What is the word to use when you don’t know how to feel?

Such as instead of saying:

He didn't know how to feel

You could say

He felt ____.

  • It looks like a recursive expression.
    – Stan
    Commented May 24, 2013 at 15:47

7 Answers 7


The perfect word for this comes from today’s slang. In the current vernacular, you would say that he felt meh. It’s recent slang that per Urban Dictionary means

Indifference; to be used when one simply does not care.

For example, from an article on “Five Ways Not to Feel Meh” on Karousing.com:

It’s easy to feel meh. Not up. Not down. Just indifferent. Apethetic. No matter how great life is, we can all fall into the lull of feeling, well, nothing. We get caught up in work, patterns, habits, and fears. I’m here to tell you that there’s a danger to feeling meh. Just like that frog in the pot of water that sits there as the temperature is turned up slowly until it’s boiled to death. Nothing kills your spirit more than the gradual and continuous malaise of feeling meh.

Although some folks might use meh to mean blasé, others use it in a much more neutral fashion.

  • You are saying that not knowing how to feel is the same as not caring how to feel? When some one is shocked or hasn't had time to think, they may not know how they feel (yet). That is not the same as ambivalence.
    – walrii
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 1:54

Here are some words and phrases sometimes used in such a situation:
• He felt at a loss
• He was dumfounded (“Shocked and speechless”)
• He was all at sea
• He was bewildered (“Baffled, confused, mystified, at a loss, or uncertain”)

  • 1
    Note, a suggested edit (rejected, I think reasonably, by two reviewers) would have added “He was emotionless” and “He was apathetic or in a state of apathy” to the above. I see emotionless as suggestive of coldness or callousness, rather than of uncertainty about how to feel; and apathetic as suggestive of not caring enough to feel. Commented May 24, 2013 at 17:58

I immediately thought of the word ambivalent.

Ambivalence is defined as:

  1. simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action
  2. a. continual fluctuation (as between one thing and its opposite) b. uncertainty as to which approach to follow

A common word for this condition is nonplussed. The link takes you to an online thesaurus for a list of synonyms.

  • That is absolutely right. And it means that 'one is not sure how to react or what to do when in a situation'. Eg. Mary was nonplussed when the hitchhiker jumped in front of her car.
    – Vaibhav
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 6:19

For a common word you could use uncertain or unsure, but depending on if you want to alter the phrase at all, the word vacillate or vacillation would fit perfectly in terms of meaning: "the inability to decide between different opinions or actions" - Oxford Dictionaries.

A selection of other words that mean similar are: ambivalent, irresolute, indeterminate, equivocal.


Another possibility is that he felt conflicted. That would be when he feels two (or more) apparently contradictory emotions at the same time.


This is almost a trick question. It implies that people don't just feel emotions, they choose an emotion and slip into it. As though, for example, if I won the lottery and thought.. "ooh what's that emotion I'm supposed to have now ?..erh" and because I can't remember what it is, I never feel happy, I just feel confused. Is that the state you are talking about? You see what I mean?

If you mean he was unable to feel, then perhaps you could say numb.

If you mean that there is an expectation on him to feel a certain way (e.g. when someone dies) and he is not sure how to behave, then I'm not sure that one word will do it.

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