Understanding Your Emotions Using the Feelings Wheel

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Sometimes understanding our feelings can be very confusing and elusive. There are days when burying a feeling deep beneath the skin seems far more comforting than letting ourselves experience it. Even if we do sense these feelings, we often struggle to put them into words.

Despite these challenges, it is only healthy to get in touch with our feelings.  Let’s just take a moment to visualize this: say you are standing in a swimming pool, and beside you is a beach ball you don’t wish to play with. You fiercely try to push this ball underwater, to keep it away. But what happens then?

To our dismay, the ball that was meant to sink gushes out of the water, right back at us! Instead of forcefully shoving the ball away, what if we just let the ball be? Initially, the ball is uncomfortably close to us, but with time, the ball sways away with the wind, or we may perhaps swim elsewhere in the pool. We acknowledge that the ball is still within the pool but safely away from us.

Now what if I told you that the ball represents our feelings? The more we push, the faster it springs back. Perhaps the key to dealing with our feelings is to just acknowledge and allow them to be!

Feelings Wheel: A Guide to understanding our feelings

The feelings wheel is a simple tool that helps us recognise and communicate our feelings. It comprises a circle with six “primary emotions” (happy, surprise, fear, anger, sadness, and disgust) that are quite easy to identify. This is then followed by 64 more complex “secondary emotions” on the outer edge of the circle that help in pinning down our emotions more accurately.

Why use the feelings wheel?

Rita had a difficult day at work, a project she was working on had failed. She was rude to her co-workers and continued to feel angry towards her kids when she got back home.

While it is understandable for Rita to feel angry for failing, could there be more to this anger? Perhaps beneath this anger were deeper layers of “disappointment” for not being able to complete the task, or she was “anxious” about having to discuss this with the client the next day.

Oftentimes we mask our feelings with other emotions that are easier for us to express, like anger in Rita’s case. However, using the feelings wheel allows us to access layers of feelings which we may miss out on otherwise.

How does the feelings wheel help?

  • Lowers emotional distress:  A 12-year research study indicates that suppressing emotions led to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and on the contrary labelling helps lower the grip that emotions have on us, thus giving us more control over our emotions.
  • Helps identify triggers: Being mindful of how we feel helps us stay prepared to deal with those emotions. Just like how we grab a bite when we feel “hungry“, feeling “exhausted” could indicate the need for a break.
  • Broadens our emotional vocabulary: Helps us get an in-depth essence of what we feel as opposed to what we think we feel. Like saying Sad vs Lonely or Abandoned.

How do I use the feelings wheel?

Begin by identifying the primary emotion you relate to, continue to trace the secondary emotions; and pick what suits you the best.

  • Verbal expression: Try saying, “I feel…” or you could even help others articulate their emotions by saying, “Sounds to me like you are feeling…” Robert Corso, a Child research expert suggests that children who see adults express emotions are more likely to follow suit.
  • Journaling: Writing down our emotions in a similar manner has often proved to bring a sense of relief.
  • Usage in Art: The feelings wheel is colour coded, making its usage a lot more stimulative and fun. One could also use these shades to express emotions through art.

Concluding this with a powerful dialogue from a web series that reiterates how feelings add meaning to our lives – “You feel a lot, which means you are going to hurt. But it also means you are going to live a life that is emotionally rich and beautiful”

Remember, if we don’t choose how to respond to our feelings, our feelings will choose for us, and that may not be very convenient!

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