Emotions & Feelings Vocabulary
There is a great deal of confusing information around about what feelings and emotions actually are. Even prominent researchers in the study of emotions still don’t agree on the difference between emotions and feelings, which is why a search on the internet will throw up conflicting and often confusing information. However, some conclusions can be made based on the work of Paul Ekman, one of the most influential voices in the field of emotions research.
Difference between emotions and feelings
In a nutshell, emotions are intense, spontaneous, short-lived, physiological responses to environmental stimulus, which occur to keep us alive as a species. The intense nature of emotions causes us to react very quickly, almost as if we have no control. Emotions are much older on the evolutionary scale than feelings and we share the 6 basic emotions with most other mammals. Feelings developed as our higher brain centres (Neo-cortex) became more complex. Feelings are the interpretations and meaning that we give to the 6 basic emotions, they are less intense, longer lasting and do not generate such a noticeable physiological response. As feelings are more connected with our thought processes and our perceptions, they can be socially or culturally influenced, depending on the norms of the society we live in, whereas emotions are universal. Feelings give colour and meaning to our lives and tell us how to live as opposed to how to survive.
Evolutionary purpose of the 6 basic emotions.
Fear – primarily to keep us out of danger. Anything in our immediate environment that can harm us is likely to generate an intense fear response, prompting us to either fight the threat, runaway from the threat or freeze and remain undetectable to the threat.
Anger – Although anger is often driven by fear, it is an emotion that protects territory and boundaries. Our ancestors would likely show displays of anger to ward off competitors or rivals, who might be trying to steal their food or take over their land or tribe.
Sadness – this emotion is felt when we lose something important to us. It would ensure that we protect the things that matter to avoid the feeling. Our ancestors would take a great deal of care to protect family members. Our natural inclination to provide comfort to those who express sadness would promote social connectivity and keep tribes cohesive.
Surprise – surprise has a similar physiological response to fear. Surprise makes us quickly scan the environment and become ready if a threat is detected.
Joy – this is our reward for doing things that are beneficial for our own survival and the survival of our species. The birth of children, social gatherings, deep human connection, achievements and accomplishments that indicate progress, a good meal, sex, would all result in degrees of joy.
Disgust – this universal emotion is triggered by anything that is offensive, unpleasant or potentially poisonous for us – noxious smells, rancid food, death, decaying bodies, bodily secretions such as faeces, vomit, urine, or mucus.
If you are interested in learning more about your emotions, or becoming more able to identify your emotions, it’s probably not that important to know the difference between emotions and feelings. What is important is having some basic vocabulary to identify them. Below are some of the more commonly experienced feelings under their relevant emotions category. This list is by no means exhaustive but is a good place to start.
You will notice that some feelings are under more than one category as they are a combination of emotions. For example, jealousy is a combination of fear and anger, while shame is a combination of sadness and fear.
|Fear||uneasy, afraid, anxious, worried, nervous, apprehensive, scared, insecure, vulnerable, helpless , powerless, terrified, petrified, ashamed, guilty, embarrassed, humiliated, inadequate, rejected, abandoned, confused, bewildered, overwhelmed|
|Anger||annoyed, irritated, irritable, frustrated, agitated, angry, mad, furious, infuriated, livid, resentful, bitter, outraged, rageful, indignation, envious, jealous, hateful,|
|Sadness||discouraged, let down, hurt, disappointed, sorrowful, melancholic, nostalgic, grief, despair, heartbroken, lonely, depressed, remorseful, hopeless, empty, lost, ashamed, guilty, insignificant, inadequate, unworthy, jealous, rejected, dejected|
|Surprise||shocked, astonished, startled, stunned,amazed, awe|
|Joy||happy, contented, enthusiastic, alive, excited, anticipation, loving, loved, proud, hopeful, optimistic, peaceful, curious, powerful, confident, calm, excited, connected, interested, free|
|Disgust||Revulsion, loathing, hatred, shame (disgust at self)|
What am I feeling?
When you start to try and identify feelings it can be difficult to distinguish them from thoughts. This is because feelings are a complex combinations of body sensations (produced by the emotional response) and our thoughts.
The first step in identifying feelings and emotions is to notice what sensations you are experiencing in your body and where they are located. It’s also helpful to notice if it is a cold, warm or hot sensation and to imagine what colour the sensation is.
Fear based feelings are generally cold, experienced as a churning, nauseous, feeling in the stomach, tingling in arms, back of the neck or head, increased heart rate and shallow breathing. The feeling of fear feels like it is washing over us.
Anger based feelings are hot and felt in the chest, head and hands. There is a restlessness and agitation and a strong desire to punch or hit out. It is usually accompanied by a throbbing at the temples and clenched jaw.
Sadness based feelings are characterised by a welling up in the chest and a lump or constriction in the throat, a tightness around the chest and a strong urge to cry. It is often described as an ache or empty hollow feeling.
Surprise is a sudden but less intense sensation of the fear response but is more similar to curiosity and openness than fear.
Disgust – this is often felt as a flash or wave of nausea and a strong desire to vomit if the emotion is severe. It is accompanied by a wrinkling of the nose and curling of the lip.
Joy – joy based feelings are felt as a warm glow in the chest and abdomen area. There is a calm open, spaciousness about them and intense moments of joy it feels like a wave of warmth passing over us.
The second step in identifying the emotion or feeling is to identify what thoughts are attached to it. Are you focused on a future event but experiencing low grade fear based sensations? Then it is likely to be anxiety. Are you focusing on another person’s actions or what they said to you while feeling a hot sensation in your abdomen? It could be an anger based emotion such as resentment.
It is important to start learning to identify and feel your feelings as we can learn a lot from what they are telling us. Feelings and emotions need to be fully felt and processed in order allow them to be released. The majority of psychological issues arise from avoiding, suppressing or reacting to our emotions and feelings.
If you think you might benefit from understanding more about your feelings or you want to learn how to manage them – check out our Emotional Growth Counselling Programme.