This is the first in a three part series on Feelings
Many people use the words “emotions” and “feelings” to mean the same thing. However, I suggest you think of them as two different, but highly related things -- like two sides of a coin. One side of the coin is your physical reaction to change (your emotion) -- an experience that is nearly universal. The other side of the coin is your personal impression of your emotion (your feeling) - an experience that is highly personal.
Emotions have predictable triggers and can be objectively measured by blood flow, brain activity, facial expressions, and body stance. Feelings are their mental companions; they reflect the meanings and images you bring to your emotions. Feelings represent your subjective experience of your emotions - the other side of the coin. They occur in the mind and are often unique to you.
For example, sometimes when I get angry, I feel scared. For someone else, a bully perhaps, the experience of anger might feel empowering rather than frightening. Among dissimilar people, the emotion of anger may cause very different feelings (in this example, fear versus exhilaration). Whereas emotions are inborn and common to us all, the meanings they acquire and the feelings they prompt are highly individual. Feelings are shaped by individual temperament and experience; varying enormously from person to person, and from situation to situation. There are so many ways to feel a particular emotion.
This way of differentiating between emotions and feelings is based on the work of Antonio D'Amasio, M.D. a prominent neuroscientist at USC. In his model, feelings come after emotions, stirred by the images and thoughts that accompany a particular physical reaction. Emotions are more fleeting, while feelings often persist and develop over a lifetime. Because emotions can stir feelings, and feelings can spark emotions, feelings can prompt a never-ending cycle of emotions.
Learning to recognize and differentiate between emotions and feelings is critical to becoming An Emotional Detective. It helps you understand why feelings can be so different from one person to another. Even more importantly, this distinction lets you make room in your mind for having a wide variety of feelings and puts you on the trail to understanding them.
How to distinguish between emotions and feelings in your own life?
Most people veer toward feeling certain emotions, and stay away from others. For example, you may be more prone to fear than to anger. Or you may be more comfortable feeling sad than happy. Take a minute to think about what you are most prone to feeling, and what emotion you might be missing.
When you don't get your way, or someone hurts you, do you usually become sad, anxious, or mad?
- Think back to a recent situation that was frustrating (someone cut the line, you couldn't make some technology work, you lost a parking space, etc.) Did you feel mad or sad in response to the frustration? Did you feel something else (resigned, self-blame, shame, nothing)?
- Think back to a recent situation that was disappointing (a friend let you down, you didn't get something you'd hoped for, you didn't live up to your own standards). Did you get sad, mad or hurt? Did you feel something else (resigned, self-blame, shame, nothing)?
- Look back on the situation and see if you can find clues to an emotion that you didn't feel at the time.
By differentiating between emotions and feelings you can get to the true emotions that underlie your feelings. This will help you straighten out your feelings and break out of the ongoing cycle that keeps causing you unpleasant emotions and feelings.