The Difference Between Feelings and Emotions

Photo by Ivan Jevtic on Unsplash

I wonder what’s the emotional experience you have from looking at this picture?

I wonder what feeling this picture triggers in your body?

I have met many people who are unaware that feelings and emotions are not the same thing. It is my belief that this is important knowledge that we should all have. We need to understand these subtle differences to help us learn to regulate our emotions so that we are not consumed by them which allows us to lead healthier lives and experience deeper relationships with our loved ones. In daily life, we often use the words feelings and emotions interchangeably but there are differences in the words that should be noted.

Emotions and Feelings

It may be easier to start with emotions. Emotions are our unconscious reactions that our bodies have to stimuli. Dr. Antonio R. Damasio – neurologist and chair of University of Iowa’s neurology department – noted that the feelings we experience in our bodies are formed after we have already had an emotional response to particular stimuli. He gives the basic example of being afraid, we all know the usual physical responses that our bodies experience, heart racing, sweating, and dry mouths among other things, our bodies automatically create these responses with no help from us. We only become aware that we are feeling fearful after our brain has registered these physical changes. It is also important to note that not all stimuli are external as noted by Dr. Damasio.

Emotions are our unconscious reactions that our bodies have to stimuli Click To Tweet

So, our brain processes these physical changes as it scans the body and we recognize the physical feelings we are experiencing, but the emotional experience we have from past experiences is what we use to label these feelings.

Mental Health

Recognizing emotional labels are important because they affect the way we process emotions and how we cope with our emotions. When we become aware of the feelings we are experiencing, our mind has labelled the feeling according to the earlier emotional experiences we have had. Since much of the emotional response is an automatic process, we may not even be aware of how we are categorizing our experiences. Therefore, awareness and insight are extremely important. Developing awareness and insight into our feelings and emotions can help ensure that we are categorizing our emotional experiences accurately. Sometimes, we may need to create new categorizations for our experiences as we work through past traumas.

For many clients, they have trouble expressing what they are feeling. Awareness of feelings and expression of feelings is not something they have experience with. Psychotherapy helps us develop awareness of these unconscious processes and allows us to explore them and help us become aware of the sensations we experience in our bodies so that we can create appropriate categorizations for these emotional experiences.

Awareness of feelings and expression of feelings is not something many people have experience with. Psychotherapy helps us develop awareness of these unconscious processes Click To Tweet

In this way, we recognize that our emotional experiences impact our thoughts, our beliefs, our behaviors, and our relationships. Unconscious reactions mean that we may not be aware of beliefs and behaviors that we have and portray in our relationships and even with ourselves. Developing awareness of these thoughts and behaviors are essential to creating desired thoughts and behaviors that will help us to achieve a healthy emotional experience with ourselves and the world around us.

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