Identifying Feelings and Needs

Communication and connection is enhanced when we are in tune with our feelings and how they are expression of met or unmet needs. The greater in touch we are with our feelings and needs, the more authentic and rewarding our communication will be.

Identifying your feelings is hard, especially if you grew up in family where expressing emotion was taboo. For some, identifying needs can be even more difficult, particularly if you’ve learned to suppress them. The feelings and needs wheels listed below are excellent tools to help you begin to identify your feelings and needs accurately. They offer a wide range to help expand your feelings vocabulary and offer greater clarity to your needs.

The feelings and needs wheels are based on the work of “nonviolent communication (NVC).” Nonviolent communication is based on the assumption that are human needs are universal. Actions are an attempt to meet those needs and our feelings point to met or unmet needs. Another way of saying this is that the way we feel is based on our needs being met/unmet.

Further, NVC assumes that connection arises from mutual understanding of the needs behind behavior. There is enough for all to meet our basic needs. And, moving away from “right/wrong” judgments supports us in making peace.

Disconnection (from self and/or others) occurs when we communicate using:

  • Criticism and labels (“you are insensitive”)
  • Diagnosis (“you take everything to seriously”)
  • Comparison (“we did it better at my last job”)
  • Punishment (“If you don’t do __ you’ll regret it later.”)
  • Guilt, shame, fear
  • Should, have to, must
  • Deserve (‘they got what was coming to them”)
  • Blame

Connecting communication uses empathy:

When triggered, hurt or angry, it can be especially difficult to communicate in a connecting manner. Here are some steps to follow to maintain connection and communicate with empathy, especially with difficult feelings. This can be helpful when communicating to children as well. Rather than using power and control, which fosters submission or rebellion, empathy fosters connection and compassion. Further, when using connecting language we model the connection and care we want from others (and what we want children to learn).

Step 1: State what you observed or heard without added interpretation.

Step 2: State what you are feeling (I feel…). Use the feeling wheel below to help you identify your feelings more specifically. Review the second page to identify when feelings are “judgments” vs feelings. For example, “I feel abandoned” is not a feeling. Go back to the wheel and find the most accurate feeling word. I feel that or I feel like are also not feelings, they are thoughts.

Download (PDF, 3.82MB)

Step 3: Identify your need or what you are valuing. Feelings often arise out of our needs, which are universal. Needs are not dependent on the actions of others. State your specific need vs. the other person’s actions as the cause. For example, “I feel annoyed because I need support” vs “I feel annoyed because you didn’t do the dishes.”

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Step 4: Ask clearly and concretely for what you want (not what you don’t want). For example, “would you be willing to come back tonight at the time we agreed?” vs. “Would you make sure not to be late again?” When we make requests, we must stay open to hearing “no.”

Responding with Empathy:

Step 1: Give the other person your full attention.

Step 2: Reflect back the other person’s observation, feeling, request and/or wish. For example, “You would like (something).”

Step 3: Connect to the universal need or value as a “guess”. For example, “Are you feeling?” “Is NEED important for you?”

Step 4: Savor the need – softly repeat or say the need. For example, “You are feeling sad.” “You’d like to stay at the playground.” “You love to have fun.”


Connecting with our selves through care and compassion means listening inwardly to connect to our own feelings and needs. For example, “I am feeling XXX because I need XXX.”