Chances are you’ve mixed up your emotions and feelings more than once. You can experience both at the same time and therefore easily confuse them with each other. However, it is very important to know the difference between emotions and feelings. This is because they do not generate the same needs and we have to deal with them differently.
In this article, therefore, we briefly discuss the three main differences between emotions and feelings. That way you can better distinguish them from each other in the future and thus increase your emotional intelligence and prevent regret.
Emotions and feelings can make us do things without thinking about it. However, if we do our best to identify and distinguish them from each other, it becomes a lot easier to adapt them (Goleman, 1996).
The three differences between emotions and feelings
1. Automatic vs Reason
Emotions usually come from the limbic system and the most primitive part of the brain. Feelings, on the other hand, arise from the frontal lobe. In other words, feelings arise from abstract thinking. However, emotions are innate and genetically determined as the result of evolution.
Also, although it seems strange, there is a maximum number of emotions that we can have. However, there is no maximum number of feelings we can have.
We basically define feelings verbally, while we define emotions psycho-physiologically. Feelings arise from our interpretation of events and sensations. However, emotions arise from a response of the nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic).
2. The speed at which they appear and change
Emotions are known to be very quick and direct. They represent the body’s alarm and survival system. Once we understand what happened and why we feel a certain way, we are referring to feelings and not emotions.
In order to have a feeling, it is necessary to think about what happened (assess the emotion), think about how we behaved, and thus delve deeper into it psychologically.
Because emotions come and go quickly, our bodies have another assessment and motivational mechanism: feelings. Feelings represent the remnants of emotions.
In fact, the main difference between emotions and feelings is that a feeling arises little by little. It can even change and be present for days, weeks, months or maybe years.
3. Emotions are very powerful while feelings are not so intense
Since emotions are the main alarm and motivation system we are born with, they are very intense and powerful. The basic and universal basic emotions include joy, anger/rage, fear, surprise, and sadness.
They always make us take action or stop trading. In this sense, surprise is a neutral emotion whose function is to keep us alert and very well aware of what is about to happen.
In the movie Inside Out we see that emotions always force us to do something or to stop doing something. For example, sadness makes us distance ourselves from others. However, feelings are much more varied and slower. They make us think about what we can do to avoid feeling uncomfortable or unpleasant.
It is necessary to emphasize that we can control unpleasant emotions through deactivation techniques and by focusing our attention elsewhere.
On the other hand , sentimentally corrective experiences, Socratic dialogue, and guided reflection help to manage feelings. Deactivation and quick relaxation can also help.
Controlling Feelings vs. Controlling Emotions
Finally, because there are differences between emotions and feelings, there are also different ways to deal with these experiences. While emotions require you to disconnect (for example, to avoid anger and lose control), feelings need to be heard and rehearsed.
In any case, it is possible to both regulate emotions and reinterpret feelings, and both contribute to our mental health (Bigman, Sheppes & Tamir, 2017).