Know how to distinguish emotions from feelings This is one of the most important parts of developing emotional intelligence.
And it is that understanding the nature and characteristics of these psychological phenomena helps to better understand oneself and others, and to better modulate our mental states.
What are emotions and feelings?
Let’s start with the basic definitions to understand what emotions and feelings are.
Emotions are considered changes in the physical state of the body, with changes in the release of hormones and neurotransmitters in the nervous system, which predisposes us to react in a certain way to the stimuli generated by a specific situation. That is to say, they come from stimuli which, once “registered” in the body, activate certain mechanisms in the body, and these increase the chances that we behave in a specific way. For example, when approaching a precipice, our senses (especially sight) give rise to a fear that pushes us to react quickly by moving away from this dangerous zone, at the edge of a drop of several tens of meters.
In place, feelings are affective states that arise from our interpretation of what is going through our minds, whether they are mental representations of what is happening around us, memories or imagined situations. Therefore, it is often said that feelings shape emotions when we are aware of them and interpret them in a specific way.
So… What comes first, the emotion or the feeling? The most correct answer is that neither and at the same time neither. It would be very intuitive to assume that when emotions come from the most primitive structures of our neuroendocrine system that they come into play earlier, but in reality they have been constantly influenced by feelings practically since we have had the ability to think, so a circle of constant interaction between the two elements.
The keys to distinguishing emotions from feelings in everyday life
These are the main key ideas to keep in mind when learning to distinguish between feelings and emotions.
1. Emotions arise beyond consciousness
As we have seen, emotions emerge from mechanisms closely linked to the overall functioning of the body. that’s why they exist independently of our consciousness, being present in all kinds of animals.
On the other hand, from the beginning, we are much more aware of the feelings we experience, even if this does not mean that it is easy to understand them.
2. Emotions are universal
Another distinguishing characteristic of emotions is that they are universal, that is, they exist equally among human beings of all cultures and are reflected as such in spontaneous facial expressions. Besides, all humans recognize and correctly identify the facial expressions associated with each emotion.
3. Micro-expressions reflect emotions more than feelings
As emotions have deep roots in our evolution, the muscles of our face reflect them very well, so we communicate them unconsciously and automatically. In place, feelings are expressed more consciously and through cultural filtersas movements whose meaning has been agreed upon in advance.
4. Feelings are harder to understand
Since feelings are very varied (because they are a mixture of many abstract psychological processes and depend on the characteristics of each culture), it is more difficult to identify them and know their scope.
On the other hand, emotions are more predictable and, since they are fewer in number and have adaptations to recognize them quickly (also in others, detecting subtle changes in facial expressions), we are better able to recognize them. .
5. We have a greater ability to regulate our feelings.
Finally, another key to distinguishing emotions from feelings that have more practical applications is the fact that we humans are more likely to control and manage the latter than the former.
This is due to something we have already seen: Emotions emerge from automatic, involuntary physical changes that occur throughout our bodies., while feelings are the product of the interaction of abstract thoughts guided, in part, by our will. We decide to nurture one idea or another, to reflect on something, to explore the implications of a belief or an assumption on reality, etc.
It is true that we also have some leeway to manage emotions, but it is always in a more indirect way than the way we do with feelings: we have to create contexts and situations that affect the rhythm of our heart, our breathing, the degree to which our senses receive stimuli, and so on. And the results we get with this kind of strategy are more imprecise. that’s why it is recommended to modify emotions by feelingssince in this way we obtain greater stability in the mental state reached, starting with what we can handle voluntarily and influence from there in the visceral, giving consistency to the cycle emotion-feeling-emotion.
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- Damasio, A. (2014). In search of Spinoza: neurobiology of emotion and feelings. Barcelona: Booklet, 2014. ISBN 978-84-233-4615-8.
- Darwin, C. (2005) The expression of emotions in animals and humans. Madrid: Editorial of Alianza.
- Salmurri, F. (2015). Reason and emotion: resources for learning and teaching thought. Barcelona: RBA, ISBN 978-84-9056-407-3.