3 Differences Between Emotions And Feelings

Do you know how to differentiate them?
3 differences between emotions and feelings

You have surely already confused an emotion with a feeling. In practice, we experience these two phenomena at the same time and they are therefore difficult to differentiate. However, it is very important to know the differences between emotions and feelings  because the way of managing them differs and the needs they generate are not the same.

In this article,  we will briefly talk about the three main differences between emotions and feelings. The goal is to know how to differentiate them in order to achieve greater emotional intelligence, be more reflective and avoid feeling remorse. Because emotions and feelings can lead us to do things that are the result of the “heat” of the moment. However, if we make an effort to identify and differentiate them, it will be easier for us to modify them (Goleman, 1996).

So here are the three main differences between emotions and feelings.

1. Their automatic VS reasoned origin

While emotions originate in the limbic system and the most primitive part of the brain, feelings belong to the frontal lobe. In other words, feelings are the fruit of abstract thought while emotions are innate and are genetically determined as the fruit of evolution. So, although it may seem strange to us, there is a limited or “maximum” number of emotions that we can feel. However, there is no maximum number of feelings.

In fact, feelings (as we will see later) are defined verbally while emotions are defined psycho-physiologically. Feelings come from our cerebral interpretation of events and sensations. The emotions, they come from the nervous system of rapid responses (sympathetic and parasympathetic). 

limbic system and the differences between emotions and feelings

2. The speed with which they appear and change

Emotions are characterized above all by their immediacy. They are the body’s alarm and survival system. Once we understand what happened and why we feel this or that way, we talk about feelings and not emotions. To have a feeling, it is necessary to think about what happened (assess the emotion) and think about how we behaved. This is how we begin to develop it on a psychological level.

Since emotions arise and die quickly, our body has another mechanism for evaluating and motivating: feelings. The feeling would be what “remains” of the emotion. In fact,  one of the main differences between emotions and feelings is that the feeling develops over time:  it can change and be present for days, weeks, months and even years.

3. Intensity: emotions are extremely powerful while feelings are “softer”

As a first step, if we understand that emotions are the main alarm and motivational system that we are born with, we can understand that they will be very intense and powerful. The basic and universal emotions are: joy, anger / rage, surprise and sadness. They are very intense and always push us to take action or to stop doing it. Thus, if we refine this idea, surprise would be a neutral emotion whose function is “to be alert and attentive to what is going to happen”.

If you’ve seen the movie  Inside Out,  you may have noticed how emotions always push us to “do something” or “stop doing it”. For example, sadness prompts you to distance yourself from others, to isolate yourself, and to connect with the suffering you are feeling. The feelings are much more varied and slower. They invite us to think about the best thing we can do to stop feeling bad.

differences between emotions and feelings

How to manage them?

It is also necessary to emphasize that  the management of unpleasant emotions can be achieved through techniques of deactivation and renewal of attention. In addition, sentiment management is possible through sentimental corrective experiences, Socratic dialogue, and guided reflection. So, quick deactivation and relaxation techniques can help.

Finally, we can understand that  since there are differences between emotions and feelings, the way to deal with these experiences is noticeably different. While emotions require a moment of disconnection (for example so as not to see an increase in rage and loss of control), the feelings need to be listened to and carried over (what is happening to me? What can I do) to improve my situation?). Either way, regulating emotions and reinterpreting feelings are possible and help us achieve better psychological health (Bigman, Sheppes & Tamir, 2017).


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