58 Ways to Label and Express Your Sadness

Most people don’t talk about their feelings much. In fact, most people don’t even think about their feelings much.

Usually, we just go through our days focused on our jobs, families, problems, and everything going on in our lives without paying much attention to how we feel.

But, here’s the thing. Sometimes, a situation arises that requires you to know what you are feeling. Or, even further, you may even need to express what you are feeling.

Depending on how you were raised, your family’s comfort level with emotions, and their ability to use emotion words, you may find the process of noticing, labeling, and sharing your feelings anywhere from mildly challenging to extremely difficult.

In my work as a psychologist, I encounter wonderful people every day who are stymied or terrified at the notion of having to identify, name, or share what they are feeling. Most of these people find it difficult for a very good reason. In short, when you grow up in a family that ignores, diminishes, dismisses, or discourages the expression of feelings — I call this an emotionally neglectful family — you simply do not learn how to do it.

As an adult, this can make certain things that other people take for granted very, very hard.

For example, many people who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) have only one or two emotion words in their vocabularies. They may use that one word over and over again, painting the complex landscape of their own inner emotional lives with one single word.

Common emotion words that I hear used this way include:

  • Sad
  • Mad
  • Anxious
  • Depressed

How Comfortable Are You With Your Feelings?

  1. Do you notice when you are having a feeling?
  2. Do you pay attention to your feelings?
  3. When you are feeling something, do you try to identify what it is or name it?
  4. How many emotion words do you know?

There are several skills that go into using and managing your feelings the way they are meant to be used and managed. If you don’t think of your feelings as useful or if you do not know what these skills are, or whether you have them, it’s okay.

Emotional awareness and management are not automatically a part of everyone’s life. But they are things you can definitely learn. I know this because I have taught these emotion skills to many people.

Today, we will address your emotion vocabulary. Guess how many words there are for the feeling of sadness? There are many more than just “sad” or “depressed.”

Read through this list with a highlighter, and think about the subtle differences in what each word describes.

58 Ways to Label & Express Your Sadness

Sorrowful

Tearful

Pained

Grief

Anguish

Desperate

Low

Pessimistic

Unhappy

Grieved

Mournful

Grave

Dismayed

Bummed

Despondent

Heavy-hearted

Scorned

Grey

Miserable

Blue

Longing

Disappointed

Grim

Gloomy

Lost

Moody

Burdened

Discouraged

Let down

Lousy

Dysphoric

Dreary

Dark

Morose

Dour

Besieged

Morbid

Down

Accursed

Abysmal

Ashamed

Diminished

Self-destructive

Self-abasing

Guilty

Dissatisfied

Loathsome

Worn out

Repugnant

Despicable

Abominable

Terrible

Despairing

Sulky

Bad

Sense of loss

How To Use This List Going Forward

Next time you perceive a possible hint of sadness or depression, don’t paint it over with the same old color. Instead, pull out this list and read through it, and find one or more words that capture what you are feeling in a more complex way.

The more you do this, the more your vocabulary will increase and it will also enrich you in other ways. As you struggle to name your feelings, it’s the same as exercising a muscle. Your brain will begin to process feelings in a new way and, believe it or not, this is a momentous change.

Have a word for sad/depressed that’s not on this list? Please share it in a comment!

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be invisible and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how it plays out in your adult life, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Jonice

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Genevieve - October 17, 2020 Reply

Defeated. I feel and have felt many many other emotions throughout my life, but after going through countless therapists, many different drugs and combinations of drugs and therapy including TMS, “defeated” sums it all up.

Richard - September 29, 2020 Reply

The way I really got in touch with some of my feelings was through the power of the paintings of Rothko. Some of his paintings really make me want to burst into tears. It is as though there is an emotion that completely mixes sadness with joy. My treat I have for myself is to buy each year a Rothko calendar when I can. It may well not be Rothko for everyone but it is worth I think experimenting with looking at pictures for a long time. The other thing is opera. I find Italian when it is sung very therapeutic – even though I don’t understand the words I feel instinctively what the singer means and how they feel. It opens me up so I can feel it too. Walls dissolve in my mind. I am sure this is a very common experience but no less valuable for that.

    Jonice - September 29, 2020 Reply

    Wonderful suggestions Richard. Thanks for sharing them!

Lori - September 29, 2020 Reply

Hi Janice,
As I shared with you/your readers before on psych central, I grew up in an environment where we weren’t taught about feelings, the bad ones (sadness, fear, anger, jealousy etc) weren’t allowed or we were punished or threatened if we showed them. Not by our mom but she never really told us about emotions and with some of the scary, sad or hard stuff, HER reactions were to: deny, go to work, or just shut down. My former stepfather didn’t validate ANY of us. His reaction was to say things like “If you don’t shut up I’ll give you something to REALLY cry about” or we would be called things like “quit being such a sissy/” candy-ass ” etc. If the little kids were playing too loud he would threaten “I’m gonna tear your arm off if you don’t behave!” Kids tend to take things pretty literally. That one used to scare us!
As an adult, I minimize sadness a lot because feelings in general seem like being out of control and also, like overreacting which is what I was told (one of many) during the sexual abuse if I cried in pain or fear or confusion. After a short while, I could go through it stone faced and not shed a tear but then he would demand that I smile while he was doing stuff. THAT messes with a person’s head!
So mostly if I am sad I wait until it either feels unbearable or until the other thing hits. Is feeling “numb” a feeling? Or feeling “shut down?” I can more easily admit to those on occasion!
Lori a.k.a. “Velveteen Rabbit”

    Jonice - September 29, 2020 Reply

    Hi VR/Lori, it’s so nice to connect with you here! A suggestion: don’t stop with “sad” and instead try to parse this feeling out more to identify the multiple feelings that likely go into it.

      Lori - September 30, 2020 Reply

      Hi,
      Thanks so much for the welcome–and for the suggestion. I will give it a try!

Richard - September 28, 2020 Reply

I think it would be really good if psychologists and psychiatrists did more research on the different cocktails of emotions there are and how they can lead into each other. I know we are all very complex and individual but we share a humanity and understanding emotional trends humans tend to have might help us. Also there is more linguistic work to be done as of course different languages describe emotions in different ways. Understanding how different languages and different cultures have different words and ways of understanding emotion would I hope bring us all closer together. Just look at all the ancient Greek words for love.

    Jonice - September 28, 2020 Reply

    Great ideas for research, Richard. In recent years, more and more studies have been done so we are learning more about emotions every day.

Nancy - September 28, 2020 Reply

I think my daughter and I trying to communicate with our emotions. And it’s not easy. I am 68 and she is 40. We are sure of our love but have a hard time. I always tried to give her more in the area of emotions with out fully
Understanding. And unintentionally because I want in touch with mine it’s hard at times to understand hers. I’m hoping this one word less talk will help!! Thank you!

    Jonice - September 28, 2020 Reply

    Bravo for working on this with your daughter, Nancy. It feels the hardest when the most work is happening. Keep it up.

Monica - September 28, 2020 Reply

These words are related to sadness, but I’m not certain if they fit into your framework. alone, isolated, invisible.

    Jonice - September 28, 2020 Reply

    They are good emotion words, Monica, and that’s what matters. Common feelings for CEN people. Thanks for sending them.

    Marcy - September 29, 2020 Reply

    Bingo!

Janell - September 28, 2020 Reply

I’ve had a recurring feeling of being ashamed of making mistakes as a child and teenager. Some were self-destructive in certain ways, but that wasn’t the intention. Parents especially mother had a problem with mistakes. It was all about how they were a blot on your character. Or that’s how I perceived it back then. Still have trouble forgiving myself for the mistakes I’ve made in my life. I think believing that it had to mean I was of low character to have made those mistakes makes it hard for me to forgive myself.

    Jonice - September 28, 2020 Reply

    Dear Janell, your mom accidentally taught you that you must be perfect to be acceptable and that is an impossible goal. I hope you will work at learning to know, accept and like yourself for who you are.

Jen W - September 28, 2020 Reply

Not welcome

    Jonice - September 28, 2020 Reply

    That is a sad feeling indeed. Thanks for sharing.

Mary - September 28, 2020 Reply

Dr. Jonice, thanks so much 🙂 for taking the time to compile your profound articles. I adore your compassion & expertise! Providing individuals an opportunity to take a step back, to take a much-needed *pause* from quotidian routines & breaking-free from the [‘enstiflement’] confining, invisible chains of being told/reminded to be a ‘quiet’, ‘seen-but-not-heard ‘good child’ is cathartic. Your helpful word lists further inspire me to crack open, as well, Roget’s Thesaurus towards further discovery, emotional release, & healing from CEN. [add’l streams-of-consciousness: dejected, melancholy, forlorn, sobby, weepy, wailful…]

    Jonice - September 28, 2020 Reply

    Those are very good “sad” words, Mary. It’s great you are working on all this so diligently. It will pay off!

Johanna - September 27, 2020 Reply

I have had some distressing times with Workers Compensation agents and workplace disability agents. Words I found to voice my experience: invalidated, ignored, made invisible, discounted, disrespected, having my experience and reality invalidated…I struggle to find words to describe the distress…

Cheryl - September 27, 2020 Reply

worthless, overwhelmed, Invalid,

Larry - September 27, 2020 Reply

Heavy Hearted:
Not had and then lost;
Now know I never had.

    Jonice - September 28, 2020 Reply

    Yes, heavy hearted is a good one.

Richard - September 27, 2020 Reply

In terms of my emotions I find it difficult to allow myself to feel sad without accusing myself of self pity. This is I think because while I was growing up my parents were very critical of my schoolwork calling it “careless” and when I was upset and cried about this they would say “Look at you. You are really are wallowing in self pity” I don’t think self pity is a helpful emotion but at the same time I think if one is feeling sad or low or gloomy or despondent one needs to recognise it. Only then can one transcend this if indeed this is appropriate.

    Jonice - September 27, 2020 Reply

    You are right, Richard, and your parents were wrong to label your feelings “self-pity.” I’m sure you had many varied emotions growing up, and it’s important, now that you’re an adult, to accept and name them in a more emotionally aware way.

      Richard - September 28, 2020 Reply

      Thank you Jonice for your good and helpful reply – especially in helping me to realise that although, like so many people, I had a tough childhood my emotions were very varied and not negative all the time. I hope you are feeling good yourself – or one of the many emotions under that umbrella phrase.

    Andy - September 27, 2020 Reply

    I agree.
    Actually, it seems to me like self-pity is actually a judgment that often, people that can’t handle emotion put on people that are having sadness, hurt, etc.
    That can be very confusing for the “receiver”.
    There are a few other words on this list like that, though, for the most part they seem right on and helpful!

      Richard - September 29, 2020 Reply

      I think that if someone has been repressing their emotions for a long time then watching someone else be emotional can be deeply frightening. That is why their response to that persons emotions may well be agressive, perhaps censorious, perhaps deeply patronising, perhaps sarcastic. This I think is a way of re-establishing their own wall to themselves as they feel threatened. I could see this happening at the boarding school I was at. Everyone was so frightened of people turning on them for being emotional it became a competition to see who could be the most macho and cool. The thing is once people leave a place like that the “macho mask” does not come off. instead it can become embedded in their own skin and if they want to remove it they need a great deal of love and support.

        Jonice - September 29, 2020 Reply

        Yes very true I agree.

Maria - September 27, 2020 Reply

Regret, Regretful

    Elijah - September 27, 2020 Reply

    I bet Jonice regrets leaving that out 😉 😀

      Jonice - September 28, 2020 Reply

      Funny! Actually, I would not put “regret” under the “sad” category. It’s a feeling that you might have with sadness, but it has very much its own qualities that make it a fully separate emotion. However, I’m sure these two feelings often occur together.

Anne - September 27, 2020 Reply

Rachel, when I first started trying to name my emotions, I found that there were/still at times is/are more than one. I guess this happens, for me, because all of my emotions had/have been pushed down so far, they got stuck together.
Bringing them to awareness, even when you don’t know what it is, does seem to shine light and clarify things over time.
Keep up the good work!

    Jonice - September 27, 2020 Reply

    Yes, probably there are almost always more than one emotion at a time. It’s great to try to name them all.

Angelina - September 27, 2020 Reply

Is there any way to wean us off the use of “black” as a word in this context/ category? In USA 2020, using language consciously seems important and useful to bring awareness to.

    Jonice - September 27, 2020 Reply

    Thanks for pointing that out, Angelina. I fixed it now.

Green2red - September 27, 2020 Reply

I really found this to be helpful, and I’m going to try to refer back to it often. Can you PLEASE do this for other emotions…like Fear/Feeling Scared? Sometimes I just can’t name what I’m feeling…now I know exactly why, but I’m going to need help with the words. Having a list put in front of me removes the barrier to just starting. Thank You so much for this!

    Jonice - September 27, 2020 Reply

    I did one for anger and one for hurt. I’ll definitely do one for fear! Great suggestion.

      rik - September 29, 2020 Reply

      I havnt seen an anger list … ????
      cant see a point in learning to be sad .
      the more I read the less sense it makes
      ie express anger … you will get arrested ???
      which one is it
      if I should feed sad but don’t am I a sociopath ?

        Jonice - September 29, 2020 Reply

        You are not learning to be sad you are learning how to label your feelings. It’s very different. Also feeling a feeling and making a feeling are not the same as expressing the feeling. They are all separate skills used at different times for different purposes.

Anna - September 27, 2020 Reply

Hi!
It’s interesting, when I read your list…often when I have an emotion, the automatic thought is “I shouldn’t feel this way”. Today I thought, “says WHO??” 🙂 Maybe it’s the voice of a childhood programming, to be people pleasing and not “upset” my parents. But now as an adult, of course I do not want to intentionally upset (or burden) anyone with my feelings. But maybe there’s a difference what I privately feel when I’m alone with myself but then not lash out or “project” that feeling on to other people..when it indeed becomes a burden to them?
I recently read something interesting, if in childhood parents are at least 30% of time attuned and emotionally validating etc. then the child is able to develop normally to become a balanced adult. I experienced emotional neglect and many type of abuse. But I’ve often thought how “surprisingly” normal, wise and successful I’ve become anyway! Maybe because my mother and other caregivers were able to “compensate” and repair the damage done by my dad. 30% doesn’t sound that much, I think it is kind of relief to hear that no parent is or has to be 100% perfect all the time! But I do have noticed the strange effects of cen in my adulthood, maybe that’s why I found you Jonice in the first place 🙂 Also as an adult, I have been on “repeat” and attracted many abusive partners, but now when I’ve started to notice this subconscious pattern…well, I’m working on it!
I also read, that if in childhood the moments of disconnection with parents are followed by connection with them…then it is not so harmful. My dad was abusive and sometimes drunken, then sometimes caring and actually pretty good dad. Isn’t this even more confusing to a child? It feels unsafe when someone’s behaviour is so unpredictable. Hurts and horrible to say this, but I think for the logical mind it would be easier, if someone would be abusive 100% time. Either way, it wasn’t and isn’t my fault or responsibility at all, if someone chooses to behave abusive way. It’s entirely their responsibility. Realising this has also been a huge relief to me! There never was anything defective or wrong in ME.

    Jonice - September 27, 2020 Reply

    That’s so very important, Anna. You cannot choose your feelings, they choose you. So you can’t judge yourself for what you feel, only for what you do with your feelings. I’m so glad you’re getting here.

Lorena - September 27, 2020 Reply

Thank you for this. I can say through my journey to be emotionally healthy and heal from what I now know is CEN…along the way I have had to identify with a word to describe different emotions and feeling. And it has been so freeing and helpful in continuing on.

A word I recently came upon was..dismissed or dismissive…which actually came about because I have felt unheard and had no voice with my aging parents even to this day. As I felt frustrated with them, this was the word that came to me and really described/describes what I have been feeling as I navigate some important issues with them. It amazes me now as I am healthier…that a simple word identifying the moment, emotion or feeling can make such a difference going forward.
Lorena

    Jonice - September 27, 2020 Reply

    Wow, Lorena, what a great description of the power of naming a feeling. Thanks for sharing that!

Joellen - September 27, 2020 Reply

REGRET – much regret

Olivia - September 27, 2020 Reply

I am finding- thanks to your CEN work- that learning about and naming my emotions helps me with boundaries. If someone does or says something I don’t like, I am more able to name that feeling and stand up for myself. A bit better anyway.

    Jonice - September 27, 2020 Reply

    That’s wonderful, Olivia! That’s exactly how healing CEN works. Thanks so much for sharing.

Shirl - September 27, 2020 Reply

smad, sangry

    Jonice - September 27, 2020 Reply

    Good ones, Shirl! Thanks for sharing.

Myya - September 27, 2020 Reply

An Interesting and useful list of words Jonice. However I think being able to describe these words with a simile is just as relevant and important. Many children are not raised by educated parents but certainly if a parent simply asks ‘how do you feel about …?’ And an answer is “I feel like … ‘ Eg “I feel like I was kicked in the guts” or I felt like disappearing” etc
This creates a base to work on when they do get the words from outside family sources such as formal education, literature, films etc. So it would be great to have a list of similes next to your list of words.

    Jonice - September 27, 2020 Reply

    Yes, I agree. However, it’s very common to confuse thoughts with feelings and when you start using full phrases to describe emotions you are entering dangerous territory in that respect. That’s why I try to get people to stick with one word. It’s a simple rule that helps.

Monica Cretella - September 27, 2020 Reply

I recently read research that said that it is important to develop more complex vocabulary around positive emotional states. Can you say more about this from your experience in teaching people to recognize and label their emotional experiences?

    Jonice - September 27, 2020 Reply

    Yes, definitely. Emotional literacy helps build emotional awareness for both positive and negative feelings.

Rachel - September 27, 2020 Reply

I am really really struggling

    Jonice - September 27, 2020 Reply

    It’s okay to struggle, Rachel. See if you can put some precise words to what you are feeling.

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