, exceptionally hurt by some keenly felt injustice. One emotion signifies a disturbing feeling of unfairness about the provocation, the other a feeling of helplessness or dejection in reaction to it. Consequently, your challenge (and most likely other parts of the body) registers both eactivities.

The second piece I’ve done on this occurrence is titled: “Can You Feel Two Emovements at Once?” And if you’ve ever before had actually a bittersweet feeling around something (that hasn’t?) then you already recognize something around what I speak to “bipolar emovements.” In such instances, you’re most likely to vacillate between the 2 eactivities. And having eactivities “vie” via one another for prominence can also lead not just to a state of ambivalence but (understandingly enough) to procrasticountry as well.

3. It’s a feeling—or amalgam of feelings—that can’t be established because the English language has no name for it. The “what’s-this-feeling?” phenomenon is rather brand-new to the literary works on emotions, however it’s become increasingly widespreview. Consider these representative titles (and tright here are several):

“10 Extremely Precise Words for Emovements You Didn’t Even Kcurrently You Had” (Melissa Dahl, June 15, 2016);

“21 Emovements for Which Tright here Are No English Words” (Emily Elert, Jan. 4, 2013);

“40 Words for Emovements You’ve Felt, But Couldn’t Explain” (Brianna Wiest, Feb., 16, 2016); and

“23 New Words for Emovements That We All Feel, yet Can’t Explain” (Justin Gammill, June 7, 2015).

Take, for example, the Indonesian word malu, which—as characterized by Tiffany type of Watt Smith in her academic work-related, The Publication of Human being Emovements (2016)—suggests “the sudden suffer of feeling constricted, inferior and also awkward about civilization of greater standing.”

Or such neologisms as kenopsia: “The eerie, forlorn environment of a location that’s typically bustling via world yet is currently abandoned and also quiet—a school hallmeans in the evening, an unlit office on a weekfinish . . . an emotional afterpicture that provides it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, through a complete population in the negative. . . .” And additionally, opia: The ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which have the right to feel at the same time invasive and also vulnerable” (from John Koenig’s semantically imaginative webwebsite "The Thesaurus of Obscure Sorrows").

4. You’ve never had this feeling before. Children often can’t recognize what they’re feeling bereason they’ve not yet reached a level of advancement wright here they can transcribe their physical sensations right into understandable feeling names.

Consider this poignant description of stress and anxiety arousal in an 8-year-old:

It’s 8AM and also my heart’s racing. It’s that disastrous, full-body type of beat that provides your totality body shake and also sometimes flutter from time to time from over-stimulation. For a 2nd it practically feels choose excitement, till the belly flips begin, my challenge heats up, and also my neck starts to hurt and also I feel a tiny dizzy. My breathing’s hefty and my palms and scalp are beginning to sweat for reasons unbeknownst to me.

And the author, even more describing this emotionally alarming suffer, explains:

When you’re young, stress and anxiety is choose a smoke monster: It lurks behind you, this intangible thing that makes your heart beat and also your head akimbo. It makes you wonder, nervously, “Why am I favor this? What’s making me feel this way? How execute I make it stop?” (“Here’s What Anxiety Feels Like When You Have No Idea What Anxiety Is,” Alicia Lutes, June 2, 2015)


5. You’re enduring dissociation: a complete detachment from your feelings. When you effectively disconnect from a feeling, you’re “dead” to it. Of every one of Freud’s many kind of defense mechanisms, dissociation is among the a lot of primitive. That’s why it generally originates in childhood. Not yet having actually arisen the emotional resources to effectively cope with perceived dangers, children are all as well quickly overwhelmed by exterior situations.

Unable to rationally talk themselves dvery own from what feels perilous, and regularly not able to leave the troubling case either, they’re left through no alternative various other than disconnecting from their immediate reality. Desperately needing to flee from feelings proficient as intolerable, they contrive (but unconsciously) to escape the outer civilization with somehow prompting their “essence” to wander off to another time or place—even as, physically, they’re obliged to remajor in the scene.

But whether you’re a boy or not, when you dissociate you can’t feel anything. For all intents and also functions, you’re ssuggest no much longer there. So if you’ve just been traumatized, or life’s difficulties have actually end up being more than you can bear, once you simply feel also fragile to actively cope through whatever before is going on, your last-ditch ploy for protecting yourself is shutting down entirely. And going numb provides you oblivious to the feelings masked by such emotional paralysis. In the moment, you’re not even capable of identifying what underlies this self-defensively applied anesthesia. And it’s all automatic—in a sense, effortless. In some of its many “applications,” it’s likewise universal.

The ideal instance right here might be all of a sudden finding out, without the slightest warning, that your beloved, irreversible partner has just been killed in a auto crash. In that damaging moment, the excruciating pain of your loss would go markedly past your capability to take in. So you sindicate dissociate: drop right into denial or freeze mode. And in such dire situations, what might probably be a more powerful mechanism for emotional survival? Tbelow are times once, psychologically, such radical avoidance of truth can be vital.

Major depression involves a type of numbing as well, so much so that some people, by dissociating from their emotional distress—better defined here as apathy—might not also realize they’re depressed. Furthermore, civilization who “lose” themselves in compulsive, addictive tasks generally do so in order to dissociate from burdensome feelings that otherwise could overwhelm their coping capacities.

6. The feeling has actually been internally censored: Even once you attempt to accessibility it, you draw a empty. It’s not tough to imagine why many kind of of us learn to “blacklist” certain feelings. If, for example, you grew up in a house wbelow expressions of anger were forbidden and also shedding your temper could result in substantial punishment, you learned—practically at a cellular level—that any kind of exterior displays of antagonism could threaten your all-vital parental bond.

Or, if your family members offered you the clear message that you weren’t to show sadness (and absolutely not to cry), you could have actually felt compelbrought about push all sorrowful feelings underground. Feelings of are afraid and anxiety have the right to be repressed too if your caretakers let you know that such responses were indicators of weakness or inadequacy, and therefore unacceptable.

Because nothing is more vital to a son than feeling secucount associated to their paleas, emotions that are disallowed must someexactly how be disguised or obliterated. I’ve watched treatment clients chuckle as soon as they were sad, or appear nonchalant as soon as it was noticeable that, inwardly, they were trembling with fear.

My favorite instance of such “vanquished” feelings originates from a workshop I as soon as did. In it, a participant wondered aloud why whenever she felt the have to cry somepoint “came over her” and also the urge disshowed up. Moreover, as soon as somepoint exasperated her and she was about to raise her voice, that impulse, as well, gained instantly extinguimelted. When I asked her whether her paleas were okay with her expushing sorrow, without even having actually to think around it she emphatically answered, “No!” And she responded the very same method as soon as I asked around whether her parents’ gave her any kind of license to show anger. Obviously, she’d been left in a twin bind. Even though she can feel inside her each of these emotions stirring up, she’d exceptionally beforehand learned—self-defensively—to turn them off.

Therapists would speak to this abrupt emotional expulsion suppression. But going a level listed below this—wright here just being aware of the feeling is inextricably linked via parental disapproval, rejection, or abandonment—some people, feeling gravely threatened just by having this feeling suffer, are thrust to get rid of it totally. And doing so is what’s referred to as repression. Here not only can’t they discharge the eactivity, but they additionally can’t even permit themselves to experience it. And that’s why, when these civilization vaguely sense that somepoint is struggling to surface, they can’t even identify what buried emotion is trying to emerge. Rather, all they feel is an inner vacuum; a strange, unplumbed emptiness.

Re-Associating or Re-Attaching to Feelings You’re Alienated From

All our defenses are designed to stifle intolerable feelings of vulnerability. And the majority of of these feelings originate in childhood once we’re at our a lot of fragile. Although doubtmuch less, they’re pivotal in assisting us to endure a more secure connection to our caretakers, they have the right to still carry some high, later-day expenses to our personal welfare.

To be entirety, to be totally connected to ourselves, and capable of creating meaningful, intimate relationships through others, we need to discover ways of retrieving feelings that previously we felt we had actually to deny. Furthermore, as soon as we repress a feeling we’re most likely to “act it out”—as in, unfairly blaming others, or projecting onto them our bottled-up, negative feelings; behaving deceittotally or passive-aggressively; sulking or offering others the silent treatment; or engaging in harmful addictive habits. And by commonly alienating those around us through such unconscious diversionary tactics, we have the right to end up compromising—or even destroying—the relationships we many must be meaningtotally, joyfully associated to others.

It’s essential, therefore, to realize (contrasting through what we learned previously about escaping vulnerability) that as adults we have the right to now learn how to make ourselves more “comfortably" breakable. As long as—also despite ourselves—we’ve expanded our emotional resources, we can uncover that it’s really not that dangerous to let others be privy to who we are: what provokes us, saddens us, embarrasses us, frigh10s us, even humiliates us.

I’ve composed several posts about the “how’s” of self-validation and also self-soopoint. And once we’ve adequately emerged these more mature abilities, we deserve to start to summon our courage to let out much of what, till currently, we’ve felt compelled to organize in. Many type of of us might call for experienced assistance in unearpoint long-repressed feelings and desensitizing ourselves from the painful dangers lengthy ago attached to them. But if, on our own, we want to attempt to recover that which we once made a decision we had to disavow, think about the words of writer and also communications consultant, Peter Bregman:

How execute you gain to those feelings ? Take a little time and also space to ask yourself what you are really feeling. Keep asking until you feeling somepoint that feels a tiny dangerous, a small riskies. That sensation is probably why you’re hesitant to feel it and a good authorize that you’re now all set to communicate.

It’s counterintuitive: Wait to connect until you feel breakable communicating. But it’s an excellent dominance of thumb. (“Do You Know What You Are Feeling?” May 18, 2012.)

So, to briefly amount up, we must access our deeper, censored feelings and find ways in our stays to make conscious, mindful “space” for them. Or else we’ll never have the ability to feel fully alive or construct well-off, fulfilling relationships.

We can’t truly empathize via an additional until we’re able to identify—and have compassion for—our own feelings. Also, that in undertaking this long-delayed process of “unshackling” our disowned feelings, we’re most likely, initially, to feel more fragile. But in staying via (vs. exiting from) this long-dormant tension, we’ll ultimately feel a lot less vulnerable—and even more effective. . . . And at last, rejoined through the son we when were.

Besides the 2 write-ups I pointed to earlier—"Angry Tears” and “Can You Feel Two Emovements at Once?”—various other write-ups of mine carefully relate to the current post: namely, “Trauma and also the Freeze Response: Good, Bad, or Both?”, "The Power to Be Vulnerable" (Parts 1. 2. & 3).


Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D.

See more: Why So Many Pit Bulls In Shelters, Here'S Why

, is the author of Paradoxical Strategies in Psychotherapy and The Vision of Melville and Conrad. He holds doctorates in English and Psychology. His posts have actually got over 46 million views.



Find a Therapist

Get the aid you need from a therapist close to you–a FREE service from Psychology Today.

Ego and self-serving biases form the life story we share with the world—and through ourselves. The excellent news: An internal reckoning will certainly help us much better comprehfinish that we truly are.