40 words for emotions you felt but couldn't explain (2023)

VonBrianna Wiest

We feel more than we have the language to articulate and express, which in itself is deeply frustrating. People work with emotions by being able to recognize them and use them as signals. We often grope in the dark. the introduceDictionary of Obscure Pain, the brainchild of writer John Koenig, who is here to give you words for the feelings you may not even know you have. Here are 40 words to describe your emotions.

VonBrianna Wiest


N. the awareness of how little of the world you will experience. Imagine standing in front of the boarding screen in an airport showing strange place names like other people's passwords, each representing a different thing you'll never see before you die - all because, like the arrow on the map shows you are here.

Cuckoo disease

N. a phenomenon where you have an active social life but few close friends — people you can trust, with whom you can be yourself, who can help you cleanse the strange psychological toxins that build up over the course of the... Accumulating time - this is a form of acute social malnutrition where you still feel hungry even after a whole buffet of conversations.


N. the realization that every casual passerby lives a life as vivid and complex as your own - peopled with your own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited madness - an epic tale that continues unseen around you like an anthill, that sprawls underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives you'll never know exist that you can only appear in once, like an extra coffee shop in the background, like a blurred traffic sign on the highway, like a lighted window at dusk.

Hanker Sore

adj. finding a person so attractive that it really pisses you off.


N. the amniotic calm of being inside during a thunderstorm, listening to the waves of rain hitting the roof like an upstairs argument, whose muffled words are unintelligible but whose crackling release of the built-up tension you understand perfectly.

old pain

N. Fatigue with the same old problems you always had - the same annoying disorders and anxieties that have been nagging you for years, leaving you soggy, tasteless and sluggish with nothing interesting to think about, nothing to do but spit them out and head out into the backyard, ready to dig up some recent pains that you may have buried long ago.


N. the awareness of the smallness of your perspective from which you could not make meaningful inferences about the world or the past or the complexities of culture, for although your life is an epic and unrepeatable anecdote, it still has a sample size of one and could end be the control for a much wilder experiment taking place in the next room.


N. a kind of longing trance in which you are completely immersed in vivid sensory details - raindrops falling from a window, tall trees swaying in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in your coffee - briefly absorbing the experience of being alive, an act made pure by itself.

removing the knot

N. the realization that the plot of your life no longer makes sense to you — that even though you thought you were following the arc of the story, you keep getting lost in passages you don't understand, that don't even seem to belong to it same genre - which requires you to go back and re-read the chapters you originally skimmed to get to the good parts, only to realize you were destined to choose your own adventure all along.

break free

N. a desire to care less about things — to lose control of life, to stop looking back every few steps for fear someone will steal it from you before you reach the end zone — instead of keeping your life light and fun , like a volleyball, keeping it in the air with only quick and fleeting interventions, bouncing free in the hands of trusted friends, always in play.


N. the frustration of photographing something incredible when there are already thousands of identical photos — the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same close-up of an eye — that can turn a single object into something hollow, pulpy and cheap, like a self-assembled mass furniture.


N. the moment you realize you are happy in the moment - consciously trying to savor the feeling - prompting your intellect to identify it, separate it and place it in context where it slowly dissipates until it is barely is more than an aftertaste.


N. the strange melancholy of used bookstores somehow steeped in the passage of time - filled with thousands of old books you'll never have time to read, each of them enclosed in its own era, bound, dated and covered like paper Antique room that the author abandoned years ago, a hidden outbuilding full of thoughts that have remained exactly as they were the day they were captured.

return restlessness

N. that feeling of returning home after an immersive journey, only to find it quickly fading from your consciousness - to the extent that you need to remember it happened, even if it was still so vividly a few days ago seemed - making you wish you could gently slip back into everyday life, or just leave the shutter open indefinitely and let one scene overlap the next so all your days flow together and you never have to stop.


N. a recurring thought that seems to only surface late at night—a belated assignment, a nagging guilt, a looming, misshapen future—that gyrates loudly during the day, picking at the back of your mind as you try to sleep that you can successfully ignore it for weeks, only to feel its presence hovering outside your window, waiting for you to finish your coffee and amusing itself silently building a nest.

dead calculation

N. feeling more disturbed by someone's death than one would expect, assuming it would always be part of the landscape, like a lighthouse that one could walk past for years until the night suddenly got dark and one felt leaves behind a landmark to look forward to. less to navigate - still able to get your bearings but feeling a lot more helpless.


N. the feeling that no matter what you do, it's always somehow wrong - that any attempt to get through the world comfortably will only result in crossing an invisible taboo - as if there's an obvious path to follow so that all but one can see one, each of them leaned back in his chair and shouted helpful, cooler, cooler, cooler.

Summer solstice

N. a party celebrated on the day of your 26th birthday, which marks the point when your youth finally expires as a valid excuse - when you must begin to reap your harvest, even if it has barely taken root - and the point when where the days will seem shorter as they pass, until even the pollen in the air reminds you of the approaching snow.


N. Frustration with the time it takes to get to know someone - spending the first few weeks conversing in their psychological doorway, with each subsequent conversation like walking into a different antechamber, each a little closer to the center of the house - and instead wishing you could start there and work your way out, exchanging your deepest secrets first before you get lost, until you've built up enough secrets over the years to ask them where they came from and what they do for a living.

Strange Samsa

N. a kind of psychological exoskeleton that can protect you from pain and curb your fears, but it always ends up breaking under pressure or deflating over time - and it will keep growing until you develop a more elaborate emotional structure, supported by a strong, flexible pillar, built less like a fortress than a cluster of tree houses.

Be silent

N. the kind of unnoticed excellence that continues to surround you every day, unobtrusively—the hidden talents of friends and colleagues, the fleeting solos of subway musicians, the careless eloquence of anonymous users, the unseen portfolios of up-and-coming artists—that have been recognized as such would be masterpieces if only judged by the cartel of popular taste, which assumes brilliance to be a rare and precious quality and neglects accidentally buried gems that may not be perfect, but are perfect.


N. an image that somehow lodges deep in your brain — perhaps driven there by a dream, or smuggled into a book, or planted during casual conversation — which then morphs into a wild, impractical vision that keeps spinning back and forth in your mind Her fights like a dog trapped in a car about to get home, eager to leap headfirst into reality.


N. a moment that seemed harmless at the time, but turned out to be a detour into a strange new era of her life - heralded not by a series of startling revelations, but by tiny, imperceptible differences between one ordinary day and the next, right up to the whole of her years memory. It can be compressed into a handful of indelible images - keeping you from rewinding to the past but letting you move forward without endless storage.


N. a moment of awareness that someone you have known for years still has a private and mysterious inner life, and somewhere in the halls of your personality is a door locked from the inside, a stairway leading to a wing of the house , in which you're never quite understood - an unfinished attic that will remain maddeningly unknown to you because ultimately neither of you has a map or master key or can somehow know exactly where you are.


N. a conversation where everyone talks but no one listens, just layering incoherent words on top of each other like a Scrabble game, with each player borrowing bits and pieces of the other's anecdotes to increase their own score until we all run out of things to say.

catoptric sadness

N. the sadness of never really knowing what other people think about you, whether good, bad or even if they think at all - that although we are mirror clear in each other, the true picture of how we come out arrives somehow smoothed and smoothed, distorted, as if each mirror bothered to turn, trying desperately to look itself in the eye.


N. Longing for a time you never knew. Imagine stepping into the frame in a sepia haze where you can sit by the side of the road and watch the locals go by. Who lived and died before any of us came here, who sleep in some of the same houses as us, who face the same moon, breathe the same air, feel the same blood in their veins - and live in a completely different world. World.


N. the frustration of knowing how easy it is to fit into a cliche, even when you never intended it, even when it's unfair, even when everyone else feels the same way -- each of us trick-or-treat for money, respect, and attention, with a safe and predictable suit because we're tired of answering the question, "What should you be?"


N. the subtle but lingering feeling of being out of place, as out of place in your surroundings as a seal on the beach - awkward, clumsy, easily distracted, huddled in the company of other outsiders, unable to recognize the surrounding roar of your intended habitat, where you would be at home fluid, bright and effortless.


N. a conversational cue that you have something personal to say on the subject but go no further — an emphatic nod, an anecdote half-told, a cryptic “I know the feeling” — that you dive into conversations when those little red flags fly the diggers driving around something buried underground: maybe a cable secretly powering your house, maybe a fiber optic connection to a foreign country.


N. the bittersweetness of having arrived here in the future, where you are finally given the answers as to how things play out in the real world - who your little sister would become, what your friends would end up doing, exactly where your choices are taking you would when you lost people you took for granted - this is invaluable information that you instinctively want to share with anyone who hasn't made the journey yet, as if there was a part of you that would be willingly left behind, who would still be parked in a forgotten outpost somewhere in the past, still awaiting news from the front lines.


N. an imaginary interview with an old photo of yourself, an enigmatic character who still lives in the grainy, warped house you grew up in, who might spend a good part of the day wondering where you are and what you're doing now an old grandmother whose children live far away and don't care anymore.

Fata Organa

N. a flash of genuine emotion to be seen in someone sitting across the room, lazily locked in the middle of a group conversation, their eyes gleaming with vulnerability or quiet anticipation or cosmic ennui – as if one could see through a gap in the curtains behind see the scenes. Observe stagehands who have their ropes ready, costumed actors babble on their lines, snippets of bizarre sets awaiting another production.


N. the wish that memory could flow backwards. We take it for granted that life goes on. But you move like a rower when you look back: you can see where you've been but not where you're going. And your boat is piloted by a younger version of you. It's hard not to imagine what life would be like if you look the other way...

Ken option

N. the eerie, desolate atmosphere of an otherwise deserted but desolate and silent place - a nocturnal school corridor, a drab office at the weekend, an empty amusement park - an emotional afterimage that makes him not only appear empty, but hyperactive. Voids with a total negative population so conspicuously absent that they glow like neon signs.

The tilt change

N. a phenomenon where your lived experience seems oddly inconsequential once you put it on paper, turning an epic tragicomedy into a succession of characters on a model railroad, gathered in their tiny classrooms and workspaces, wandering cautiously and safely. groomed trails. beaten paths - peaceful, generic and fuzzy.

Until here

N. a hypothetical conversation you compulsively repeat in your head—a sharp analysis, a cathartic dialogue, a devastating response—that serves as a kind of psychological cage in which to connect with people more deeply than in the little ball of everyday life that is a frustratingly cautious game of pitch changes, sacrificial hits, and intentional walks.

ecstatic shock

N. the rush of energy at the sight of someone you like — a thrill that starts in your gut, travels up your lungs and turns into an spontaneous smile — that messes with your ungrounded circuitry and tempts you to feel like you have a kite and a key to chase.


N. a relationship or friendship that you can't get out of your head, that you thought was long gone but still somehow alive and unfinished, like an abandoned campsite whose embers still have the power to start a forest fire .


N. the smallest measurable unit of human connection typically exchanged between passing strangers — a flirtatious look, a sympathetic nod, a shared laugh at an odd coincidence — moments that are fleeting and accidental, yet contain powerful emotional nutrients that highlight the symptoms of Can relieve feelings alone.40 words for emotions you felt but couldn't explain (3)

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