What’s The Difference Between Feelings And Emotions?

Although the two words are used interchangeably, there are distinct differences between feelings and emotions.

First, understanding the difference between emotions and feelings can help you change unhealthy communication patterns, reactive behaviors and find more joy, happiness and peace in your life. Feelings and emotions are two sides of the same coin and highly interconnected but are two very different things.


Emotions are lower level responses occurring in the subcortical regions of the brain, the amygdala, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortices, creating biochemical reactions in your body altering your physical state. They originally helped our species survive by producing quick reactions to threat, reward, and everything in between in their environments. Emotional reactions are generational codes in our DNA and while they do vary slightly individually and depending on circumstances, are generally universally similar across all humans and even other species. For example, you smile and your dog wags its tail.

The amygdala plays a role in emotional arousal and regulate the release of neurotransmitters essential for memory consolidation which is why emotional memories can be so much stronger and longer-lasting. Emotions precede thought, are physical, and instinctual. Because they are physical, they can be objectively measured by blood flow, brain activity, facial micro-expressions, and body language.


Feelings originate in the neocortical regions of the brain, are mental associations and reactions to emotions, and are subjective being influenced by personal experience, beliefs, and memories. A feeling is a mental portrayal of what is going on in your body when you have an emotion and is the byproduct of your brain perceiving and assigning meaning to the emotion.  Feelings are the next thing that happens after having an emotion, involve cognitive input, usually subconscious, and cannot be measured precisely.

Feelings are sparked by emotions and colored by the thoughts, memories, and images that have become subconsciously linked with that particular emotion for you. But it works the other way around too. For example, just thinking about something threatening can trigger an emotional fear response. While individual emotions are temporary, the feelings they evoke may persist and grow over a lifetime.  Because emotions cause subconscious feelings which in turn initiate emotions and so on, your life can become a never-ending cycle of painful and confusing emotions which produce negative feelings which cause more negative emotions without you ever really knowing why.

While basic emotions are instinctual and common to us all, the meanings they take on and the feelings they prompt are individually based on our programming past and present. Feelings are shaped by a person’s temperament and experiences and vary greatly from person to person and situation to situation.

Your emotions and feelings play a powerful role in how you experience and interact with the world because they are the driving force behind many behaviors, helpful and unhelpful. It’s possible to react to emotions and the feelings they evoke which are guided by unconscious fear-based perceptions which you may not buy into anymore, yet you’re living your life, making decisions and behaving according to these out-dated tendencies. Living unaware like this almost always leads to problems and unhappiness in the long run.

Putting The Difference To Good Use In Your Life

By understanding the difference between and becoming aware of your emotions and feelings, determining which is which and their root causes, and then inserting conscious thought followed by deliberate action, you can choose how you navigate and experience the world. Being able to do this means responding or reacting which can make the difference in a calm or chaotic life.

I don’t mean to imply that by becoming aware of emotions and feelings and learning to respond rather than react that life will magically become filled with rainbows and butterflies. I am suggesting that by learning the difference and changing your thinking and behavior, that no matter what is going on around you, you can maintain your balance, your sense of peace, purpose, and hope and move forward toward your goals.

For example in my 14-year marriage, my ex-husband held all the power and control, was emotionally cruel, and uncaring. It got to the point where if I just saw an email from him in my inbox, my heart would start pounding, my breathing would become rapid and shallow, and I would actually start sweating. Then, I would soon feel dread, anxious, and worried.

During the marriage and for years after, I reacted from this fearful place as the overly emotional, angry victim who fought back. As the years passed after the divorce, I slowly evolved, began to live more mindfully, and learned a different way. It took years, but I was eventually able to not knee-jerk react to his antics and to consciously and deliberately choose my feelings and behaviors according to who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live my life.

While I was in the process of growing, it would frustrate me to no end because my heart would still pound upon just getting a message from him. I felt like my body was betraying me while, in my head, I knew better and remained calm and confident. My body still exhibited the emotion, but I inserted conscious thought and instructed myself as to how I wanted to feel and proceed.

In the gaps between emotion, feeling, and acting, we all have the power to change and direct our lives for the better.

Feelings – What Are They

Feelings are a physical and cognitive reaction or response to the environment. A physical and cognitive reaction happens due to a cause / effect pattern.

There is no thought to how someone acts after an event. A reaction often is nearly immediate. A physical and cognitive response is a thoughtful effect after an event.

Feelings & emotions are identified in multiple manners –

  • Good or bad – this is a judgmental method of identifying feelings – this increases the cognitive issues that develop with being judgmental
  • Pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant – this was developed as a mindful method of identifying feelings
  • Meeting needs or unmet needs – this method is used by the Nonviolent Communication community who focus on expressing compassion – this categorizes feelings into universal or local categories. A universal category is identifying a need by thinking of someone in a different part of the work (ie. China, Africa, etc.) and asking if they would “need” it (such as love, belonging, friendship). A local category is if the “need” could only be fulfilled in America (ie. need a car)
  • Categorizing feelings – using the general idea of grouping people by their purpose.
  • Safe or dangerous – this is about recognizing that our sympathetic and parasympathetic system was built to help us survive – I heard about this method from exploring emotional intelligence

There are several ways to discharge toxic emotions in a high intensity situation –

  • Breathing: Using meditation and deep breathing techniques
  • Anticipating the environment: Recognizing when there is a potential for high intensity moments
    There are events that happen where we can recognize potential reactions to that event (ie. visiting difficult relatives, going for a stressful job interview, etc.) Most people can name a list of difficult times that they experienced
  • Self talk: How an individual talks to themselves matters – if a person talks to themselves in a manner that they would never allow anyone else to talk to them, this causes a poor self image and poor self worth.
  • Attitude: People with optimistic viewpoints often will react/respond in a positive manner
  • Level of stress: This is about an individual’s level of general stress as they enter into a scenario – if an individual is very stressed out, then they will interact with the environment in a more intense manner than a relaxed individual
  • Exercise is the easiest method to decrease physical stress since exercise releases the stress that is stored in the body

Faux Feeling Words (also known as false emotions)

These are words that appear on various feeling lists and some people would say that they are feelings, however, when put into the three (3) word sentence (“I feel ____”) the sentence would be clunky or awkward.  When something is clunky or awkward, this is the indicator that the word may be something else such as a thought, value, belief, or a need – these all fall under rational thought, not emotional response.

Differentiating Between True Feelings And Faux Emotions

These feelings and needs are suggestions only; this listing is neither complete nor definitive. It is intended as an aid to translating words that are often confused with feelings. These words imply that someone is doing something to you and generally connote wrongness or blame. To use this list, when somebody says “I’m
feeling rejected,” you might translate this as: “Are you feeling scared because you have a need for inclusion?”

My Personal Viewpoint On The Basic Differences Between Emotions and Feelings

Emotions are event-driven, while feelings are experiences that are usually in hibernation until triggered by an external event. Unlike happiness for example (a feeling), joy (an emotion) involves little cognitive awareness—we feel good without consciously deciding to—and it’s longer lasting. Finally the experience of DELIGHT overrides all these sensations because it is both a feeling and an emotion.

Whereas happiness is usually induced by and dependent on outside conditions, joy is something we experience more deeply; it’s a state of being that’s not necessarily tied to external situations. While happiness is a state of mind based on circumstances, joy is an internal feeling that disregards circumstances.


Feelings Emotions
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 bad actions.”
Feelings state: “Your internal world matters. Emotions state: “The external world matters.
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.
Happiness is a feeling. Joy is an emotion.
Worry is a feeling. Fear is an emotion.
Contentment is a feeling. Enthusiasm is an emotion.
Bitterness is a feeling. Anger is an emotion.
Love is a feeling. Attraction is an emotion.


Delight is an emotion, an experience and a feeling.

So What?

The secret to knowing who you are and living well begins with knowing the difference between sustained feelings and temporary emotions. Think about it this way: Nothing you can ever experience in life, no matter how terrible, will ever be anything more than a bunch of thoughts, plus a few physical sensations. Can you handle that?

Being able to clearly identify how we are feeling has been shown to reduce the intensity of experience because it re-engages our rational mind.

The most elegant way to identify the emotion behind a particular negative feeling is to simply ask “What surprised you?

Emotions: Identifying and Expressing Feelings

An emotional vocabulary is key to understanding another person and yourself with compassion!

e•mo•tion (dictionary.com)

1. an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive and volitional states of consciousness. 2. any of the feelings of joy, sorrow, fear, hate, love, etc. 3. any strong agitation of the feelings actuated by experiencing love, hate, fear, etc., and usually accompanied by certain physiological changes, as increased heartbeat or respiration, and often overt manifestation, as crying or shaking. 4. an instance of this. 5. something that causes such a reaction: the powerful emotion of a great symphony.


1. the function or the power of perceiving by touch. 2. physical sensation not connected with sight, hearing, taste, or smell. 3. a particular sensation of this kind: a feeling of warmth; a feeling of pain. 4. the general state of consciousness considered independently of particular sensations, thoughts, etc. 5. a consciousness or vague awareness: a feeling of inferiority.

I continue to be surprised by people who, I think would be skilled at expressing feelings, will confuse expressing feelings with expressing thoughts.

Why is it important to express an emotion when we use the word feel. The person talking is not aware of what they are doing, however the person on the receiving end will notice it. He or she will notice something is not quite right. If your intention is to create connection then using the word feeling to express a thought it is not an effective strategy. Try this out yourself if you don’t believe me. Have someone read aloud the statements below and notice how it feels to you.

Keys to Noticing When Thoughts are Masquerading as Emotions

1. Feel followed by use of words such as like, that, as if:

Note: Observations are included in the clear responses to create a reference for the feelings.


  1. I feel like he did it on purpose.
  2. I feel that you don’t like me.
  3. I feel as if you aren’t even here.


  1. I feel hurt, because I am thinking he did it on purpose.
  2. I feel sad, because I think you don’t like me.
  3. I feel lonely, because it seems like you are not even here.

2. Feel followed by the use of pronouns I, you, they, it, she, he or names or nouns referring to people.


  1. I feel she is lying.
  2. I feel my professor is playing favorites.
  3. I feel you don’t understand me.


  1. When she says she didn’t do it, I feel suspicious.
  2. When I saw the grades, I was upset because I thought the professor was playing favorites.
  3. When you look at me like that, I feel impatient and I am guessing you are not getting what I am saying.


3. The word feel used to express an opinion or guess at what someone is thinking.


  1. I feel he’ll never finish his project.
  2. I feel inadequate as a parent.
  3. I feel rejected


  1. He told me what he had finished so far, I am concerned because I don’t think he will finish his project.
  2. When I yell at my kids, I feel disappointment and wonder if I’ll ever be a good parent.
  3. When you said no, I felt frustrated because it seemed like you were rejecting my idea just because I am the one who suggested it.


Disconnecting Expressions of Alleged Emotions Emotions Expressed Clearly
I feel I should be more organized
I feel that you are not listening.
I feel intimidated
I feel you should do the dishes like you promised.
I feel like you seldom pick up after yourself.

One final comment about negative feelings, which helped me very much at one time and has helped others. No outward thing— nothing, nobody from without— can hurt me inside, psychologically. I recognized that I could only be hurt psychologically by my own actions, which I have control over; by my own reactions (they are tricky, but I have control over them too); or by my own inaction in some situations, like the present world situation, that need action from me.

When I realized this how free I felt! And I just stopped hurting myself. Now someone could do the meanest thing to me and I would feel deep compassion for this out-of-harmony person, this sick person, who is capable of doing mean things. I certainly would not hurt myself by a reaction of bitterness or anger. You have complete control over whether you will be psychologically hurt or not, and anytime you want to, you can stop hurting yourself.

On Altering Your Perspective

Most people believe that their mood, attitude or the way they feel is based upon circumstances or other people. Ask anyone you know who is in a bad mood or depressed why they feel the way they do and virtually all of them will tell you about a circumstance or an encounter with someone else.

The truth of the matter, however, is that feelings are caused by the thoughts about circumstances and people. People or circumstances in and of themselves cannot directly impact your feelings. Being crystal clear about this concept will give you a great sense of empowerment and freedom. The following story exemplifies this idea.

Two shoe salesmen travel to a distant island to open up a new market for their shoe line. Once they arrive, they canvass the area to evaluate its potential. Shortly thereafter, the first salesman in a very downtrodden mood calls back to the home office and says, “bad news, no one here wears shoes,” and took the next plane home. The other sales person, could hardly contain himself and when he called the home office he said, “great news, no one here wears shoes and we have no competition, we better have a lot of product on hand.”

In Conclusion

Learn to feel and embrace all of your emotions fully without labeling them, and work on expressing them fully with empathy and honesty. Remove the narrative as much and as often as possible, and focus on the inspired actions that you believe will give you results that serve your needs best. If and when you want to change your feelings & emotions know that you can do so easily and safely within minutes with The Law of Delight training resources and coaching!

The Rest of Today’s Lesson are in the following links: