Are feelings and emotions the same thing? I have been teaching about this concept to my classes for a while now, and this question has come up several times. So, is there a difference and if so, what is it?
Turns out that there is a BIG difference. Emotions are instinctual and common to us all. They are lower level responses that come from the amygdala, or the lizard brain (the basic survival, instinct driven brain). They cause biochemical reactions to your body and they alter your physical state. So, when you are feeling scared, your palms may sweat or your stomach may do flip flops. When you feel happy, you might smile and feel more energetic. Emotional reactions are actually coded in our genes! They are generally universally similar across all humans and even other species. For example, you smile and your dog wags his tail.
Feelings come after emotion
s. In other words, they are the mental associations and reactions to your emotions. They are personal. Only you can have the feelings that you are having. They are subjective to your personal experiences, beliefs, and memories. A feeling gives you a mental portrayal of what is happening in your body when you have an emotion. The feeling comes because of what your brain perceives and then assigns meaning to the emotion.
Emotions are always temporary; in fact, emotions only last 90 seconds. That’s it. A minute and a half. But feelings, on the other hand, can persist and grow over a lifetime. Basic emotions are just instinctual. Everyone has them. But those meanings that they take on and the feelings that they prompt are completely individually based and come from whatever has happened to you in the past and the present. Your emotions can cause subconscious feelings which can then initiate more emotions--which then produces more feelings and so on and so on. Pretty soon you can find yourself going down a rabbit hole. Therefore, it’s so important to stop living on auto pilot and be more present to your life right now.
By understanding the difference between your emotions and your feelings, you can choose whether you will respond or react to them. This is the difference between a calm or a chaotic life. When we learn to recognize what is happening in our body physically with an emotion (our head hurting, our palms sweating, our jaw clenching, our stomach tightening, etc.) we can then watch for the feelings to come. We can watch for the self-dialogue that usually happens with certain feelings. We can observe what is happening rather than follow an untrue story down a rabbit hole that only leads to suffering, and consequently respond with a clear mind.
There are spaces in between emotions, feelings and actions. It is important to note that we have the power to change our reactions during these spaces. When we begin to slow our minds down, we see these spaces. We can train ourselves to breathe and make another choice. Instead of just “react now and then regret later,” we can observe and respond appropriately.