Your emotional tape measure – scaling

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Emotional measurement.
Photo courtesy of

What tool should we be using to measure emotions?

Most of us know that we can measure a board with a tape measure. There is a big difference between a shelf that is 6 inches long and one that is 72 inches long.

We can check a child’s fever with a thermometer. It matters if your child’s temperature is 98.6 or 106.

You can see if you’re overweight or underweight by standing on a scale. Please fill in the weights as needed.

Does it matter how much of an emotion you are feeling? It may be the difference between ignoring what was said to you and getting into a fight.

What tool do you use to measure the size and shape of your emotions?

Emotions like so many other things in life come in sizes and shapes. We get ourselves into a peck of trouble by equating all emotions as being the same size and importance.

Take anxiety for instance. Most of us are either anxious or we are not anxious. Anxiety is sneaky that way. There is that little kitten size anxiety and there is that big hungry lion size anxiety. It is important to know which is which.

If every time you feel the sound of hissing you run for your life you will be hiding from a lot of kittens. We talked a little about developing a scale of anxiety and learning to adjust the volume in a previous post on “selective desensitization.”

Anger is a similar creature. Lots of people have only two extremes when it comes to anger, not-angry, and violently angry. People caught in these two extreme modes of feeling anger jump from not-angry to furiously angry at the drop of a – well it could be a drop of almost anything.

One method used in anger management is to develop a scale. Say your anger is at zero when you are feeling happy and loved. When you “lose your temper” your anger is at a ten. How might you develop a scale of degrees of anger in-between?

One way of developing this scale or tape measure for your emotions is to find other similar words for your anger and place them on a scale. First, let’s scale the anger creature and then our old sometimes-friend anxiety.

What other words might describe feeling sort of like anger but more or less intense?

How about – annoyance, irritation, fury, rage, antagonism, ire, wrath, dander, exasperation, rile, aggravate, provoke and so on. While these words may not say anger to all of you, you can see that there is a lot of difference between rage and irritation. If you go looking I bet you can find more words that describe feelings similar to anger.

Take your list and arrange them by intensity from the most awful total feeling to a very mind form of anger.

Now comes the challenge. When you find yourself going from not-angry to furiously rage-full how can you turn the volume down on that anger and move from an anger rating of 10 to say a 6 or 5?

Learning to turn the volume up and down on emotions is a skill called emotional regulation. Being able to feel the necessary level of feelings when you need them can make your life a whole lot better.

Now, what about reducing anxiety?

Words for your scale might include nervousness, worry, concern, unease, apprehension, disquiet, fretful, angst, fear, terror, dread, horror, distress, panic, alarm, trepidation and so on.

Again there is a lot of distance between being uneasy and being panicked-in-terror. Work out your own list and then consider – is this anxiety you have right now a 10 or a 9. How might you learn to turn your anxiety volume down?

It is worth noting here that we have talked about two scales, words and numbers. What most people find is that by changing the word they used to describe a feeling it also changes the number they would give it.

So if you are feeling panic but tell yourself well this is not really the worse panic I have ever had so maybe it is really worrying, you may find that the anxiety meter 10 turns down to a 5 or even a 4.

Try constructing an emotional tape measure and learning to scale your feelings and see if this does not help you learn to turn the volume down on negative feelings and turn the volume up on those happy positive feelings.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at

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