Feelings Cards Activity


The activity aims to introduce a representation of inner experience based on the feelings and needs concept developed within non-violent communication. This means to get to know a variety of human feelings, to try to discuss a neutral topic to reflect these feelings, and simultaneously, to build vocabulary that we can use to describe our inner experience better.

Practical Information

Group Size

For these activities, there is no upper limit of participants. However, to determine the (maximum) number of participants, it is suitable to consider how large your workshop space is. When working with a set of Cards, each participant must be able to find a relatively calm place for themselves without others distracting them.



  1. The author of this set of Feelings Cards is Ondráš Přibyla, a CNVC-certified trainer. For the purposes of this project, this set of Feelings Cards has been graphically redone. Cards were translated by Martin Švarc. The original version of the Cards is available at https://nenasilnakomunikace.org/stahnete-si-cviceni-s-kartickami-potreb-a-pocitu/ ↩︎

Structure and Instructions

At the beginning of this activity, we introduce the Iceberg model for an illustration of the dynamics of the inner experience based on human feelings and needs. Before this activity, we draw the Iceberg model on a flipchart according to the picture (see below). Following this introduction, we first work with a set of Feelings cards (and next with a set of Needs cards).

We can compare the human inner experience and its dynamics to an iceberg that floats on the surface. Same as the iceberg, a part of the human inner experience is above the surface and visible to all, while a part of it is invisible — hidden under the surface — yet firmly attached to the visible part.

Above the surface of the human inner experience, there are all our actions, words, and behaviour — all we do and all that is visible for everyone around us. The visible behaviour stems from layers below the surface that people around us cannot see.

Right below the surface, there is a layer of feelings — a full scale of feelings a person can experience on a daily basis (e.g. anger, tension, joy, tiredness). These feelings can be positive, negative, or neutral. The fact that we experience positive or negative feelings is shaped by whether some of our essential needs are satisfied or not.

The layer of needs is situated at the very bottom of the iceberg and is responsible for the dynamics of our inner experience. When we talk about “needs”, we are referring to the whole scale of essential human needs such as the need for safety, respect, or autonomy. These needs are universal, i.e. all human beings have the same needs, and they are inalienable because it is not possible to disprove them or deprive human beings of them (e.g. disproving that a person has the need for safety/respect). For a human being, any of these needs can be — to varying degrees — fulfilled, unfulfilled, and also neutral at a particular moment. Whether our needs are fulfilled or not is reflected in experiencing our feelings. If we have an unfulfilled need, we experience rather negative feelings, and vice versa.

For a clearer illustration of the human inner experience dynamics, we can use the following example. Friends, Peter and Carl, and their group are in a pub arguing about something. Peter holds a certain view; the rest of the friends do not share his opinion, except for Carl, who tries to be neutral and not pick sides. After Peter and Carl leave the pub, Peter does not talk to Carl (Peter’s behaviour/actions that are visible, located above the surface). Peter is angry at Carl (a feeling) and disappointed about Karl’s behaviour (a feeling). When Peter argued with the other friends, he needed Carl to stick up for him (a need for support).

When introducing the Iceberg, the participants may ask key questions that relate to the concept of needs and their personal experiences so far, and these questions can counter the Iceberg principle. For example, we may hear sentences like these: “He’s just a homophobe, and we don’t need to care about his needs!” or “I’m expressing my needs, but nobody cares!”. These situations mean that participants confuse needs with the strategies people use to fulfil (or not) their needs. For instance, a homophobic person’s need is not homophobia itself but probably a need for clarity, comprehensibility — the need for understanding the world. A homophobic person satisfies these needs through not accepting a certain group of people (gays and lesbians) because this fact complicates their perception of the world. Their need is clarity and comprehensibility; their strategy for satisfying it is homophobia. We all understand the need for clarity and comprehensibility because each of us experienced having this need at some point of our lives. However, the strategy — homophobia in this case — this person uses to fulfil their needs might not be something we like or agree with. Furthermore, some strategies people use to satisfy their needs might not lead to the actual fulfilment of needs.

Working with a Set of Feelings Cards

Hand out sets of Feelings Cards to participants (on each card, there is a word for one human feeling). Each participant finds a spot without distractions and with enough space to spread the cards out. Have everyone to scan the spread-out cards and ask any questions to clarify meaning on cards they do not completely understand. Next, participants should think about the feelings they experienced this morning/today. They only keep the cards that express these feelings. Participants spread out this “shortlisted” selection of feelings once again. They observe what feelings they experienced during this morning/day while simultaneously trying to notice their present feelings (the ones experienced during observation of their Feelings Cards selection). After individual work is finished, we all sit in a circle to share and discuss which Feelings Cards we have selected. 1

  1. This activity is inspired by NVC Brno techniques available at https://nenasilnakomunikace.org/stahnete-si-cviceni-s-kartickami-potreb-a-pocitu/. ↩︎

It is more suitable to reflect on our feelings experienced during a short time, e.g. the morning/afternoon/whole day. Avoid choosing longer periods of time (few days/a week) for feelings reflection.

The work with a set of Feelings Cards is a Non-Violent Communication technique based on empathy for self. When we are reflecting on feelings we have experienced, we connect to self, we immerse deeper into our inner experience, and therefore we learn to better understand ourselves.


“During the day, we experience a multitude of feelings. Often, many of these pass without us consciously noticing them. Others are hard to pin down. Conversely, we may let a feeling take control over us. Conscious work with our feelings, their reflection, and their precise naming are the first steps towards better self-understanding and understanding our inner world. Thanks to this conscious work with our feelings, we can notice more easily which of our needs were un/fulfilled in particular moments, and based on this realization, we can also understand better what would we appreciate in similar situations in the future.”