Putting words to our feelings can be a struggle. Especially when those words are exchanged with someone we care about on issues packed with emotional complexity.

Emotional complexity is what navigating motherhood is all about, according to Erica Chidi Cohen in her new book, Nurture. We spied ‘The Feeling Circle’ in the pages of the new book and thought it seemed like an invaluable tool for emotional communication across the board.

Though Erica is a doula and CEO of women’s health education center LOOM, her new book, Nurture, is full of helpful emotional communication tools for us all. The Feelings Circle was originally developed by Dr. Gloria Willcox…

The Feelings Circle

Using intellectual language — words that are not connected to your direct experience — can distance you from your emotions and make it more difficult to know what you are truly feeling. To avoid this, try using simpler, more self-expressive words (emotional language) to explain what you feel. The circle provides some more emotional words you can say in place of intellectual ones.

Feeling the thing: When a feeling starts to arise, look at the wheel.

Get to the core feeling first: Start with the inner-most wheel and move outward, moving from the core feelings toward any associated feelings that might be coming up for you.

How do you feel? Alternatively, if a core emotion is not clear, you can move from the outside in, identifying the associated feeling first and then making your way toward the core emotion. Don’t necessarily “hunt” for the right word. Rather, as you look, notice which words resonate with you.

compare feelings: Another way to use the chart is to compare how you’re feeling today with how you felt earlier today or even yesterday. For example:

“I’m feeling _________ today, but yesterday I felt  _______ and ________. “

Typically you might find that two or even four different emotions apply.

What are your techniques for effective emotional communication?

Learn more about Erica and LOOM here.

From our friends


  1. Great chart to use with adolescents… or husbands/ life partners.. 2 grps who traditionally experience difficulty in identifying, expressing & articulating their feelings.

    Michelle | 04.16.2018 | Reply
  2. How does that wheel work? Do you spin it like the wheel of fortune?

    RevT | 05.04.2020 | Reply
  3. How can I find a bigger chart to use? I work with addicts. I know from myself I would be dead if it wasnt for Claudia black and her books about “adult children of alchoholics” i literally owe my life to that person who took the time to write that book. I think this chart is another life changer. But I know it is too complicated for my clients, these are third generation addicts. Most are illiterate and live with no care no hope no life. But I would still love to find a way to make a giant copy to put in my office. I use the feeling chart for little kids with the faces and feelings. And the shock so many feel over being able to get a name a word to put to the jumble inside is heartbreaking. All have been involved with the prison systems etc. I often wonder what the hell these so called professionals do with their captive audiences? How do they not see the angry little kid with no words staring at them out of those eyes? Is this dangerous? Yes. None of these folks have much self control. But after four years in my self funded housing and rehab program I do see some successes. About 1 in 5 turn it around. Get some insight. Become a little better at functioning with 3 months of no worry about housing, food, cigs if I must, pot if needed, a vehicle to use or rides. Someone who cares, that is absolutely important, but its a mad, mad, mad world. I must be grandma but also dad for it to work.

    michele ring carr | 06.26.2020 | Reply

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