Feelings or emotions?

A question which often arises in our sessions/courses is:  What is the difference between feelings and emotions? It’s a good question as, although we all have feelings and emotions, we seldom pause to contemplate what they are, why we have them and what they mean.

Both emotions and feelings are states which maximise our possibility of achieving our evolutionary mission (survive and procreate).  Emotions tend to be immediate, short-lived and in response to a stimulus in the present moment. A good definition of emotions goes like this: “the response of your entire body to a perceived situation”. The key word here is perceived; our response it not to an event or stimulus, but to our perception of that event or stimulus.

What does this mean? A well-used example is the following: Imagine that it is evening, you are taking a walk in the fading daylight. As you walk you see a large snake. Almost before you realise what is happening, you shout, jump and run away. You stop a safe distance away and notice your heart is pounding; your breathing is rapid and you are sweating. What you have just experienced is fear. Later you look again and you realise that it is just a length of rope. You find yourself laughing with relief. The reality in the physical world never changed (it was always just a length of rope), but as we first perceive the rope as a snake then we experience fear. Later when we see the rope we experience laughter and relief. We respond to our perception of the world not to the world itself.

This idea of responding to perceptions is important when we come to feelings. Feelings tend to be sustainable and are the result of layered emotional experience. When we experience something, especially repeatedly, then we come to develop feelings about it. These feelings can be deep-seated and reside in our subconscious.

Feelings can also create an emotional response.

For example, when my son was about four years old, he tried to run across a busy road. In this moment my sustained feelings of love for him, created an emotion of fear which lead to me grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and pulling him back, then giving him a bollocking. Another example: I was raised in an environment where there was constant chaos, uncertainty, anger and  violence.  Many  layers of emotional experience (mostly fear) lead me to perceive the world as a hostile place, leaving me feeling  constantly anxious and worried about what might happen. This in turn created the emotions of fear and anger.

Some examples: Depression is a feeling, whilst sadness is an emotion. Love is a feeling whilst lust is an emotion. Happiness is a feeling whilst joy is an emotion. Feelings are only a problem when they are treated as a problem. Feelings should be investigated understood, and integrated.

For those of you reading this, I hope it is useful.

I wish you peace, health and happiness from Finca las Bardas.



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