Identifying emotions

What exactly are emotions?  Well, there’s no easy answer to that; it depends on who you ask and what their theoretical perspective is.   But regardless of how we define them, how do we describe them?  That can be easier said than done.  There’s even a psychiatric term, alexithymia, for difficulty identifying and articulating emotions.  Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to contrasting and categorization of emotions.

Several researchers have suggested that there are basic universal human emotions that remain consistent across cultures.  Psychologist Paul Ekman identified anger, disgust, fear, sadness, happiness, and surprise.  I like the emotion wheel diagram above because it takes these basic emotions and further subdivides them into more detailed descriptors.

Labelling emotions and mood tracking

bullet journal mood tracker pageWhen I’m feeling quite low, I tend to have a number of emotions going on at the same time.  When that happens, I can usually identify the basic emotions I’m experiencing, but to really get into detail it’s helpful to have a list.  I’ve never found rating my mood to be all that useful, but I do like to keep track of the mix of emotions that I’m experiencing.  I came up with this colour-coded list in my bullet journal, so each day I record a mood rating plus the coloured letters to represent the emotions I’m feeling.

I think that by glancing through the list each time I’m doing an entry, I’m identifying the more subtle emotions as well as the ones that stand out the most obviously.  Sometimes I’m able to identify where these emotions are coming from, and other times it’s harder.  I may think I’m feeling a certain emotion in relation to a certain event, but with more reflection I may realize that I’m actually reacting to something entirely different.  Journalling has helped a lot with identifying that kind of thing.

One thing that stands out to me with my emotion list is the lack of positive emotions.  I guess it’s just been so long that there hasn’t been an occasion that prompted me to add positive emotions to the list.

Emotions and bodily sensations

I typically don’t feel a strong connection between emotions and bodily sensations.  I’m not sure if this is me not being in touch with my body, or if it’s just how I tend to experience emotion.  The most notable exception to this is anxiety, which I’m more likely to feel in a physical sense (e.g. chest tightness, heart pounding) than an emotional one.  Stress can manifest itself in tension in the shoulders, back, and jaw, but I get regular massages so that’s kept from getting out of control.  I do have physical symptoms with my depression sometimes, like slowness and GI disturbance, but it seems to be more connected with the illness in general rather than reflecting specific emotions.

Facial expressions

Then there’s the matter of facial expression of emotions.  Mental illness can sometimes have a significant effect on this.  My expression (or “affect” to use the psychiatric term) gets very flat when my depression is causing a lot of physical/mental slowing.  I remember times when I’ve stared at myself in the mirror, trying to contort my face into a smile, and simply couldn’t do it.  Aside from the ultra-slow movement, this is a pretty obvious sign to those who know me that I’m not well.  By contrast, when I am well, I smile a lot.

 

Do you try to pay close attention to the emotions you’re experiencing?  Does it come easily to you, or are there certain strategies you use to help you?

 

If you’re looking for a list of emotions, here are a few options:

  • Tara Brach (author of Radical Acceptance): broken down into feelings when needs are satisfied vs unsatisfied
  • Therapist Aid
  • Hoffman Institute: this list also includes physical sensations
  • Plutchik’s wheel of emotions (see below): while this is pretty, it just doesn’t feel quite right to me

Plutchik's wheel of emotions

 

Wikipedia

35 thoughts on “Identifying emotions

  1. eirlysgwenllian says:

    Identifying emotions usually isn’t a problem for me, unless they’re very complicated or I get overloaded by various emotions at the same time which happens to me pretty regularly, probably because I’ve been suppressing them a lot, and it’s extremely hard to unlearn it. Another thing that’s hard for me with identifying emotions is often identifying their cause, if it’s not very obvious. And articulating emotions is getting easier for me, but is still a huge difficulty, after years of muffling everything. Mood tracking is something I’ve been deliberating on since a while, but I never actually got to doing it. As for bodily reactions for me it is also mainly anxiety, I can also feel my body reacting differently to various kinds of anxiety, but I don’t notice it so clearly with other emotions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Meg says:

    Wow, great post! I love the graphics, including your notebook page. I bet most people don’t think to sort out their emotions with such articulation. Have you seen the movie Inside Out? I haven’t. I love collecting Inside Out merchandise. It’s about this girl and her inner emotions personified. I bought the Inside Out “sadness” watch for my upcoming travels (because I don’t use a cell phone): https://amzn.to/2QjN3Qn How cute is that? I had to get a longer wristband for it, though. But anyway, like I said, I haven’t seen the movie. I think I should watch it, though. It’s my favorite movie that I’ve never seen. 😀

    I process my emotional reactions very slowly, and I often lie down in bed many times a day to “check in” with whatever I’m feeling. If I feel spaced out, I try to list goals for the rest of the day. If I feel overwhelmed, I try to process whatever happened. If I feel tired, I let myself fall asleep. It helps me to reorient toward the day, because if I don’t do it, I get run down.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Carla’s Personal Blog says:

    I’m actually going to be blogging about this on my page because a lot of people don’t really know what emotions are or what they mean. Also, some have never really experienced “real” emotions. Check it out when I post. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Marty says:

    Buddhist have no word for emotions

    They believe being present, focused without thought is our goal,

    Emotions are ephemeral, transparent and fleeting.

    Lasting as little as three seconds without attention or energy.

    We experience a rollercoater of one emotion showing up, staying while, then exiting for another

    Happiness is far more than an emotion

    Happiness can last for hours, days, weeks or longer with the superstar meditators, the monks

    Liked by 1 person

      • Marty says:

        Here is Matthew Ricard on emotions

        Despite their rich terminology for describing a wide range of mental events, the traditional languages of Buddhism have no word for emotion as such.
        .
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        That may be because according to Buddhism all types of mental activity, including rational thought, are associated with some kind of feeling, be it one of pleasure, pain, or indifference.
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        And most affective states, such as love and hatred, arise together with discursive thought.
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        Rather than distinguishing between emotions and thoughts, Buddhism is more concerned with understanding which types of mental activity are conducive to one’s own and others’ well-being, and which are harmful, especially in the long run.
        .
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        This is actually quite consistent with what cognitive science tells us about the brain and emotion.
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        Every region in the brain that has been identified with some aspect of emotion has also been identified with aspects of cognition.
        .
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        There are no “emotion centers” in the brain.
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        The neuronal circuits that support emotions are completely intertwined with those that support cognition.
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        This anatomical arrangement is consistent with the Buddhist view that these processes cannot be separated: emotions appear in a context of action and thought, and almost never in isolation from the other aspects of our experience.
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        It should be noted that this runs counter to Freudian theory, which holds that powerful feelings of anger or jealousy, for instance, can arise without any particular cognitive or conceptual content.”
        .
        .

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Marty says:

    Emotions are important.

    From neuroscience we know there is no place in the brain that emotion exists without thought

    Negative emotions connected to negative thought can proliferate.

    Anger, jealousy, resentment, despair, worry and doubt can ruin our lives.

    A negative thought can seem powerful coupled with a strong emotion

    The emotion does not give that thought power , but we absolutely believe it does

    Emotions are part of life and need to be experienced fully then released

    We all have the same number of emotions,

    Happiness rather than emotion is our goal

    Try playing with or experimenting with your emotions

    See how fast an emotion will fade when you focus on your breath

    Observe how an emotion can arrive, stay a while then exit.

    Try to hold anger with joy simultaneously

    When an emotion arrives see if there is a body sensation attached to it

    Liked by 1 person

  6. kbr0632 says:

    I have very strong emotions…but I have to hold them in..because everyone is tired of hearing them. It’s the same thing over and over. It’s just so hard for me. No one wants to see the real me. They don’t want to help me. They want to look away… and I am left alone and scared. It’s not helping. I’m going to try to learn to feel better. I want to cry every day. And I do have physical symptoms…not sure if the emotions cause the physical symptoms or vice versa.

    Liked by 1 person

      • kbr0632 says:

        I know. And…I’m sorry. I am so sorry for being like this. People pull away and I have no one. I hate feeling like this. I am so mad at myself that I can’t cope right. I’m sorry… This is when I want to end it all. Really. But I won’t. But…I get so afraid that it’s not going to get any better..and want to end it. I will get some work done..try to get my mind on something else.

        Liked by 1 person

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