Feelings and emotions: What is the difference? The difference between emotion and feeling often causes confusion when understanding how the human mind works. Most people have a habit of confusing the concepts of feelings and emotions because they are extremely similar. There are significant differences between both concepts since these determine factors in the personality and behavior of all human beings.
In this article, we describe the differences between feelings and emotions and the impact they can have on our way of being.
An emotion is a set of neurochemical and hormonal responses that predispose us to react in a certain way to an external stimulus (such as the sight of a spider).
The limbic system generates emotions (Paul Broca, 1878). This is a set of structures found in the brain whose function relates to learning, attention, memory, and emotional responses.
So, we understand emotions are primary, automatic, and involuntary physiological processes. In addition to this, they serve for survival, facilitate learning, and do not process in the brain. One characteristic of emotions is that they can appear unnoticed or occur before the conscious mind has had time to register what prompted the emotion, and they are temporary.
Still, besides this spontaneous, uncontrollable, and automatic predisposition, it includes the conscious evaluation that we make of this experience: a feeling there is a conscious appraisal of the emotion and subjective experience in general.
A feeling is the sum of emotion + thought, so its base is cognitive with a subjective component. Feelings are due to the evaluations, interpretations, and attributions that we make of our internal and external events.
According to the biologist Humberto Maturana, an emotion transforms into a feeling as one becomes aware of it. Therefore, it occurs when we subconsciously label an emotion and make a judgment about it. Feelings derive from thought, and thought precedes feeling.
Many clinical and experimental studies have shown the involvement of the frontal lobes of the brain in feelings. The ventromedial part of the prefrontal cortex contains information on behavioral planning. The subjective experience of our emotional experience, such as outrage or humiliation, can have a cultural root.
What is the difference between feelings and emotions?
Emotion is an unconscious and uncontrollable process. It arises, for something, spontaneously. Emotions are temporary. They prepare us for action; they function as motivating forces that prepare us to fight or perhaps better to flee. This physical reaction alerts us to its presence, and for other people, it is clear what our emotions are from our behavior.
While feelings are the interpretation of emotions, we are more aware of them. We reflect upon perceiving a feeling and make decisions about it. Feelings are long-lasting and may or may not be consistent with behavior because we can decide about them and hide them voluntarily.
Most long-lasting emotional health problems are because of irrational thinking (Albert Ellis). The tendency to draw conclusions, especially negative ones, about some facts is very common. But they are usually irrational beliefs such as illogical, extreme, and harmful, which sometimes lead us to a state of anguish.
Now feelings, whatever their nature, can be trained to be anything. That means, if we change the evaluation, interpretation, and attribution of our internal and external events, we will also change our feelings about the facts.
During “rational therapy,” we balance these thoughts, adjusting our thinking, and allow room for optimism and acceptance. You should not underestimate the consequences of irrational thinking, knowing the important implication in decision-making processes.
Strategies to not get carried away by emotions
Emotions are the most present force in our lives. Almost like an internal compass, they drive us day by day to choose what we want and flee from what we don’t. We make choices because we are excited about new perspectives; we despair waiting; we cry because we have been hurt; we do not try certain things out of fear; we reject things that are too new out of hand; we make immense sacrifices for love, and we suffer in the face of uncertainty.
Without question, our emotions dictate our thoughts, intentions, and actions, sometimes with greater authority than our rational minds, in ways that we have not yet fully understood. However, when we act on them too quickly, at the moment in which they invade us and we lose control, they can also be to blame for making poor decisions that we will later regret.
However, realistically, the study of emotions is not an exact science. The truth is that psychologists still debate the mind-body connection and do not have a complete taxonomy of emotions, and they are still uncertain whether emotions are the cause or the result of the way we interpret the world. However, progress is being made in understanding the concept of regulation – influencing the way emotions are felt and expressed.
The inability to regulate emotions and follow this process in full before acting is, according to Gross, the root of psychological disorders, such as depression or borderline personality disorder. We feel something and act accordingly. Most of the advice on not getting carried away by emotions encourages us to pay more attention to the first three steps, which by default implies not reacting immediately:
1. The first step is awareness, difference between feelings and emotions
Controlling emotions involves naming them. Sometimes it is ironically difficult to identify what you feel: you have an emotional response ready, but you do not know how to define what triggers it. It’s easy to tell if you’re crying out of sadness or joy, but in the midst of explosive emotions, like anger, it’s harder to know if it’s caused by frustration, guilt, jealousy, if you feel hurt, abandoned, or a thousand other reasons.
2. Find out why, difference between feelings and emotions
We don’t feel sad or angry about anything. Emotions result from both what happens and the story you tell yourself about what happened. Sometimes your response does not correspond to the stimulus from the outside, but to what you have been given to assume about it, but there is always a reason.
What is causing this feeling? Of course, as we said, there could be a million reasons, but the mind will always seek an external answer first. This is the so-called “correspondence bias” or fundamental attribution error. It consists in that we blame the outside for what happens to us; even if something is clearly our fault or if it was just random, we blame others, preferably those closest to us.
Normally it is not wise to blame others for our problems or our reactions, because only in what is our fault can we actually do something. It is more practical to take the responsibility to configure our own solution so that it does not depend on what others do.
3. Ask yourself what the solution is and take it, difference between feelings and emotions
Once you have discovered why, find out what can be done to regain control. And, the hardest part, choosing how to react. You have been shown to believe what you do. For example, scientists have found that smiling on purpose (that is, voluntarily faking a smile) can help people feel better because mere expression triggers endorphins and dopamine automatically. This means that ultimately you can choose how you feel.
Now that you know the difference between feelings and emotions and discover the best strategies to avoid getting carried away by your emotions, you can find the best way to deal with different life situations.