Understanding Emotions and Feelings in our Human Experience
Updated: Jun 9, 2022
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 the “ABC Model" of Emotion:
A: Activating Event [evokes an emotional response -physical sensation]
+ B: Belief System & Filters [how we interpret those sensations & assign
= 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:
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.