The Key Differences Between Emotions Vs Feelings: A Useful Guide

Emotions vs feelings – Every human being will experience emotions and feelings every day. But do you know the difference? More importantly, do you know how to handle your emotions and feelings as separate entities? It is quite common to view these two words as synonyms, but they are not, in fact, the same thing.

Think about your everyday habits and routines. You might not realize it, but the decision-making processes you employ to get you from sun up to sun down each day are tied to emotions and to feelings.

A basic breakdown of feelings

Feelings can manifest in either physical sensations felt by the body or emotional reactions. A feeling is how you experience an emotion. You can see that these two pieces of human behavior are undoubtedly linked, but not the same things.

Some common feelings that almost everyone will encounter at some point in their lifetime are:

  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Happiness
  • Surprise
  • Disgust
  • Disappointment

Some of these feelings may be hinged on one another, where one leads to the next, while others will stand alone. Keep in mind as well that we are capable of feeling more than one at a time and compartmentalizing when needed.

What are emotions

Emotion research suggests that emotions are more involuntary than feelings are. Emotions are a state of mind that is triggered by a change in the emotional brain space. This can be brought on by mental associations to specific feelings.

Emotions vs feelings

Some common emotions to be aware of are:

  • Excitement
  • Relief
  • Joy
  • Amusement
  • Boredom
  • Calm
  • Obsession

Emotional responses are usually organic, meaning that even when conscious experiences bring them on and initially, at least, we have little control over them.

How to gain emotional intelligence

Being emotionally intelligent is an incredible gift, and although some are born with it, it is something that can absolutely be learned as well. Emotional intelligence can help you navigate your interpersonal relationships as well as the relationship you have with yourself.

Pay attention to your emotional responses to specific people, places, and things that are reoccurring themes in your life. Doing a self-inventory in this way can give you a consistent way to measure emotions and analyze your findings.

Active listening plays a large role in this skill as well. When you make it a priority to actively listen to others, instead of simply waiting for your turn to talk, you are allowing yourself to have an emotional experience that is the result of conscious thought and not simply a reactive state.

Emotional awareness

The more emotional awareness you have, the better you will be able to understand emotions as they present themselves in yourself and in others. Basic emotions might be obvious, but to be truly aware means that you can see below the surface. Those who have an exceptionally high aptitude for this can even predict emotions and feelings in advance based on previous emotional experience. Do not discount the fact that you can achieve this awareness through organic moments that happen to you specifically or through education. Reading books or listening to podcasts on the subject are two great tools to use.

Stress

You have probably heard the term ‘fight or flight .’ While this does not apply exclusively to stress, they are linked. Paying attention to how you mentally, emotionally, and physically respond to stress is a huge learning tool in your quest to become more emotionally intelligent. It is easy to pat yourself on the back for handling the good times, well, but true growth happens in the less desirable times and when you still push forward and feel satisfied with the end results.

Fear

The way your brain signals fear is a playoff of your emotions. Of course, there are tangible things that we are scared of or the potential of something that may cause anxiety. But in the moment, physical fear is an emotional response. By increasing your intelligence surrounding how you process emotions and feelings, you may decrease some of the fear levels that you have regarding specific people, places, or things.

Times your feelings can cause trouble

Human beings have a bad reputation for being their own worst enemies. Did you know that even though feelings are emotional experiences that can provide enrichment, they are also an element of living that can compromise your mental health?

Think back to your childhood and any temper tantrums or moments of audible dissatisfaction you may have had. How did the adults in your life react? Were you taught to ‘calm down’ or invalidated with things being said like ‘this is nothing to cry over? Not that your adult state of being is entirely hinged on these examples, but if you were taught from a young age to suppress feelings and still do it, that could be detrimental. When you deny yourself the right to feel your genuine, real-life feelings, you automatically assign negative emotions to the fact that you have feelings in the first place.

Poor communication

If you are silently struggling to stifle your emotions and feelings, your communication skills are likely suffering as a result. If you have fear or anxiety about your emotional state or a particular emotion as it relates to how you feel, the odds that you are effectively communicating in the midst of that feeling are low.

Self-esteem

The issues of self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth are so essential for overall mental wellness. Shame and guilt are far too often linked to suppressed feelings and can impact how you value yourself.

Difficulty in relationships

Dealing with your own emotions and feelings is one beast, but when you are in a relationship and are considering those of another person as well, that is quite another. If you have a habit of burying your true feelings deep down, that means you are actively building a relationship based on a range of feelings that are not complete. You may find that you struggle to connect, open yourself up, and be vulnerable with a partner as a result.

How do you measure emotions?

Emotions can be measured objectively through things like facial expressions and body language. Since they are physical and instinctive, these physiological reactions can be hard to hide, making them easier to measure. Not all conscious experiences will generate a response that can be handled with objective measurement, but those that can are quite clear.

Can you measure feelings?

Measuring feelings might be a touch more subjective than measuring emotions. Since humans have some element of control over their feelings, the physiological reactions are less organic—one way to get around this, though, is the tone of voice. When a person expresses their feelings, typically, the tone and delivery of the message hold more indication about the root of the feeling than the words they decided to use.

What is love?

Love can be somewhat controversial for the purposes of discussions such as this. While many believe that love is a fundamental human emotion, others claim that it is a creation of outside elements. Societal expectations play a role here. Think about phrases like ‘love at first sight’ or ‘learn to love’; these are two great sentiments, but quite different.

Are those ideas mutually exclusive? Or is it possible that everyone is right, and love is both a basic emotion and a conscious choice? Also, bear in mind that there are different types of love.

Friendship

Having a platonic love for a friend is a beautiful thing that many would argue is akin to the ‘love is a decision’ way of thinking.

Unrequited love

When love is one-sided, it can be incredibly painful. A passion that is not reciprocal can seep its way into many other spaces of your brain as well.

Passionate love

Insatiable feelings of attraction and desire are defining characteristics of a love that is rooted in passion.

Why this all matters

What is really important to note here is why does all this matter? The short answer is because it is unavoidable. When you think about emotions and feelings, you might not realize that you are experiencing so many of each all day long that some are basic emotions and simply fleeting moments that go unnoticed. But for the ones that carry more weight, attention must be paid.

Emotions vs feelings

Making your emotions a conscious experience and an intentional part of your daily routine means that you are dedicated to personal development, especially when you have the maturity to focus on your negative emotions and not exclusively your positive ones.

How you handle your feelings and emotions can also impact how you make decisions. In some scenarios, not having a keen understanding of one or both can lead to impulsive choices that create lasting consequences. Decision-making is something that does not come easy to everyone, so adding in the additional layer of uncertainty regarding your feelings and emotions can cripple certain people.

When you have an unfavorable emotional response

Sometimes we react in ways we did not intend to, or after having taken the time to reflect, in ways, we wish we would not have. An outburst of emotion is a part of being human, but that does not make it more palatable for those involved. Managing what you believe to be an overreaction is not necessarily difficult; it just requires some tact.

Try to put a positive spin on it, own your feelings, and take accountability for how you reacted to them. If other people were involved, include them in your resolution process. Most people who know you well likely already have some history with your temperament and how you react in certain situations. Even so, that does not mean that you should leave certain things unsaid.

Summary

Although there is a difference between feelings and emotions, they are undoubtedly linked. You should consider their role in your life and pay close attention to what that means for you specifically.

Knowing the difference from a textbook standpoint certainly matters, but it will be the real-world examples that you refer to when something comes up and you have a response to it that helps you develop your own specific definitions.

Choose to have an open dialogue about this. No matter if that means that you seek counseling to strengthen your relationship with yourself. Have dedicated check-ins with a significant other, or create a practice within your home of kids and adults sharing back and forth to increase each others’ awareness. The possibilities are endless.

Since this is an unavoidable fact of existence, reframe the narrative. Choose to get in touch with your emotions instead of feeling like you have to. Emotions can be the perfect complement to some of the best experiences you will have. Part of living is going through ups and downs due to our feelings. Remember to allow yourself time to process and show yourself empathy throughout this unique life journey. 

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