Addictions take hold when we rely on substances to ‘regulate’ our emotions and feelings.
What this means is that we don’t have a very good ability to make ourselves feel calm when we’re stressed, anxious or angry.
And we also don’t have much success in making ourselves feel hopeful, excited, optimistic or motivated when we’re feeling depressed, down or generally flat and disinterested in life.
This difficulty managing our own emotional states is now known to be at the heart of the majority of psychological and emotional problems that we face today – so learning to manage our emotions is the absolute key to overcoming problems with addictive behaviour of any kind.
Now you might have noticed that I use the words feelings AND emotions and you might be wondering what the difference is – or you might not!
Anyway, if you are interested in the difference, basically:
Emotions are intense, spontaneous, short-lived, biological responses to what happens outside of us and their job is to keep us alive as a species. They are often so quick to arise that we feel like they come out of nowhere and are out of our control.
There are 6 basic emotions FEAR, ANGER, SADNESS, SURPRISE, DISGUST and JOY and we share these emotions with all other mammals.
Feelings are very much connected to our thoughts. They result from the ‘stories’ that we tell ourselves about our emotions or external events.
Here’s an example to show the difference.
If you’re walking through the forest and something moves in your peripheral vision – you would immediately have an upsurge of fear.
Your heart would start racing, you’d feel a ‘jolt’ in your chest, you’d likely freeze and slowly look around for the ‘snake’ that you anticipated was wriggling through the undergrowth. This fear response is automatic – it’s fast and intense.
But then, if we keep telling ourselves there might be snakes around every tree – we get a similar response – “anxiety’. But this is caused by our thoughts – this is a feeling. It will last as long as the thoughts or ‘stories’ that we keep telling ourselves.
Here 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.
Feelings and Emotions Vocabulary
uneasy, afraid, anxious, worried, nervous, apprehensive, scared, insecure, vulnerable, stressed, helpless, powerless, terrified, petrified, ashamed, guilty, embarrassed, humiliated, inadequate, rejected, abandoned, confused, bewildered, overwhelmed
annoyed, irritated, irritable, frustrated, agitated, angry, mad, furious, infuriated, livid, resentful, bitter, outraged, rageful, indignation, envious, jealous, hateful,
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
shocked, astonished, startled, stunned,amazed, awe
happy, contented, enthusiastic, alive, excited, anticipation, loving, loved, proud, hopeful, optimistic, peaceful, curious, powerful, confident, calm, excited, connected, interested, free
revulsion, self-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.
Researchers have found that different feelings and emotions are felt in different areas of the body
The first step in identifying feelings and emotions is to notice what sensations you’re experiencing in your body and where they’re located. It’s also helpful to notice if it’s 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’s 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’s 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.