Effective Coaching Blog

Kevin William Grant- Counsellor / Life Coach

Feelings are valuable sources of information but don’t let them run your life.

  • Kevin William Grant

Emotions function to give information to the individual experiencing them about their interactions in the world.

Emotions consistent of feelings, behaviors, physiological changes and cognition and always occur in a particular context which influence it.

During the 1970s, psychologist Paul Eckman identified six basic emotions that he suggested were universally experienced in all human cultures. The emotions he identified were happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger. He later expanded his list of basic emotions to include such things as pride, shame, embarrassment, and excitement.

Happiness

Of all the types of emotions, happiness tends to be the one that people will strive to achieve the most. Happiness is a pleasant emotional state that is characterized by feelings of contentment, joy, gratification, satisfaction, and well-being.

The outward signs that characterize happiness are:

  • Facial expressions such as smiling
  • Body language such as a relaxed stance
  • An upbeat, pleasant tone of voice

Happiness is considered one of the basic human emotions, and our understanding of happiness tends to be heavily influenced by culture. For example, pop culture suggests that attaining a home or having a high-paying job will result in happiness. Happiness are often much more complex and unique to each individual (Gruber & Moskowitz, 2014).

Happiness and health are connected, and research has supported the idea that happiness plays a role in both physical and mental health. Happiness is linked to a variety of outcomes, including increased longevity and increased marital satisfaction (Lawrence et al., 2015).

On the flipside, unhappiness has been connected to a variety of poor health outcomes. Stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are linked to lowered immunity, increased inflammation, and decreased life expectancy (Wolkowitz et al., 2010).

Sadness

Sadness is emotion often defined as a transient emotional state characterized by feelings of disappointment, grief, hopelessness, disinterest, and a dampened mood.

Sadness is something that all people experience from time to time. In some cases, people can experience prolonged and severe periods of sadness that can turn into depression.

Sadness is expressed outwardly in the following ways:

  • Dampened mood
  • Quietness
  • Lethargy
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Crying

The type and severity of sadness vary depending on the root cause and how people cope with sadness.

Fear

Fear is a powerful emotion that can also play an important role in survival. When you face some sort of danger and experience fear, you go through what is known as the fight or flight response. Your muscles become tense, your heart rate and respiration increase, and your mind become more alert, priming your body to either run from the danger or stand and fight (Kozlowska et al., 2015). This response helps ensure that you are prepared to deal with threats in your environment effectively.

Expressions of fear can include:

  • Facial expressions such as widening the eyes and pulling back the chin
  • Attempts to hide or flee from the threat
  • Physiological reactions such as rapid breathing and heartbeat

Some people are more sensitive to fear, and the specific situations that trigger fear vary widely across individuals. Fear is an emotional response to an immediate real or perceived threat. Fear can also be learned through negative experiences and trauma, and the anticipation of a learned threat of potential danger can trigger fear. We generally think of this as anxiety. Social anxiety, for example, involves an anticipated fear of social situations.

There are individuals that actively seek out fear-provoking situations. For example, extreme sports enthusiasts seek out the fear-inducing thrill of competition. These individuals seem to thrive and even enjoy these feelings.

Repeated exposure to a fear-inducing object or situation can lead to familiarity and acclimation, which can reduce feelings of fear and anxiety (Adolphs, 2013). This process is used by exposure therapy, where people are gradually exposed to the things that frighten them in a controlled and safe context. Eventually, feelings of fear begin to decrease as they become desensitized.

Disgust 

The sense of disgust can originate from unpleasant tasted, sights, or smells. Researchers believe that this emotion evolved as a reaction to foods that may be harmful or fatal to consume. When people smell or taste foods that have gone bad, for example, disgust is a typical reaction.

Poor hygiene, infection, blood, rotten things, and death can trigger a disgust response. This is the body's way of avoiding things that may carry transmittable diseases (Oaten et al., 2009). People can experience moral disgust when they observe others engaging in behaviors that they find distasteful, immoral, or evil.

Disgust is expressed in several ways, including:

  • Turning away from the object of disgust
  • Physical reactions such as vomiting or retching
  • Facial expressions such as wrinkling the nose and curling the upper lip

Anger

Anger can be a particularly powerful emotion characterized by feelings of hostility, agitation, frustration, and antagonism towards others. Like fear, anger can play a role in your body's fight or flight response. When a threat generates feelings of anger, you may be inclined to fend off the danger and protect yourself.

Anger is outwardly displayed through:

  • Facial expressions such as frowning or glaring
  • Body language such as taking a strong stance or turning away from someone
  • The tone of voice such as speaking gruffly or yelling
  • Physiological responses such as sweating or turning red
  • Aggressive behaviors such as hitting, kicking, or throwing objects

Anger can sometimes be a positive and constructive feeling. It can help clarify your needs in a relationship, and it can motivate you to take action and find solutions to things in your life that are bothering you.

Anger can become a problem when it is excessive or expressed in ways that are unhealthy, dangerous, or harmful to others. Uncontrolled anger can quickly turn to aggression, abuse, or violence.

Anger can have both mental and physical consequences. Unchecked anger can impede our ability to make rational decisions and can have negative impacts on our health. Anger is associated with the development of coronary heart diseases and diabetes (Staicu et al., 2010). Anger is connected to behaviors that pose health risks such as aggressive driving, alcohol consumption, and smoking.

Surprise 

Surprise is usually brief and is characterized by a physiological startle response following something unexpected.

This emotion can be positive, negative, or neutral. An unpleasant surprise can be trigged by someone jumping out from behind a tree and scaring you.

Surprise is characterized by:

  • Facial expressions such as raising the brows, widening the eyes, and opening the mouth
  • Physical responses such as jumping back
  • Verbal reactions such as yelling, screaming, or gasping

Surprise is another emotion that can trigger the fight or flight response. When startled, people experience a burst of adrenaline that helps prepare the body to either fight or flee (Gottlieb, 1999).

Surprise can have important effects on human behavior. Research has shown that people tend to notice surprising events disproportionately. For this reason, surprising and unusual events in the news tend to stand out our memories. Research has also found that people tend to be more swayed by surprising arguments and learn more from surprising information.

Other Emotions 

The six basic emotions are a portion of the many emotions that people are capable of experiencing. Eckman's theory suggests that these core emotions are universal throughout cultures across the globe.

Eckman later added other emotions to his list but suggested that unlike his original six emotions, these are not necessarily encoded through facial expressions. Some of the emotions he included in his theory later are:

  • Amusement
  • Contentment
  • Excitement
  • Contempt
  • Embarrassment
  • Relief
  • Pride in achievement
  • Guilt
  • Satisfaction
  • Shame

Biologically Grounded Emotions

There is are four or five biologically grounded emotions and these are important from an evolutionary and survival perspective. These emotions are:

  1. Anxiety or fear
  2. Sadness
  3. Anger
  4. Happiness or joy
  5. Disgust

Psychologist Robert Plutchik (1991) created a wheel of emotions that consisted of eight basic emotions and eight advanced emotions. Emotions can be connected to form different feelings; much like paints can be mixed to create different colors. According to this theory, the more basic emotions are building blocks. More complex, feelings are blends of these more basic ones. For example, basic emotions such as joy and trust can be combined to create love.

The basic emotions and their opposites are:

Advanced Emotion

Advanced Opposite

Joy

Sadness

Trust

Disgust

Fear

Anger

Surprise

Anticipation

Sadness

Joy

Disgust

Trust

Anger

Fear

Anticipation

Surprise

The advanced emotions and their opposites are:

Advanced Emotion

Combines

Advanced Opposite

Optimism

Anticipation + Joy

Disappointment

Love

Joy + Trust

Remorse

Submission

Trust + Fear

Contempt

Awe

Fear + Surprise

Aggressiveness

Disappointment

Surprise + Sadness

Optimism

Remorse

Sadness + Disgust

Love

Contempt

Disgust + Anger

Submission

Aggressiveness

Anger + Anticipation

Awe

A 2017 study (Cowen & Kettner, 2017) suggests that there are more basic emotions than previously believed. These researchers identified twenty-seven categories of emotion. Rather than being entirely distinct they found that people experience these emotions on a continuum. 

Feelings are Useful

People tend to think of feelings as positive or negative depending on whether they agitate (like fear, anger, and guilt) or encourage (like pleasure, joy, contentment, and satisfaction). Our approach to understanding feelings is to think of them as guides, or loyal friends, trying to get your attention so you’ll consider factors other than logic in your response to a situation. Feelings try to help you respond to different situations. Every feeling is “good” in terms of its purpose to serve you, protect you, and guide you. Your feelings offer honest information. Listening for feelings is an important skill. Considering them provides you more data to incorporate into your choices about action (behavior).

Feelings are Indicators

Your feelings are valuable sources of personal information, but don’t let them run your life. It is not always a good idea to act on them. Whether and how to respond are ethical choices that you need to make. For example, a feeling of anger offers personal information to you about your situation; usually, one in which you feel frustrated, treated unfairly, misinterpreted, hurt, threatened, or blocked. These feelings get your attention by agitating your body, so you recognize the problem. What you do with this information is the issue.

The guiding principle is to accept your feelings and use discernment when choosing your behaviors. When you make this distinction between feelings and behaviors, you are free to feel. You can feel frustrated and decide not to express this feeling to your partner. Instead, you can choose a more positive course by pausing to calm your body (feelings) and then ask your partner for a few moments to cooperatively discuss the matter. You want to learn from your feelings but not let them dictate to you. You want to listen to your feelings, consider their counsel, and then decide how to respond in a constructive, effective fashion. Integrating your feelings and reason gives you a complete picture of your life, relationship, and sexuality.

Identifying and Releasing Feelings

Feelings are also an indicator that something is going on with your clients. The following are five steps to identify and release feelings and are useful steps to follow when working with clients who are working through emotional issues that are blocking them or making it challenging for them to focus. Bring attention into your body. This is where feelings originate.

  1. Identify the place in your body that “hurts”. Where is there tension or tightness or pain?
  • Upper chest relates to sadness
  • Heart relates to hurt
  • Stomach relates to anger or fear
  1. Focus on the physical area where the feeling is occurring.
  2. Accept whatever feeling comes up.
  • Open yourself to it. Experience it without resistance.
  • Become choice-less about whether you want to have the feeling or not.
  • Stay with the feeling and don’t analyze it.
  1. Express the feeling by choosing the feeling word that seems difficult to say.

Watch for the following defences:

  • Storytelling
  • Speaking in the second or third person such as saying “you” or “people” instead of “I”
  • Avoiding the use of primary feeling words such as angry, sad, hurt, lonely, ashamed, happy, afraid

If your client is unsure of what they’re feeling, you may find “trying on” different feelings helpful. Try making a feeling statement such as “I feel disappointed” and seeing if the feeling intensity comes to the surface. If the emotion resonates with the client, you may have helped the client get closer to the emotion. If the feeling statement doesn’t resonate with the client, there may be a different feeling or word that fits their experience better.

Similar to the above point, some people may respond well to closed questions to help identify the feelings such as “Do you feel sad?”, however some clients may become distracted by this approach. Use the direct approach sparingly and test the waters with your client first.

 

References

Adolphs R. (2013). The Biology of Fear. Current Biology, 23(2), 79-93.

Gottlieb, M. M. (1999). The Angry Self: A Comprehensive Approach to Anger Management. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig Tucker & Co.

Gruber, J., & Moskowitz, J. T. (2014). Positive Emotion, Integrating the Light Sides and Dark Sides. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Kozlowska, K., Walker, P., Mclean, L., & Carrive, P. (2015). Fear and The Defense Cascade: Clinical Implications and Management. Harvard Review of Psychiatry. 23(4):263-287.

Lawrence, E. M., Rogers, R. G., Wadsworth, T. (2015). Happiness and Longevity in The United States. Social Science Medicine, 145, 115-119.

Staicu, M. L., & Cuţov, M. (2010). Anger and Health Risk Behaviors. Journal of Medical Life. 3(4), 372-375.

Wolkowitz, O. M., Epel, E. S., Reus, V. I., & Mellon, S. H. (2010). Depression Gets Old Fast: Do Stress and Depression Accelerate Cell Aging? Depression and Anxiety. 27(4):327-338.

 

Counsellor

Life Coach

Author

Social Media
Contact Details
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • 500 Sherbourne Street
    Toronto, ON M4X 1L1
    Canada