Feelings and Emotions – What’s the difference?

Difference of feelings and emotions

Is sadness a feeling or emotion? – How about happiness, joy, anger or lust?  And why should you care?

When you know the difference between feelings and emotions, you can identify and change negative behaviours. This includes those that have persisted for years. It also helps you find more peace and happiness.

What are Emotions?

Emotions are physical.  They can be measured objectively.  Blood flow, brain activity, facial expressions and body language all change when we experience an emotion.  They are hard-wired into our brains and core being.  Emotions are instinctive and don’t vary much between people.

Imagine walking with a group of people in Africa.  A lion approaches you.  What emotion would you immediately feel? – Probably fear!  In fact, everyone in the group would experience fear! – How they react to this fear will differ and I’ll come on to this shortly.

The purpose of emotions is to respond to stimuli (like the lion!).  At the most basic level, we are influenced by either danger or reward.  This is hard-wired into our brain and isn’t going to change anytime soon!

Emotions come from a part of the brain known as the amygdala.  It is part of the limbic system or emotional processing centre.  This part of the brain can be illogical, irrational and quite powerful too.

The amygdala sits behind the neocortex which is the part of the brain that deals with conscious thought, reasoning and decision making.

When the amygdala is strongly influenced by a stimuli, logical thinking tends to go out of the window! This is why we sometimes say or do things that we know we shouldn’t do or behave in negative ways!

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What are Feelings?

Unlike emotions, which radiate through our entire body, feelings are purely in our heads.  They come from the neocortex.  The logical brain.  An important point to grasp is that emotions always come first, feelings second.

Unlike emotions which are pretty hard-wired into our psyche, feelings are influenced by our beliefs, memories and experiences.  They are more subjective.  The feeling is the meaning that we give to the emotion.  

Feelings require cognitive input, cannot be measured objectively and are often subconscious.  As a result, feelings vary dramatically between different people and different situations.  The person’s personality affects the feelings that they experience.

Knowing the difference between feelings and emotions is important because you have lots of control over your feelings and little control over your emotions.

Some Key Differences between Feelings and Emotions

Now lets look at some important differences between feelings and emotions.

Emotions can be very intense but are temporary.  Laughing is the behaviour of experiencing joy.  People may cry when they experience sadness.  These are both emotions and the act of laughing and crying will stop after a short time.  Feelings are much less intense, but can be sustained for long periods.   Love and worry are both feelings and both can be maintained for long periods of time.

We experience sadness when someone dies that is close to us. Sadness will last longer in this situation.  However, it is still an emotion and it will eventually leave.  If it doesn’t, then it is replaced by feelings such as depression.

Emotions alert us to imminent dangers and prepare us for immediate survival by giving us the energy and strength to fight or run away fast (flight).  Feelings alert us to anticipated dangers and ensure our long-term survival.   So going back to the lion example, the worry or anxiety that comes from thinking about being attacked by a lion is a feeling.  It protects us from being in a situation where this could happen!  If you were approached by a lion, then the emotion of fear would kick in whether you like it or not!

Emotions affect the initial attitude that you have towards a situation.  This could be anger about something another person said or did.  If you keep brewing about it in your head, then you will start to develop feelings of bitterness or resentment.

Emotions determine what we like, dislike and what are good and bad actions.  Experiencing emotions such as joy or enthusiasm will let you know that you’re doing good things and enjoying them.   Feelings of worry, bitterness or resentment is a sign from within that it’s time to do something different or that it’s time to evaluate how your actions could be affecting other people.

Feelings are created by persistent thoughts and the beliefs behind them.  Emotions are created by situations and events in life.

So which are which?

The following are typical emotions.

  • Joy
  • Fear
  • Enthusiasm
  • Anger
  • Lust
  • Sadness

and these are typical feelings.

  • Happiness
  • Worry
  • Contentment
  • Bitterness
  • Love
  • Depression

When it gets complicated

Emotions are experienced by imagined as well as real events. Think about watching a scary movie.  Did you notice your heart beating faster and other physical changes?  Your neocortex knows it’s just a film, but the amygdala still sends the emotional response.   Think back to a good (or bad) time in the past and start to relive that, you will probably notice the emotion starting to emerge.

You imagine a situation going badly. The emotion created by the imagined situation starts to drive a negative feeling, which then fuels the emotion even more, which then drives the feeling.  A vicious cycle emerges and you begin to feel like an emotional rollercoaster with no sense of control.  At times like this, no positive thinking in the world is going to help!

Identifying and separating the emotions can help develop a sense of detachment.  You now know that it’s extremely hard to control emotions directly, so choose to ignore them and let them go.  Techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), The Sedona Method and Regression Therapy (used in Hypnosis) are good tools to help with this.

Then work on the feelings and start looking at the beliefs, memories and life experiences that could be contributing to these feelings.  Affirmations, positive visualization and monitoring and challenging negative thoughts are all good strategies to use here.   Remember, feelings are generated from our thoughts, memories and beliefs about previous experiences.  These are things we can change.

In Summary

Knowing the differences between feelings and emotions means that when you feel negative emotions, you will know why. You can choose to ignore them, work on changing your feelings instead, maintain your sense of purpose, identity and move towards your goals.

Thank you for reading this article.  If you enjoyed it and found it useful, then please share it with other people, or on social media.

Hope you are having a wonderful day!


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