Understanding Emotions and Feelings in our Human Experience

Updated: Jun 10


KEY POINTS

  • Emotions and feelings are not one in the same.

  • Emotions are real-time data sparked by sensations in the body whereas feelings are what we mentally assign and label those emotions (physical sensations) to be.

  • Feelings are fickle as they are often biased and inaccurate - altered by mental misconceptions rooted in our flawed belief systems and distorted filters.

  • Belief Systems and filters are the internal lenses we create out of our personal experiences, upbringing, cultural norms, societal values and constructs of which we view and screen all incoming information and stimuli through.

  • Developing a keen self-awareness (inner) and spatial awareness (outer) are key in gaining self-mastery and ruling over our feelings instead of allowing feelings to rule us.

  • Gaining self-mastery over feelings helps to prevent falling into a trap of false beliefs and reacting or overreacting to stimuli/events as opposed to responding and managing stimuli/events.

  • Practicing mastery over our feelings and learning to respond instead of react - moves us from a role of victim of circumstances to a position of victor in circumstances.

Interestingly, our physiological (bodily) response to the emotions of fear, anger and excitement are quite similar: Our pulse rate increases, blood pressure rises, our five senses heighten and so on. Studies in neuroscience and neuroimaging show that the same places in the brain light up on a scan whether the person is experiencing the emotions of fear, anger or excitement/joy. If that's the case, then why do we respond or react so differently to these emotions when the physiological experience and the same areas of the brain are engaged?


First, we often use the words emotions and feelings interchangeably. Yet, emotions and feelings are actually two different but inter-connected components. Emotions originate as sensations in the body.


Feelings are influenced by our emotions but are generated from our mental thoughts. [Citation: “The Important Difference Between Emotions and Feelings”]


Emotions are considered to be our body’s physical response to external stimuli.


Feelings are mental associations, labels and reactions to these emotions.


Second, what makes the difference in our response or reaction is in how we receive those experiences of emotion, interpret it through our belief system and filters, and then, we assign feelings to the incoming data/stimuli/event and label it as being good or bad.

The main difference between emotions and feelings is that emotions are more so a physical state of being in response to an “activating event” whereas feelings are mental associations/labels we assign to that physical state.


Our internal dialogue (thought life) and the filters we have created through our experiences, upbringing, culture, societal expectations become a part of our belief system. In turn, our belief system and filters play a key role in feelings. Our filters affect how we interpret and process incoming information (stimuli), which can induce and result in reactions that are not in alignment with the actual outward stimuli or information also referred to as an “activating event.”


How do our belief systems & filters affect perceptions that generate feelings and outcomes in response to emotion?


Example of Emotions & Feelings Playing Out

You go to an event. Once there, you notice the emotion (physical) aspects of discomfort as your stomach gets that nervous butterfly sensation and your breathing quickens. Then, your mind labels that as feeling awkward because perhaps you don’t know many people there, or you just saw an ex.


However, another person who experiences those same emotional bodily sensations, might label the experience as exciting because they get to meet new people and/or see their ex again. [Citation: “The Important Difference Between Emotions and Feelings”]


We can break down this in understanding and explore it further by utilizing part of Albert Ellis’s “ABC Model" below.


Albert Ellis, PhD, (clinical psychology) established what’s known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) of which the “ABC Model” plays a substantial role. The REBT cognitive theory is rooted in the belief that we allow thoughts to create our own self-produced misery.


Below is theABC Model" of Emotion:

A: Activating Event [evokes an emotional response -physical sensation]


+ B: Belief System & Filters [how we interpret those sensations & assign

feelings]


= C: Consequence/Outcome

[reaction or response to the above]

 

The "ABC Model of Emotion" playing out


Scenario #1: Person with UNhealed wounding who has a broken sense of self-worth and value


A: Activating Event [spouse comes home from work - is quiet or snippy]


+ B: Your Belief System & Filters [I am UNworthy of receiving love and being valued]


= C: Consequence/Outcome [feelings of rejection, sad mood]


The person’s verbal reaction to the activating event:

What did I do wrong?

Why are you mad at me?


Summary: Activating event occurs. Emotional response – sensation of tension. This physical sensation then runs through the person's belief system and filters to assign a feeling to the event. Since the person is viewing their spouse’s behavior through a reflection of their own broken self-belief system and distorted filters, it results in assigning feelings of rejection to the initial emotion and a sad mood follows.



Scenario #2: Person with healed wounding who has a solid sense of self-worth and value

A: Activating Event [spouse comes home from work - is quiet or snippy ]


+ B: Your Belief System & Filters [I am worthy of receiving love and being valued]


= C: Consequence/Outcome [feelings of concern that their partner is going through something] The person’s verbal response to the activating event:

What’s wrong?

Did you have a bad day at work?


Summary: Activating event occurs. Emotional response – sensation of tension. This physical sensation then runs through the person's belief system and filters to assign a feeling to the event. Since the person is viewing their spouse’s behavior through a reflection of their own solid self-belief system and clear filters, it results in experiencing the emotion and assigning feelings of concern for their partner’s struggle.


So, why the different outcomes to the same “Activating Event”?


In both scenarios, the “Activating Event” was identical. So, what made the difference in how the person labeled and assigned feelings to the situation?


The emotion was translated and labeled by the “Belief System & Filters” of the individual that created the feeling.


In Scenario #1 - The person with the UNhealed wounding that has a broken sense of self-worth and value, ran the emotion (physical) response of tension through a flawed “belief system and filters” which resulted in interpreting the activating event incorrectly. The person internalized their spouse’s behavior to be about a negative reflection of theirself and assigned feelings of rejection to it. Yet, their spouse never rejected them or loved them any less.


The spouse having a bad day, being quiet or snippy had absolutely nothing to do with their love for the other nor was it a rejection of them. The spouse’s behavior on arriving home had nothing to do with the other person whatsoever, they were simply having a bad day. Yet, due to a faulty “belief system and filters” their spouse's behavior was completely misinterpreted and taken out of context.


What is the difference between reacting versus responding?


When we react – it is a quick reply in words or actions that is strictly coming from a place of feelings and we go straight into defense or fight mode without thought even when there is no real threat. We “feel” punched (internally wounded), so we punch right back.


If both people are swinging verbal punches, there is no resolution – only two people lashing out to inflict hurt and pain on the other because they feel wounded. The result is just more hurt, pain and further wounding.


As we have learned, feelings tend to be fickle – feelings are not always rooted in the reality of fact, truth, logic or reason. Therefore, our reaction stemming from feelings may be out of context, out of alignment or completely wrong. When we respond – We are coming from a place of intellect, logic and reasoning, instead of feelings. We are able to look at the facts, truth, the bigger picture and not react to things as a personal attack against us. We move from the defense or fight mode into assess and solve mode.


We step aside from any verbal punch thrown at us which gives us the ability to evaluate and respond in a calm manner, because feelings are not ruling over us. We are ruling over our feelings from a place of intellect, logic and reason.


Ever notice that police, firefighters and emergency personnel are referred to as first RESPONDERS, not first reactors. If they did not rule over their feelings and just reacted instead of responding, the result could be detrimental to their wellbeing and others.


Though in our personal lives and relationships, not everything is an emergency call, how we process, handle and manage our internal thought life, emotions, feelings and outward expression, it still has a direct impact on our wellbeing and others.

How do I determine if my feelings are in line with events?


Emotions are the raw data- a reaction to the present reality, whereas feelings can be diluted by stories we’ve created in our head based on events of the past or fears of the future (filters) —not necessarily the truth of the situation.


Listening to our bodily emotions and engaging our logical sense perception, helps us connect to the reality of our present experience rather than to stories made of potentially inaccurate fears based on "beliefs and filters" from our past.


If you get stuck in these false mental stories (as most people do from time to time), you can get a more truthful assessment of your feelings by first identifying your emotions. [Citation: “The Important Difference Between Emotions and Feelings”]


Identify your emotions and then, ask yourself the following four questions about your feelings:


1. Where is this feeling coming from, is it from something in my past that is still unhealed and hurting?


2. Does this feeling really apply to the present event or am I reacting from something unresolved in my past that needs my attention?


3. What are the actual facts of the present event versus what I am interpreting and labeling things to be with my feelings?


4. Do my feelings line up with the actual facts of the activating event?



We can apply the above practice using the “ABC Model” and example set forth in Scenario #1. Let's revisit Scenario #1.


The Old Self & Old Ways Followed This Pattern Of Thinking

Person with UNhealed wounding has a broken sense of self-worth and value

A: Activating Event [spouse comes home from work - is quiet or snippy] + B: Your Belief System & Filters [UNworthy of receiving love and being valued]


= C: Consequence/Outcome [feelings of rejection, sad mood]

The person’s verbal reaction to the activating event:

What did I do wrong?

Why are you mad at me?


The Old Self in Transformation in the Process of Breaking Old Cycles

The beginning of breaking the old cycle starts with examining C: Consequences/Outcome


= C: Consequence/Outcome [feelings of rejection, sad mood]


First and foremost, we canNOT change what we do not acknowledge or are aware of. The first step to change is awareness. When we tune into and pay attention to our thought life and internal dialogue (what we are saying to ourselves), we become more aware. Once, when we are more aware, we activate the power to transform and change.


When in the transformation phase, we become aware of feeling rejected. Instead of reacting from that place of rejection as if it were fact, we start using our internal dialogue to ask ourselves questions to confirm whether or not this feeling is in line with facts relating to the current activating event.


Why am I feeling rejected, what are the facts . . .


Q1: Did my spouse say s/he doesn’t love me?

A: No


Q2: Did my spouse say s/he is directly upset with me about something?

A: No


Q3: Did I actually do or say something that would upset my spouse?

A: No, s/he just walked in the door.


Q4: It is clear that my spouse is in a bad mood, but did I ask what’s wrong before automatically jumping to the conclusion that it is a negative about me?

A: No


Q5: Then, why am I interpreting and internalizing my spouse’s mood as a direct negative and rejection of me?


Keep drilling it down with questions to self, until you can find the root source

5a.) Is there something that happened while growing up that is clouding my interpretation?

Insight: I was neglected as a child and never felt truly loved or valued. If my parent(s) didn’t love me, so how could anyone else . . .


5b.) I have been down on myself lately, not happy with the person I am – am I feeling insecure? Insight: I’ve put on weight and don’t feel attractive or good about myself. If that’s the case, then my spouse must not want to be with me either . . .


5c.) I am not feeling well or really tired - am I being overly sensitive?

Insight: Actually, I’m exhausted, run down and don’t have the extra energy to take care of anyone else right now – my spouse’s mood is another demand on me and I don’t

want to have to deal with it. I'm a terrible person -, if they knew I thought this, they would be upset with me.


There are as many possible answers to question 5 as there are people in this world to answer it. The point is this. Every answer is an indicator that there is something within you that needs YOUR attention, love, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, healing and resolution.


In this "activating event" Scenario #1, none of the feelings the person experienced had anything to do with the spouse’s words, actions, behavior or mood. Yes, all those things can serve as triggers that uproot something in you that needs your attention to heal and resolve – but it is not your spouse that is the cause, nor is it your spouse’s responsibility to fix it.


Only you, can fix and heal the inner you. Only you are responsible for your feelings and the ability to manage them.


Since feelings can be so unreliable, should we just try to ignore them?


Absolute not. Feelings are a part of you and your human experience that deserve to be acknowledged and validated by you. Understand though, you are solely responsible for your feelings and the creation of them. No one else can MAKE YOU feel or say anything. Read that again. No one else can MAKE YOU feel or say anything - you choose and decide what to feel and say.


Yes, people can say or do things that will evoke a reaction or response from you, but it is entirely up to you how you choose to receive, feel, manage and react or respond to that incoming stimulus. Moreover, it is also no one else’s responsibility to validate, acknowledge, manage, sooth or fix your feelings – that responsibility is yours and yours alone.


If, when, we deny our perceived negative, uncomfortable or painful feelings, try to shove them down, drown them out and not address them – though there may seem to be silence as opposed to unrest, it is a false state of conscious peace.


Those feelings are not actually gone nor is the wound – it merely gets shoved into our subconscious which is still affecting us and influencing our conscious life. We are simply lacking awareness of it. And, if we lack awareness, those feelings are running and ruling our life like a runaway freight train headed for a cliff and no driver at the wheel. Emotions and feelings buried alive do not die, they fester in a wound. It starts to become toxic – tainting and poisoning any happiness that we try to attain. Negative and positive energy canNOT exist in the same space. Happiness, joy and peace become fleeting, because happiness, joy and peace canNOT permanently dwell in a place of negativity (unrest, chaos, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, etc.).


Feelings are an integral part of our human construct. We have a right to all of our feelings - good, bad or indifferent. Yet, this does not automatically mean our feelings are right, in alignment or in the correct context to an activating event or circumstances.


Again, feelings are fickle – not always rooted in the reality of fact, truth, logic or reason. Thus, when we allow ourselves to react, overreact or make decisions primarily or solely based on our feelings, it can be detrimental to our mental health, wellbeing, happiness, peace and our relationships with others.


We are not born with the innate knowledge or skills of mastery over our emotions or feelings. Nor is it part of our upbringing - taught as part of our K-12 educational experience or from our parents. Feelings will rule us, until we decide to learn - to seek out the knowledge, skills and practice those skills to gain mastery to rule over our feelings.


Gaining mastery over our feelings and ruling over them is important, because our feelings can lead us into an inward spiral of negativity, unhappiness, unrest that will also lead us to create conflict and misunderstandings with others.


Negative feelings need to be validated, acknowledged and consoled within our own self. Our feelings also need to be questioned from a place of logic, intellect, reason and then, reconciled.


This as opposed to merely reacting to feelings and allowing them to dictate our mood, words and actions.


Recognizing our emotions and feelings and gaining awareness of how we are reacting or responding is a key process of self-mastery. Self-mastery is being in charge of yourself with the ability to regulate our emotions and feelings. This enables us to manage, process and cope with challenging events instead allowing life and others to knock us down every time the wind blows.


Maybe it's time for change - to break the cycle of wash, rinse, spin the wheel and repeat . . .

 

Citation & Reference List

  • Welldoing.<https://welldoing.org/article/neuroscience-emotions

  • Ellsworth, P.C. (1994) William James and emotion: Is a century of fame worth a century of misunderstanding? Psychological Review, 101, 222-229.

  • Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D., S., 2012. The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions. [online] Psychology Today. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201205/the-complete-guide-understanding-your-emotions

  • Allyn Ph.D., R., 2022. The Important Difference Between Emotions and Feelings. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-pleasure-is-all-yours/202202/the-important-difference-between-emotions-and-feelings> [Accessed 5 June 2022].

  • Hasa, 2016. Difference Between Emotions and Feelings | Definition, Meaning, and Characteristics. [online] Pediaa.Com. <https://pediaa.com/difference-between-emotions-and-feelings/>

  • Original Image Courtesy: “Emotion Cartoon” By Todd Atkins – (CC0) via Commons Wikimedia

  • Revised Image: “Wheel of Emotions & Feelings” By Butterfly Rising Productions

  • https://www.noldus.com/blog/how-emotions-are-made

  • https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/feeling-our-emotions/





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