QUESTION : Is there a difference between “Emotions” and “Feelings”? Are they interchangeable in their usage?
ANSWER : All of us have emotions. Not all of us can feel our emotions.
They say emotions are the hallmark of human beings. Emotions guide our actions and behaviour. Emotions give us an awareness of our environment. Emotions come from a deep and subconscious part of our mind that give us a very sophisticated and intricate insight into the happenings around us.
However, the catch is that, not all of us are in touch with our emotions. Not all of us can feel our emotions. Sometimes, in a given situation, our system generates multiple emotions. But it is quite possible that we are feeling only one of the emotions being generated. And therefore we are only able to act based on one emotion.
Let me give you an example.
Johnny is a 20 year old young adult. He attends university. One day the professor catches Johnny scrolling through his Instagram during class. The professor is furious and decides to confiscate the phone (which is expensive), and then he decides to punish Johnny by asking him to leave the class and get an apology letter signed by his parents.
Phew! That is a lot already.
And what does Johnny do when he is meted out with this punishment? He feels angry. He storms out of the class and goes to the canteen. He broods over how he felt insulted for a brief while. But that makes him angry again. He decides to take action against the professor because he felt the treatment was too harsh. Johnny continues to act in rage and goes to every extent to ensure that the professor does not feel “victorious” with this episode.
Now, let’s get back to our analysis.
Johnny acted in anger and rage, but was that the only emotion that came up in his system?
I am guessing he felt a certain amount of humiliation and shame to be singled out in his class. I am guessing he might have felt a certain amount of panic and anxiety to lose his phone to the professor. I am guessing he might have felt a certain amount of fear or trepidation before deciding to take on the authorities at college. I am also guessing he might have felt some kind of anxiety about getting his parents to sign his apology letter (assuming his parents are like most Indian Parents!)
But Johnny allowed himself to only feel the anger and rage and act on that alone. The other emotions remained Unconscious to him.
Another person in Johnny’s shoes might have “felt” something other than anger – maybe fear, maybe shame. And that person might have acted from that emotion.
The more we work with our inner journey, the more we get in touch with the whole spectrum of our emotions (the obvious ones and the subtler ones too). We start to feel more completely when we get in touch with our emotions. Mindfulness, in fact, is all about being completely in touch with the complex and sophisticated emotional system that we have within, and learning to master this beautiful mechanism of perception.
Sometimes people are completely cut off from their feelings. They feel nothing. They are “Numb“. But that doesn’t mean there is no emotion in their system. They have only disconnected from their emotions and have stopped feeling. Maybe their emotions are too intense or too painful to feel. We would then get to see their emotions playing out as unconscious behavioural patterns that are often unhealthy, and often times these people might not really be able to control their moods and behaviours.
[Read more about this phenomenon in this post called “Meeting the Dark Side“. It talks about what happens when we suppress parts of us and make it unconscious.]
So then, what really is the difference between Emotions and Feelings?
Emotions are subtle bits of information that a deeper part of our self generates to make us present to our experiences.
Feelings are our conscious awareness of these emotions. Feelings are those emotions that we allow ourselves to physiologically feel and act on. The more conscious we are, the more completely we feel.
NOTE : Emotions vs. Feelings is a much debated topic. This is my perspective and view on this topic. I would love to hear your perspectives too.