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Emotions versus Feelings

Updated: Apr 2

When we talk about feelings, talking about them is a cognitive achievement. Naming our feelings is an encoding of what takes place in the body. By talking about it, a feeling becomes a consciously made and expressed expression of something that we actually experience unconsciously in the first place: Emotions.

What is the difference between feeling and emotion?

A fundamental difference between feelings and emotions is that feelings are experienced consciously, whereas emotions manifest either consciously or unconsciously. Some people can spend years or even a lifetime not understanding the depth of their emotions.

To understand the difference between feelings and emotions, let's take a closer look at the chemical processes in the body.

Basically, we experience emotions before we experience a feeling. The feeling therefore only occurs when the "emotion chemicals" take effect in the body. These "chemicals" are released in response to our interpretation of a certain trigger. The emotion therefore causes a feeling and moods ultimately arise from a combination of feelings.

Emotions are, so to speak, the raw data that we process; they are a reaction to our sensory perception, i.e. to what and how we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, to our sense of balance and how we perceive our body in space.

Emotions are therefore a result of our (inner and outer) reality, while feelings can be diluted by stories. Through events and experiences from the past or fears of the future, we create feelings in our heads that no longer necessarily correspond to the truth/reality.

In short: We perceive something (sensory perception), which results in a physical sensation (chemical reaction) and an emotion (fear, sadness, joy, anger or disgust). Depending on what we experience while perceiving this emotion, we link a story and thus thoughts to it.

What most of us struggle with or suffer from is that we get "stuck" in the story, we identify with it, instead of focusing on the source: feeling the body sensation and the emotion.

This is the approach of body oriented therapies and my work. Simply feeling. The rest, the resolution, then comes naturally.

Mind Heart connection

Emotions originate in the amygdala (part of our limbic system) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex of the brain.

The aforementioned raw data/sensory inputs that represent our emotions trigger biomechanical reactions in our body, which we in turn experience as sensations in our body unconsciously and instinctively.

Listening to these physical sensations, which are shaped by our sensory perception, helps us to make decisions that are right for us.

How do we process emotions?

We all process our "emotion data" differently, because our unconscious and conscious minds link feelings that once arose from emotions with stories that we have experienced and possibly also with resulting fears.

An example of how differently we process emotions:

Let's say I'm walking down a street, hear screeching tires and in a split second see in the corner of my eye someone almost getting run over.

The sound of the screeching tires is perceived by my ear. This triggers my sympathetic nervous system and the vagus nerve tenses. This unconscious reaction in the body causes a noticeable stomach pinch. In addition, my eyes perceive the visual information of the braking car. This happens subcortically.

In biochemical terms, cortisol and adrenaline are released within milliseconds. I might get goose bumps or my whole body tenses up, maybe I have a short loss of breath. Combined with a tightened stomach, this doesn't feel good. What I'm experiencing right now is the physiological experience and emotion of fear.

Unconscious emotions are embedded in the body

Depending on which stories, experiences and events I unconsciously associate with this emotion, the interpretation of this emotion is different and therefore also manifests itself in different ways. Stored experiences combined with the physical perception of what we have just experienced cause us to react differently. For example, one person who perceived the near-accident may react with anger, another may be indifferent, yet another may be fearful, and so on.

For example, I could react with anger at the driver because I think I'm angry at men who drive so recklessly and aggressively and my ex was one of those. But if we look at it more closely, I'm actually angry that my ex is such a driver and that his driving has manifested the emotion of fear in me. My experience and my story have become linked to what I have just experienced, even though they actually have nothing to do with it. Only because my sensory organs perceived a squeal and a near-accident.

This is how we create our reality. Our interpretation and reaction do not necessarily correspond to the situation.

And it is precisely these interpretations and reactions that I constantly question with my clients, we do a "reality check".

When our reactions become a hindrance and our feelings become a burden

In situations like the one I've just described, it doesn't bother me if a feeling of anger or fear arises, because it usually disappears quickly.

However, there are recurring situations and events where negative feelings have a strong impact on everyday life. Our quality of life suffers as a result and often also our relationships with others.

The good thing is that we can resolve these "inappropriate" feelings and reactions and reprogram ourselves, so to speak, by working with our unconscious. Access to this is provided by our body, the place where our emotions first arise. An intensive examination of physical perceptions from situations we have already experienced helps us to discover the moment when we interpreted an emotion into a feeling that has imprinted itself for the future as a negative reaction to our reality.

We discover unprocessed emotions and stories.

Using the example of the car driver: I react to the driver with anger because I haven't processed the emotions in connection with my ex. Otherwise I would react differently. I would only feel what was actually happening in the dangerous situation: a dangerous scene where a little fear is perfectly normal. Anger would be out of place here and a willingness to help the person who may have been in shock and narrowly escaped the accident would be the desired reaction.

So, if I dissolve the anger and disappointment from my old reality, I can create a new one and teach my body to react differently.

If you would like to learn more about your emotional and feeling world, arrange a non-binding, free initial consultation.

Or register for my next workshop from July 05 to July 07 in Vienna. You can find more information here.


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