Emotions and feelings are often thought of as being one and the same, although they are related, there is a difference between emotions and feelings, and they both serve you in their own unique way.
The difference is important because the way you behave in this world is the end result of your feelings and emotions. Feelings express your true identity, while emotions reveal how you have been taught to respond to events in your life.
Learning the difference between feelings and emotions is crucial in understanding ourselves and initiating personal long-term change. Experts in many fields of behavior agree that our deep feelings come from an unchanging belief about life that holds our identity together, while our emotions are purely physically based, subject to change and are basically reactions to life events.
What Are Emotions?
According to both Carl Jung and Social Anthropologist Abner Cohen, objects draw and invoke emotions. This is a natural phenomenon, and is essential for human survival. When you encounter an unknown, you may have a range of sensations such as: curiosity or fear. When you give that unknown a name, it becomes a significant symbol of meaning.
It is through this process that emotions become attached to every object in the universe. When some object is given a name, it not only becomes a thing, it also becomes something of meaning. These emotions can be as routine and subtle as our likes and dislikes, or our feelings of ambivalence – which is also a state of meaning. To put it simply, nothing is ever meaningless.
Emotions are physical reactions that generate metaphysical states of mind. This is experienced when we jerk when frighten for example. Metaphysical mental states of mind can also generate emotions that compel physical action.
If a loved one needs emergency assistance this mental interpretation ignites our emotions compelling physical action. They are essential impressions of the world and of your relationship with it. Emotions establish your attitude toward reality, and create your drive for all of life’s pleasures.
Your sense of life is an emotional form that helps you find a reason for existence and defines your relationship with other things that exist. Emotions establish your attitude toward reality, and provide your drive for all of life’s pleasures.
Additionally, these emotions are connected to your biological systems, and are designed to alert you of danger, or to draw you to something pleasurable. If you did not possess emotions, you would carelessly walk right up to a lion in the Savanna wilderness. If starving, you would not have the motivation needed to climb a tree, and pick it’s fruit to eat.
Here is a 2 minute video featuring John Voris explaining the difference between emotions and feelings
What Are Feelings?
As the objects in your world produce emotions within you, those emotions are collected in the subconscious and begin to accumulate. This is especially true when similar events are experienced repeatedly. Ultimately, they form an emotional conclusion about how to live life and, more importantly, how to survive physically and mentally in a world of chaos. When this happens a feeling is born. In this way, emotions serve as a sort of, “feelings factory.”
Imagine you observe your child approaching an electrical outlet with a paperclip in hand. Your sustained feeling of love for your child will generate the temporary emotion of fear. You quickly act by yelling “No!” and swatting your child’s hand away from the outlet. Perhaps your child responds with surprise and anger, and defiantly attempts to insert the paperclip into the outlet again. Your sustained feeling of love for your child may generate the temporary emotion of anger because your child is being stubborn in the face of your attempts to save his or her life.
Feelings define your true nature – your Authentic Identity – something that remains stable throughout your life. This Authentic Identity is the essence of who you are, regardless of your personality, or the social and cultural influences of your life.
Your subconscious beliefs about the world and your moral view of it come from the Authentic Self. They are responsible for the formation of your feelings of identity – your gut instincts, your intuition, your inner compass.
The Authentic Self has its own moral convictions rooted deep within an individual. A conviction that life is precious, for instance, goes beyond language. I know life is precious, because I know it. Such a feeling is called an authentic inner belief.
When I encounter an external event or idea that conforms to my authentic inner beliefs, I experience positive feelings. If I feel that life is precious and I see someone help another person, I feel good. When I encounter something that opposes my authentic inner beliefs, I experience negative feelings. If I witness selfishness or disregard for others, I feel bad.
Feelings ensure you will be the “authentic you” for the rest of your life, because feelings come from a source that is stable and defined. Emotions allow you to express this inner core in a variety of ways that are not as stable or defined.
The Differences of Emotions and Feelings in a Nutshell:
Feelings tell us “how to live.”
Emotions tell us what we “like” and “dislike.”
Feelings state:”There is a right and wrong way to be.“
Emotions state:”There are good and badactions.”
Feelings state:“your emotions matter.”
Emotions state:”The external worldmatters.”
Feelings establish our long term attitude toward reality.
Emotions establish our initial attitude toward reality.
Feelings alert us to anticipated dangers and prepares us for action.
Emotion alert us to immediate dangers and prepares us for action
Feelings ensure long-term survival of self. (body and mind.)
Emotions ensure immediate survival of self. (body and mind.)
Feelings are Low-key but Sustainable.
Emotions are Intense but Temporary.
Contentment: is a feeling.
Enthusiasm: is an emotion.
Bitterness: is a feeling.
Depression: is a feeling.
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Protection of Body Identity Through Emotion.
To illustrate how the body is identified through emotion, let’s use the encounter with a lion in the Savanna wilderness.
- Awareness. You must first be aware of an object’s presence. Your awareness of the lion is an emotional eliciting stimulus.
- Body Change. These changes are in the form of innate body signals. In this example it is fight or flight. Adrenaline begins coursing throughout the bloodstream, your muscles are ready for action. Your heart rate and breathing also increases.
- Interpretation. You must interpret the correct reaction in order to preserve your identity. Based upon all the available information in your surroundings, as well as any previous learned knowledge or skill, will you take flight, or will you stay and fight?
- Action. Now you execute your decision.
Change of Context, Change of Emotion.
Imagine the same scenario except now, you are in the zoo, and there are bars between you and the lion. Your sensations may range anywhere from curiosity, to appreciation or admiration over the beauty of the animal. More than likely, fear would not be present. Your new awareness now includes the bars, which provide the emotional idea of separation, and protection.
Protection of Mind Identity Through Emotion.
To illustrate, imagine that you found a love letter in your spouses coat from a co-worker in the office.
- Awareness. You become aware that a life altering situation exists by reading the content of the letter. Your awareness of a “love letter” to your spouse is an emotional eliciting stimulus.
- Body Change. You feel your body react. Adrenaline begins coursing throughout your bloodstream, your muscles tense up for action. Your heart rate and breathing drastically increase. You begin to perspire, and feel sick to your stomach.
- Interpretation. You must interpret the correct reaction in order to preserve your identity. You begin to process the situation cognitively, drawing on all of your knowledge that applies to the moment. You become angry due to the betrayal. Based upon your personal beliefs, life goals, and the degree of importance of the betrayal, you make a decision on how to confront the situation.
- Action. Now you execute your decision.
Change of Context, Change of Emotion.
Now, imagine that you discover that the letter was in fact given to your spouse by a distraught co-worker, who found it in their spouses coat. Your interpretation of the meaning of the letter has now changed. Anger gives way to relief.
Your sense of identity is physical but at the same time mental. Both of the above example illustrate how emotions serve as a trigger to ensure survival of self, but it is the second example that illustrates a far more important point.
You have a sense of mental identity in the form of unchanging beliefs that you identify with. It is this cluster of ideas that are essential in order to preserve your sense of “self”. It is the: “who you are” in the world that you must protect at all costs.
As a spouse living in a particular culture and economic environment, you must preserve the dignity of self as defined by that culture. Dignity comes in the form of an Authentic state of wholeness, with all its frailties and inadequacies. Regardless of the errors you make in life, you must maintain a sense of a single self.
Finally, emotions are intense but temporary. To have them be any other way would be far too stressful on your body! The constant stress would eventually lead to some very serious physical, and mental ailments.
What Does This All Mean For You Personally?
The secret to knowing who you are and living well begins with knowing the difference between sustained feelings and temporary emotions. They are easy to separate when you consider how long you can laugh or cry. How long can you express exhilaration? These are temporary states that most often are visible to others. On the other hand, how you feel is much deeper and only becomes known in your actions. For example, it is easy to understand a mother for scolding her son after reaching for a hot skillet on the stove when moments ago she had warned him not to. Her anger in the moment is a visible emotional outburst but is caused by her true hidden feelings of love for her son.
We also get angry with our spouses from time to time and have emotional outbursts yet, deep down, we still have feelings of love for them. From this we learn that anger too is a temporary emotion whereas love in this instance is a sustainable feeling over time. Finally, emotions are event driven while feelings are always present and usually in hibernation until triggered by an external event.
This is also true for sadness and depression. When someone dies who was very close to us, we find ourselves living with a sense of sadness. But sadness is a temporary emotion that eventually leaves. On the other hand, depression can last for years or even a life-time.
Once you make this distinction between emotions and feelings, finding what you are looking for becomes easier. Explore your surroundings when you are happiest. What are you doing? Who are you with? Are you at home or on vacation? Are you at work or a friend’s house? Explore every, and any cause that may be contributing to the moment.
Listen to this podcast on the difference between emotions and feelings
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