In a world often ruled by subjective experience, we often hear things expressed (or express them ourselves) in terms of feeling. We talk not of what we think but of what we feel. We base our opinions or religious beliefs based on how they make us feel. We seek divorces because we don’t feel in love anymore. Children protest against homework and chores because they don’t “feel like” doing it. We encourage individuals in society to get in touch with their feelings, and thus become more of who they truly are and can live better lives. We also use feelings as an excuse similar to “the devil made me do it,” blaming our poor decisions on our feelings.
We feel sad at the parting of a friend. We feel excited about an upcoming vacation. We dread an exam. We feel happy about a new purchase. We feel angry when we are cheated. We feel worried over an uncertain diagnosis. We feel stressed under our work load. We “feel” a lot of things.
We are split between those who emphasize the intellect and rationality, thus alienating feelings and those who prioritize feelings above all else. There are the touchy-feely vacillating folk in our society who want everyone in touch with their feelings and who are always asking, “But how does that make you feel?” Then, there are those locked up in their minds and dogmatic opinions, and narcissistic extremes who are dominated by their own thinking and rationalizations who tend to discount feelings. Some of the biggest decisions in life, such as marriage, are not based on strict reason but on feelings, like love.
As with so many things, we believe in a healthy middle ground–in which we acknowledge, accept, and pay attention to our feelings but are not ruled by them. From this we must seek a healthy balance of thinking, feelings, and willing. We sometimes have to decide to do things beyond our thinking and feeling.
In this discussion, emotions and feelings are often used as synonyms. It might be helpful, however, to separate the two, as they are not identical. We can say that feelings are more similar to sensations, and emotions are closer related to thought. We can say that feelings result from emotional experience and may be more complex and subjective. We may experience love a number of times, but each time it will “feel” differently. We could say that feelings are conscious emotions or that emotions are “strong feelings.” We can say that feelings are subjective, private experiences of emotions. However we try to differentiate between the two, as you can see, they become interconnected. Thus, we must hold them together as we discuss this topic of “feelings.”
Although feelings or emotions may not seem connected to thought, they are. Our thoughts affect our emotions and vice versa. We cannot divorce the two. Our feelings and emotions, whether positive or negative, often become the driving force for motivation, not simple logic. Our thoughts interpret the events and objects around us, and these interpretations result in emotions. What we feel about something is inherently connected to what we think about it.
Some have introduced the idea of “Emotional Intelligence,” essentially the emotional counterpart to a person’s IQ. We find value in properly identifying our emotions—this makes perfectly good sense when we remember how our emotions, thoughts, and actions are so intimately intertwined.
Our “moods” are also connected. These moods often last longer than specific emotions but contribute to our general emotional state and how we are inclined to feel about something. They are emotions diffused into a longer lasting form. These moods, whether good or bad, can be long lasting. A “bad mood,” diffused sadness or disappointment, may become deeper, turning into depression.
We can distinguish between emotional episodes and emotional dispositions. Someone who has a naturally testy and impatient disposition may be more inclined to experience an emotional episode of frustration or irritation. But someone who is naturally patient and calm may also experience an emotional episode of frustration or irritation, if triggered by the right series of events.
Many different models of emotions have been created, in which basic emotions have been identified and plotted in relationship to each other. The argument has been made for basic emotional categories, with varying degrees, thus creating the different emotional experiences we have.
An example is Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions, shown on the right. He grouped eight primary emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation. These emotions are expressed in difference degrees and in contrast to each other. For example, anger in its extreme is rage, whereas mild anger is annoyance; anger is contrasted with fear. These primary emotions could mix to create the full range of human experience. For example, disgust and sadness combine to create remorse, and joy and trust combine to create love.
Our feelings, then, are our personal experiences of all of these emotions. Although these emotions may be differentiated on a color chart, our ability to articulate them can be more difficult precisely because what we are often trying to communicate is our complex mix of feelings, which cannot be as easily plotted on a diagram.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
How in tune are you to your feelings? Do you think that you have control over them—or do they have control over you?
Do you find it easy to express your feelings and emotions? Why do you think this is?
Can you think of an example of how your feelings had an effect on your thoughts? Your thoughts on your feelings? How do you see this interplay in your own life or the lives of those close to you?
Beneath your feelings and your thinking, is there a part of you that is able to integrate the energy of both feelings and thought to control a courageous decision? Do you call this something that comes from your gut – or from your heart?
How does this discussion of feeling connect to your own situation? Does it help you personally? How could it be of use in your work with youth?
In a world seemingly ruled by “feelings,” we must learn to identify our feelings and emotions for what they are and recognize how they are connected to our thoughts and actions. Although feelings are not inherently bad, we must not let them rule over our lives, leading to poor decisions.
The swirl of feeling can be difficult to sort through. Teens and adults both experience this. Talking openly about our feelings can be of some benefit. Providing opportunities for those in challenging emotional times to talk with someone they trust can be of extreme value.
People of faith believe in something they cannot prove by thinking and often cannot feel. They would say they believe something from or in their heart, and then their thinking and feeling follow.