Feelings Vs. Emotions

personal development Mar 31, 2018
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Although the words emotions and feelings are often used interchangeably, they are very different beasts. Feelings and emotions should not be confused. Emotions precede feelings, both in evolutionary development and in your daily life. However, while emotional responses are instinctual, normal, and healthy, attachment to them often is not.  

Emotions Happen to You

Emotions come uninvited or unexpected. A flash of anger when someone cuts you off in traffic. The sudden joy you feel when your child takes her first steps. A surge of jealousy when your partner glances at an attractive passerby. Surprise at an unanticipated compliment. A pang of guilt after you've yelled at your child.

These are naturally occurring, brief,  physical responses to stimuli that are hardwired within your limbic system. These impulses bypass your neocortex, where your capacity for reason and language reside. 

It's almost impossible, and highly ill-advised, to control or suppress episodic emotional events. They are illogical, irrational, and unreasonable, but they are entirely natural. Emotional response played a crucial role in the survival of our species back in the days when we not only didn't rule the world but didn't show much promise for lasting long. And emotions aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

Feelings Are a Choice

Feelings are states you choose to embrace or shun based on emotions that arise from stimuli or memory. Being angry because someone cut you off in traffic an hour ago. Sustained pride in your child's first steps. Jealousy rising to suspicion after catching your partner glancing at a handsome passerby. Cockiness after someone compliments you unexpectedly. The onset of shame as you remember how you yelled at your child.

These are mental associations and reactions to an emotion that are personal and informed by your experience. They are stories you tell yourselves after an emotion has presented itself. Because feelings require language, they originate in the neocortex. Although your capacity for reason and analytical thought also reside in the neocortex, it's hard to tell based on the way your feelings so often drive your behavior! 

Response Vs. Reaction

When the doctor tells you "You are responding to the treatment," you know that's a good thing. When she says, "You're reacting to the treatment," you immediately think, "Uh oh." You can decide to which action to take when emotions come to visit.

Sure, emotions come uninvited but that doesn't mean you have to invite it in for tea or to stay overnight. Is that in your best interest? Will that promote peace of mind, tranquility, and well-being for you in that moment and beyond?

You don't have to react when emotions pop up. You can respond.

"Between stimulus and responsethere is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." - Viktor Frankl

Adopting a practice of "pausing" before reacting to an emotional conversation, situation or circumstance can be challenging. But with practice it is possible.

There are many methods for doing this. The ancient Stoics developed a host of maxims and exercises. A favorite jotted down in a journal by Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius is, "People are not disturbed by events, but rather by their judgments about events."

A more contemporary practice is Mel Robinson's "5-Second Rule." Another is adopting the practice of saying, "Isn't that interesting...?"


There are many things beyond your control. In fact, everything is beyond your control except how you choose to perceive things and what you decide to do next. Why would you ever want to hand over control of that to something as potentially dangerous and harmful as your emotional responses?

Keep flying higher together!

Scott Perry, Chief Difference-Maker at Creative on Purpose.

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