How Are You Feeling? Using the 'Feelings Wheel' to Better Your Relationship

The Feelings Wheel is a tool used in the world of therapy and emotional wellness that helps people pinpoint and interpret their feelings and improve their emotional intelligence. The wheel is a visual aid and divides the emotions based on color associations. The feeling wheel has six primary feelings at the center that are the base of all the different feelings that a person can feel. Outside of the core feelings there are two more rings that describe feelings in increasingly precise ways. The second and third rings describe secondary feelings that are related to the primary feelings. These feelings are more precise than the primary feelings, but fall squarely into one of the six primary categories. The feeling wheel can be used to help us put words to our emotions and care for our mental health.

While this tool is often used for individual self care, it can also be used as a tool to improve your relationship. If you are more in touch with your own emotions, you will be able to communicate more effectively. You will also be able to interpret other people’s emotions more accurately which can also improve communication and how you approach situations.

Here is a brief history of the Feelings Wheel, how to use it, and how it can help your personal wellbeing in addition to the wellbeing of your relationships:

What is the history of the feeling wheel?

The Feelings Wheel was created by Dr. Gloria Willcox, a psychotherapist who noticed that her patients often struggled to articulate how they were feeling. Patients seemed like they did not have the vocabulary or the understanding of the cause of certain emotions and so were at a loss for how to describe how they were feeling. Dr. Willcox set out to create a visual aid to solve this problem and pulled from Robert Plutchik's concept of emotions as colors to create a colorful wheel of emotions.

The initial concept had four central emotions, scared, sad, mad, glad, but Dr. Willcox wanted there to be a balance between the positive and negative emotions and so she divided glad into three different core feelings: joyful, powerful and peaceful. Since it was created, the Feelings Wheel has been used far and wide to help people identify, name and communicate their emotions in a more nuanced way.

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What are the six core emotions?

Though different wheels sometimes have different names for the ‘core’ emotions, the most common core emotions are sad, mad, scared, joyful, powerful and peaceful. Sometimes these six emotions are broken into more categories, but the model used by Dr. Willcox focused on six. The six core emotions are surrounded by secondary emotions such as apathetic, critical, insecure, energetic, confident and thankful. These are things that we feel on a regular basis, but are sometimes unable to identify. A lot of the time, we may feel apathetic, but do not realize that apathy is actually a manifestation of sadness, the core emotion. Or we may be feeling embarrassed without realizing that at its core, embarrassment is the same as feeling scared. Using the Feeling Wheel helps us make associations between feelings and what is at the core of the feeling.

How to use a feeling wheel for yourself

Dr. Willcox describes the Feeling Wheel as a tool that can offer power to individuals. Understanding your emotions and the core of these emotions can provide clarity and precise language that can empower people to communicate what they are feeling and by extension, what they need from others. Articulating your emotions can come with practice if you get into the regular habit of using a Feelings Wheel.

A lot of people are first introduced to Feelings Wheels in formal counseling or therapy sessions and are guided through the process with a trained counselor. But this doesn’t have to be the case - anyone can download a Feelings Wheel and use it on their own accord. Using a Feelings Wheel just requires you to notice when you are having an emotion and then locate that emotion on the wheel so that you can pinpoint exactly how you are feeling.

Some therapists recommend carrying around a Feelings Wheel with you (in an agenda, calendar, or even just a picture on your phone) so that it is easy to access when you are feeling an emotion that you cannot place (it probably won’t always happen in the convenience of the therapist’s office). Being able to recognize a feeling, place it on the wheel and name it will offer some clarity and help you feel more in touch with your emotions.

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How to use a feeling wheel in life, work and relationships

Using the Feelings Wheel can also improve your interpersonal relationships. Having a better understanding of your emotions can allow you to articulate your emotions to others in a more clear and precise way. This allows you to explain if you are upset about something in a more rational and less emotional way even if you are talking about your emotions. These skills can translate to the work environment, to relationships with friends, family members and even romantic partners.

All relationships benefit when communication is more clear and articulate. The majority of conflicts arise when there is miscommunication. Being able to articulate your feelings can help you avoid miscommunication in the first place, and it can help you navigate miscommunication when it does happen.

How using feeling wheel can improve self awareness

In addition to improving interpersonal communication, using the Feelings Wheel can also help you improve your self awareness. If you are not in touch with your feelings, you may not understand why you are acting or reacting a certain way. This can lead to erratic behavior or flat out confusion because you are not in touch with your emotions and therefore your emotions are ruling you.

Using a Feelings Wheel can help improve your self awareness, which can help you become more in control of your behavior and how you deal with your feelings.

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