Feelings Wheel (A Comprehensive Guide)


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Page last updated: 12/10/2022

Feelings Wheel

Who hasn’t been scared or confused by his own feelings at least once in his life?

The answer would be no one because feelings are tricky things and you are sometimes confused by your own feelings.

The reason is that these feelings could be intense, overwhelming, and loud or these could be too subtle, buried away, or quite to notice. 

Words do not always do justice to our feelings and the essence of emotion and we are not able to completely communicate our experience to others.

Psychologists have been trying their level best to understand feelings and emotions and how they work but there are still ambiguities about that.

However, a few psychologists have created a feeling wheel to understand how feelings work.

We shall discuss the feelings wheel in this article, its origin, and what it is used for.

Let us first discuss what feelings the wheel actually is. 

  • Emotions 

Do you have any idea how many emotions an average human being can feel?

According to an estimate, an average human being can feel around 34000 emotions.

It’s a huge amount, isn’t it? Feelings and emotions are really complex but mostly oversimplified by our use of inaccurate language to describe them.

Unless someone is a poet or an expert wordsmith or really eloquent and has a really big dictionary, it is impossible for anyone to name every emotion accurately.

For instance, if we say ‘I’m depressed’, it means that we are feeling stressed, tired, anxious or feeling stuck at the moment and the circumstances have led me to those emotional states and none of all this describes sadness.

If feelings are not communicated accurately, how we can expect anyone to recognize these feelings let alone understand the meaning behind those feelings.

Moreover, when a person doesn’t even understand his own feelings how can he or she communicate it to another person effectively?

Sometimes, people are just down and do not understand how to tell others or communicate these feelings. 

It would be easier to understand the core emotions behind our every feeling and then act according to these emotions instead of naming all the 34000 emotions one by one.

That’s where ‘the feelings wheel comes in as it is a chart designed to help you quickly and easily understand a particular emotional state.

The feelings wheel was designed by Gloria Willcox to pinpoint an adjective to accurately reflect how you’re feeling.

Let’s discuss what feelings wheel is and from where it comes from. 

Feelings Wheel (A Comprehensive Guide)
  • Brief History of the Feelings Wheel

Robert Plutchik was the first-ever person to come up with the idea of a feeling wheel back in 1980 but he called his wheel as ‘the emotion circle’ or ‘the wheel of emotions’.

It had eight primary emotions in the emotion circle including acceptance, anger, anticipation, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise.

These emotions were considered as the basics of all the emotions by Plutchik. 

After Plutchik, another psychologist Dr. Gloria Wilcox came up with a similar concept in her book ‘Feelings: Converting Negatives to Positives’.

Different then Plutchik’s wheel, Dr. Gloria’s wheel had six core emotions that were presented on different sides of the circle.

Those emotions are positive, powerful and joy as the positive emotions on one side of the wheel and sad, mad, and scared as the negative emotions on the other side of the wheel.

These emotions and feelings wheels are helpful in labeling emotions and especially for men who have trouble identifying and labeling their emotions and feelings.

You are able to name your emotions accurately with the help of a feelings wheel and it becomes easier to understand and label your emotions with the help of a feelings wheel.

Let’s find out what feelings wheel is, how it works, and how you and name your emotions effectively. 

  • What is the Feelings Wheel?

The Feeling wheel has made life easier for a lot of people who faced difficulty in recognizing and labeling their emotions before.

It might be confusing for a few people at first because of the complicated structure but once you get the hang of it, it becomes easier to use.

First, we need to know what is inside the feelings wheel before understanding its working and then we shall learn how to label your emotions with the feeling wheel.

There are three rings inside of the feelings wheel.

  1. The Innermost Ring

The innermost ring of the feelings wheel has six core emotions written inside of it including

  • Sad
  • Mad
  • Scared
  • Joyful
  • Powerful
  • Peaceful

These emotions are known as core emotions as well as go-to emotional states but these are known to be ambiguous and most people do not find these emotional states helpful when it comes to achieving them or remedy them. 

  1. The Middle Ring

This ring comes between innermost and outermost rings and gives a more specific view and labels of the emotions than the innermost rings.

It narrows your feelings down more as compared to the innermost ring.

However, the emotions in the middle ring are less defined than the emotions in the outermost rings. 

  1. The OuterMost Ring

The feelings and emotions are further divided and categorized in the outermost part of the feelings wheel.

These emotions are the subcategories of the larger categories of emotions defined in the innermost ring.

The labeling with these rings makes it easier to get to the root of feeling and hence it becomes easier to remedy it. 

It is the most specific part of the rings with 72 adjectives linked to it to give labels to your emotions. 

A person can easily realize that he is feeling sad but when he looks at the broader perspective of being sad, he might look at the guilt part of being sad and then realize that he is actually feeling guilty rather than feeling sad.

The feelings wheel makes it easier for people to recognize as well as name their emotions when they are not able to find suitable words to define their emotions.

  • How to use the Feelings Wheel

The feelings wheel is used by understanding the concept of all three rings present in the wheel.

A person just has to think about his current emotional state in a broader category and then he should keep narrowing it down.

He should narrow it down to a point where he knows that his feelings are due to a specific subcategory of the emotions.

For instance, one may be sad because he was feeling lonely about something and not actually feeling sad. 

The feelings wheel can have amazing clinical implications when it comes to giving therapy to clinically diagnosed patients or to cure these feelings.

The wheel helps a patient to translate a diagnostic term into a personal description of someone’s experience.

Depression is a clinical term but understanding of depression and experience of depression varies a lot from one person to another.

A therapist needs to understand what a person’s experience with depression is if the patient is feeling sad or emotionally numb or angry or physically tired due to overwhelming emotions.

The reason behind this is the fact that a therapist would approach sadness differently than emotional numbness. 

Another way to look at a feelings wheel is if you identify your goal emotions.

For instance, if you are feeling anger due to your job, you would look at the anger portion of the feelings wheel and then see the joy opposite of it, and then you will try to find a new job or a satisfactory position in the current job.

This can give rise to another emotion of pride which is associated with the feeling of joy.

You can use the outer rings of the feelings wheel to back yourself into major positive mood states.

This feelings wheel is often used in clinical settings to help clients improve their outcomes and make better decisions.  

Providing a better use of vocabulary and helping you avoid the word very, this feelings wheel has many implications.

The feelings wheel was developed decades ago by Dr. Willcox but it is still being used in many counseling centers and outreach groups to help clients so they can describe their emotions in a well-defined manner.

This wheel is especially helpful when we are facing intense feelings and when the mind is unable to stay objective because it operates from an impulsive situation of fight or flight.

Moreover, this feelings wheel will also help you become eloquent in expressing your emotions and you can better express yourself. 

  • How can younger children use this?

The idea to use a feelings wheel on a child is not something which is encouraged because a child will respond better if he is shown a picture of a person’s face displaying different emotions like happy, sad, surprised or scared. 

A child will be able to tell what he is feeling according to the picture of that emotion instead of dealing with a feelings wheel.

You can easily find charts and posters representing these emotions for children or some cartoon-style drawing or emoticon images can be used or the pictures of actual people is always an option.

Making it easier for you as you can simply use the emoticons on your phone to help your child understand and recognize the emotion. 

  • Importance of Labeling Emotions

Some people with poor emotional literacy can use the feelings wheel to better express themselves.

These skills can be practiced and developed over time and you can also become emotionally literate with this feelings wheel.

FAQ about Feelings wheel

What is poor Alexithymia?

This condition which is known as Alexithymia is defined as ‘the inability to identify or describe feelings’.

It means that people are not able to express their emotions in words. 

Is Alexithymia curable?

The feelings wheel helps people treat Alexithymia because it helps you become emotionally literate.

Moreover, you can overcome Alexithymia by practicing to describe your emotions.

Is there a gender difference in emotional literacy?

Yes, boys are usually slower than girls when it comes to developing emotional literacy.

  • References

The Feeling Wheel: an awesome tool for emotional literacy By Scott 20, 2019

The feeling wheel by Coach Dris (2016)

‘Feelings Wheel’ Will Help You Better Describe Your Emotions by Britany Anas (2017) 

The feelings wheels reveal the complexity of your emotions by Erin Bunch (2019)