Human beings experience many types of emotions and feelings as we react to our thoughts and triggers from others and the outside world. Some estimates show that we can express up to 1000 nuances of emotion.
American psychologist Robert Plutchik created the wheel of emotions to illustrate eight primary emotions and their varying intensities. It shows how they are related, which ones are opposing, and how they can blend together.
The word emotion means energy in motion. Your unconscious mind is the source of emotional states, even though you are aware of them and experience them consciously.
We tend to classify and judge emotional states as positive or negative, but that is not accurate. The energy moving through us is neither good nor bad. For example, joy may be considered desirable and sadness undesirable, even if sadness is the most appropriate response. Feeling anger when violated is a normal, instinctual response. How you choose to behave when angry is another story.
There is also some confusion about whether emotions and feelings are the same thing. We often use the words interchangeably, showing just how intertwined the mindbody connection is.
Emotions and feelings may be intimately interconnected, but they are not the same thing. They occur in different regions of the brain.
Emotions have played a vital role in our survival. For the most part, they are encoded in our genes and similar from person to person and between species. They are physical and instinctual. You recognize expressions of happiness, sadness, anger and fear in others because you respond the same way. They help us respond biochemically to our environment including threats and rewards.
The amygdala is important in emotional arousal. It controls the release of neurotransmitters that consolidate memory and keep them strong and long-lasting.
Feelings follow emotions. They originate in the neocortex and are based on subconscious responses to your emotions. These responses vary based on your mental associations, experiences, beliefs, and memories.
Feelings in turn bring up other emotions, and the cycle continues. You can, however, consciously interrupt this cycle by choosing to respond consciously in a way that alters the types of emotions and feelings you experience in a given situation.
There are only three types of feelings - pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Emotionally induced feelings span the range of feeling really good to downright awful. As mental states ebb, intensify and shift, you feel corresponding physiological changes, or feelings, as various body sensations.
When you say, "I feel anxious, angry, happy...", you are interpreting emotion by how it feels in your body. When I imagine public speaking, my 'energy in motion' feels like butterflies in my stomach. I translate that sensation as apprehension or fear.
As humans, we respond to self talk with different types of emotions and feelings, followed by actions. Actions and responses cause mental states to shift, and so the cycle continues. Sometimes it appears as though emotions are flowing without any preceding thought at all. They may cause you to act or react, for better or worse, before you can even consciously think about it.
For example, you see a car speeding towards you (trigger). This causes you to perceive a threat (thought) that induces fear (emotion). Unpleasant feelings, such as taking a sharp breath and a pounding heart follow. You respond by slamming on the brakes or veering out of the way (action). You see he missed you (trigger), you mutter under your breath (thought), feel a mixture of anger and joy that you escaped unharmed (emotion), breathe a sigh of relief (feeling) and continue on your way (action).
We experience countless shades of emotions that continuously ebb and flow. They can be classified into groups of primary emotions.
Plutchik's wheel of emotions was created as a model to describe human emotions. He proposed that all people experience a basic set of eight primary, or biologically primitive emotions. They directly relate to behaviors that help us adapt and improve our chances of survival. Our many and varied types of emotions stem from primary emotions, which vary in intensity and combine together to make new emotions.
The eight sectors of Plutchik's Wheel show the primary emotions. Each state has an opposite. Emotions are related and increase in intensity as you move toward the center of the circle. Annoyance is a mild form of anger. Rage is intense anger. The white areas show the emotion that is related to the two emotions near it. For example, serenity and acceptance combine as love.
Of course, humans are not this simple. You are always experiencing and expressing emotions, and can experience several in close succession. You easily move up and down the intensity scale in a matter of seconds. Each emotion can be accompanied by different types of feelings.
Just watch infants or very young children who have yet to learn how to hide their feelings to see the range of emotion in action. They express emotions in rapid succession with every changing thought and it shows just as instantaneously in their faces and bodies.
Intense emotions and feelings take a lot of energy and are often short-lived. Ecstatic love and its rush of happy love hormones fade to serenity and acceptance. Some people confuse this with falling out of love, but really this is just a calm, more natural, enduring state.
Besides being a model that shows the relationship of different types of emotions to each other, the wheel can be used as a visual aid for emotional and mental healing.
By observing your emotions, different types of feelings, and what triggers them, you can gain a great deal of insight into your subconscious programming. With that understanding, you may be able to open doors to personal transformation and healing.
Using the wheel you can see which types of emotions are a 'step up' the scale. You can not easily move up the scale too fast, but you can easily shift one or two steps to a more pleasant feeling. So if you are expressing rage, shifting to anger would be a positive shift. You can say you feel terror or calm it down by choosing the word fear or apprehension instead.
Likewise, you can increase your long term level of optimism by learning to move up the scale from serenity to joy. Healthy self love grows as you move up the scale from acceptance to trust and finally true admiration.
The wheel is also a good tool for measuring your progress. For example, if your thoughts about a past trauma typically induced feelings of terror, and now it routinely evokes feelings of mild fear, you can see you are moving in a positive direction.
Another model of categorizing emotions and feelings is the Emotional Guidance scale. In their book, The Amazing Power of Deliberate Intent, Ester and Jerry Hicks share a scale of 22 emotions. They range from Joy/Knowledge/Empowerment/Freedom/Love/Appreciation at the top of the scale down to Fear/Grief/Depression/Despair/Powerlessness at the bottom of the scale.
You use this scale the same way as the wheel to reach for a better feeling emotion one or two levels up from how you are feeling now. For example, if you are bored, you can aim for contentment. If you are feeling hatred, you can move up to anger. From there you can reach for another slight improvement.
Expressing all types of emotions, even negative emotions, is natural and healthy. When channeled appropriately, they are cleansing and empowering. Expressing all types of feelings helps you move energy and take action. Only when negative states become habitual and destructive to yourself and others do they lose their positive power and become an obstacle to your well-being.