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  • Autumn Quiles, LCSW

Emotions and Feelings Wheels

Many of the families with whom I work struggle with identifying feelings. Unless you were raised by a therapist 😉, chances are good that you were not "taught" about feelings when you were younger. Most adults pieced together feelings as children in a haphazard way and, many times, feelings get jumbled around and are mislabeled. Sometimes, adults learn to stuff their feelings because some feelings are too unsafe or too scary. Sometimes adults don't even recognize that they have feelings on a matter.

Children are little rainbow balls of transparent feelings. Their capacity for critical thinking and complex thought is still developing, so their feelings guide most of their choices. Though they do not always know the names for their feelings, their presence and influence is significant for a child.

For a healthy, happy, person, feelings come and go like air. In fact, Buddhists suggest that their impermanence is a cause for celebration. For children, they are very fluid and can shift often in a short period of time. For adults, feelings are more sluggish- they are weighted down with thoughts and reasoning and judgment.

And sometimes, feelings get stuck- stuck on us, stuck in us, or stuck around us. Everyone seems to enjoy when a positive feeling gets stuck. But, when a negative feeling gets stuck we often feel distressed and uncomfortable.

One of the keys to un-sticking negative feelings is to acknowledge them and give them a name. It is easier to know how to manage Something, particularly a negative Something, when it has a name. It is also easier to not judge ourselves for holding onto a negative feeling when we have a plan for managing it. Giving a feeling a name is one of the first steps to Letting it Go.

So... there are these wheels. Emotion Wheels. Feelings Wheels. These wheels don't contain every feeling or every combination of feelings (feelings can come in groups- how tricky is that?!??), but they are a good place to start if you are trying to learn about your feelings.

When I am working with a person who is not Friends with their feelings, I often suggest that they be mindful of Important Things that happen during the day, then check a Feelings Wheel to see if any of the feelings listed might match what is happening in their heart. For people on-the-go, I suggest they consult the list of emojis on their phone text messaging app.

Initially, people work to catch the inner five feelings on the wheel. Then, they are able to differentiate the feelings on the middle of the wheel and then they move to the outer ring of the wheel. When a situation or incident is particularly distressing, it can be hard to identify which feeling(s) on the inner ring apply. Once people are very practiced at noticing them, it is easier to catch the subtle differences in feeling on the outer rings.

I speak the language of feelings... feelings are a comfortable place, almost the only place, where I work. Acknowledging them, honoring them, using them and letting them go is a big part of what I help people to do. How many feelings can you identify in yourself? Which feelings are more painful? More productive? More inspiring?

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