“You Shouldn’t Feel That Way.” The Difference Between Emotions and Feelings
Our emotions come from our bodies. They are instinctual based on self-preservation and/or growth. They are physical reactions that can be measured, such as our heart rate, brain activity or facial expressions, to name a few.
Our feelings come more from our minds, and each person can have a unique reaction to similar events. We each add our own personal history to our feelings; thus two people may or may not feel the same way about a particular experience.
I say this because I can become very sensitive when people tell me how to feel. This distinction of feelings vs. emotions helped me understand that emotional reaction of fight that rises up within my body when someone says, “Oh, you shouldn’t feel that way.” My reaction comes from my past regarding longing to be understood. Others may not mind people defining what they experience or don’t take it personally. I have grown to laugh more about my sensitivity and with someone close to me, I can even make a joke of it.
Feelings are connected to past experiences. They are from the neocortex/mind, and as stated above, emotions are from the body. This distinction came from neuroscientist, Antonio D’Amasio, M.D. In his model, he says, “Feelings are sparked by emotions, ignited by the thoughts and images that have become paired with a particular emotion.” Looking at the example above, we can see my body reacted with a fighting posture. It came from my thoughts of past experiences when someone told me how to feel. I took that to mean that my feelings don’t matter/I don’t matter. These thoughts are conclusions I made based on an emotional response to a statement. We do this all the time.
The more we are aware of our feelings and reactions, the more we can have choice. Having choice opens up a deep sense of freedom versus staying in a state of blame and judgment and holding on to our history.
There are various ways to become more conscious of our reactions and see what is driving our feelings. Let’s take our negative talk as a start.
Changing Negative Thoughts
Dr. Daniel Amen refers to our automatic negative thoughts as ANTS. He has a number of common ANTS: Fortune Teller – that one who is worried about the future; Mind Reader thinks they know what the other is thinking – a major stumbling block in relationships; Blame and Labeling yourself or others with a negative description. Another one may be Guilt Beating where we tell ourselves we should or ought to have done something.
Discovering Your ANTS
1. Keep a daily review. Write the moments you had a negative feeling during the day and what triggered it.
2. Label which ANT it was from the list or give it another name.
3. Consider what an opposite feeling could be.
4. What would you have to shift to have this different reaction?
5. Do some journaling or meditation, and if needed, get support to help you go deeper into your brain and body for a positive shift.
A small example: I often say, “I lost my phone” as soon as I can’t find it. This statement used to get me tense, my emotional reaction was nervousness, my autonomic nervous system would get triggered, and my mind would start to make up stories – All in split seconds. I never questioned my verbiage and the turmoil I caused myself until someone pointed it out.
This may sound silly, but it happens so fast, and such situations can become negative habits that can ultimately affect our health. We can be proactive and make a positive change.
I look forward to hearing how you shifted your ANTS and are getting a greater sense of having choice around your emotional reactions. firstname.lastname@example.org
Next time we will look more into our choices around emotions, feelings and beliefs.
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