Importance and Background
Before we discuss Dr Gloria Willcox’s “Feeling Wheel”, let’s first delve into and understand the emotion origination & development theories.
For centuries, scientists and philosophers have been fascinated by emotions. Charles Darwin tried to uncover the evolutionary value of facial expressions in his groundbreaking work “Expression of the Emotions in Man & Animals”. He asserted that the purpose of emotions was to enhance survival by inducing appropriate responses to the environment. He further argued emotions are innate to all cultures and species and with distinct neural bases. On the contrary, social constructivists debate that emotions are acquired concepts; therefore, our upbringing and culture impact our emotions. They further argue emotions are the products of cultures and societies rather than being innate or inborn. It suggests that multiple brain networks work together during emotional responses and that humans are not hardwired.
Both viewpoints provide a glass-half-full half-empty picture of emotional origination. Dr Keltner, in his book, “Born to be Good“, exemplified and explained how evolution and cultures over centuries and decades have shaped our instincts, feelings and emotions.
Regardless of the differences between these viewpoints & theories, all concur that emotions are potent and that learning to talk about and describe feelings/emotions is important.
Using the Feeling Wheel, created by Dr Gloria Willcox, we can become more self-aware of our Emotions. It can help us improve our mental health by supporting emotion discovery and thus improving emotional response and balance.
Why do we need the Feeling Wheel?
Feelings can occasionally be hazy, vague, and perplexing. People often struggle to articulate their emotions since so many different kinds of emotions exist. Your feelings can be hidden or buried deep and difficult to find, while other times, they are loud and intense. Words may not be able to adequately or sufficiently express emotion every time, but they can help us recognise, acknowledge and accept. Next time when something within you is brewing, and you are unsure of naming, we advise using this handy tool – Feeling Wheel.
The “Feeling Wheel”, similar to Pulchik’s Wheel of Emotion, also deals with and assists us in identifying emotions and enhancing self-awareness.
Components of Emotion
There are three components of Emotions – Subjective, Behaviour and Function. To illustrate, this considers this example: You are in the woods alone, and suddenly you find yourself in front of a hungry lion. A feeling of Fear (subjective) is evoked; your likely initial instinct is to run away or withdraw from the situation (behaviour) to protect yourself (Function).
However, in reality, feelings and emotions are much more complex than this simple example.
It is well-established that physiological responses accompany emotions. Emotions trigger physiological responses in our bodies. For instance, when you are afraid, your heart rate typically increases and your palms sweat.
Charles Darwin noted in his studies emotions are also associated with facial, verbal, or behavioural expressions of humans and other animals, e.g. tears, raised hair or goosebumps.
The subjective feeling component of emotion refers to our personal experience of feeling & emotions. Stimuli can trigger/invoke completely different feelings or emotions or the same feeling at a different scale within other people.
The Feeling Wheel benefits
Resolve and restore your emotional balance
Once you can identify your feeling(s), you gain more control over them and can take steps to address and resolve them.
It is true, “You Can’t Fix What You Don’t Know!” to restore your emotional balance, you first have to identify the problem.
Permit yourself to feel
It is important to pay close attention to your feelings & experiences, giving your permission to feel those emotions. We can develop self-compassion and take appropriate, compassionate action by taking notice of our emotions.
How to use the Feeling Wheel?
The premise is simple – Find the adjective on the Wheel that best describes your current state of emotion, and then allow that understanding to empower how you want to meet the moment.
For instance – if you are feeling SAD, explore and describe it to expand (what is behind your SADNESS) – are you Hurt, Despair, Depressed, or Lonely? Let’s say you are experiencing SAD because you are lonely, then expand it to build understanding, e.g. is it because you feel abandoned or isolated?
Since you can experience multiple different emotions concurrently, and often these emotions are composites or ripples of another stronger emotion, you may have to look for more than one emotion to describe your feeling. To complicate this further, you can even experience both positive and negative emotions at the same time too.
It is much more beneficial to use the Feeling Wheel when experiencing the emotion than to wait until they pass and you cannot remember what you felt.
Be with yourself.
Spend a few minutes daily alone away from distractions, sitting quietly and observing your body, mind, thoughts and feelings. Be patient and honest with yourself. Use the Feeling Wheel after the meditation with complete clarity of feeling and emotions. If necessary, start with the innermost circle and work your way outward.
Keep a journal nearby.
Is there a pattern, trend or trigger? Discover more about yourself by sparing a few minutes to clear your head and write a journal. Writing regularly will help you identify your feelings and the causes of those emotions.
Accept all emotions.
Your positive and negative feeling and emotions are entirely normal. We often attempt to suppress feelings like shame, sadness, anger, or disappointment. However, repressing such feelings causes long-term health issues, and those feelings grow stronger. Therefore, the sooner you acknowledge your feelings, the sooner you can manage them.
When to use the Feeling Wheel?
In the moment
The Feeling Wheel tool works best when experiencing the feelings rather than attempting to recall how you felt a few hours, days, or weeks earlier. If you are in a state of emotion and have Feeling Wheel copy/print handy, go ahead and use it. Medication Apps like Calm may help you become attuned to the present moment.
Daily Check-in with yourself – A Reflection
You may make a habit of reflecting every night or at a specified time of the day. Reflection is an excellent time to pause and reflect on what you went through in your day, how you felt today, etc. Once again, medication apps like Calm, HeadSpace or even an alarm/reminder can remind you to check in with yourself.
Reflect on an Event or Past Period
Time heals the deepest of wounds, and clarity emerges from chaos. At the same time, reflecting too much on the past could be better before original feelings and emotions disappear. However, at the same time, it is good to do a stoke-take once the emotional tsunami is over.
The Importance of Emotional Intelligence
The ability to identify and label your feeling & emotions through the Feeling Wheel, Emotion Wheel or using tools like Johari Window can build self-awareness and improve Emotional Intelligence (EQ). I will write more on EQ in my upcoming articles.
I hope this small article helps and benefits you and those around you. Please comment or drop me a line if you find it helpful or have suggestions.