People often use the terms “emotions” and “feelings” interchangeably, but it can be helpful to understand the difference between them, as this aids in learning how to regulate ourselves when experiencing an emotional tsunami.  Antonio D’Amasio, a professor of neuroscience and author of several books on the subject, explains it as:

Feelings are mental experiences of body states, which arise as the brain interprets emotions, themselves physical states arising from the body’s responses to external stimuli. (The order of such events is: I am threatened, experience fear, and feel horror.)

In other words, an emotion is a physiological experience (or state of awareness) that gives us information about the world, and our feelings are our conscious awareness of the emotion itself.  Our feelings then are mental portrayals of what is going on in our bodies when we have an emotion.  Feelings are the byproduct of our brains perceiving and assigning meaning to the emotion.  Feelings are the next thing that happens after having an emotion, involve cognitive input, usually subconscious, and cannot be measured precisely.

So, it is important for us to remember that individual emotions are temporary, but the feelings they evoke may persist and grow.  This happens because the feelings triggered by emotions are not isolated to that particular emotional stimulus, as they are influenced by thoughts, memories, and images that have become subconsciously linked with that particular emotion for you.

Keep in mind, that it works the other way around as well.  Feelings can be triggered by emotions and colored by thoughts,  but simply thinking about something threatening can also trigger an emotional fear response.  Unfortunately, this can set in motion a cycle of painful and confusing emotions which produce negative feelings, which cause more negative emotions.

 

“I recently read in the book My Stroke of Insight by brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor that the natural life span of an emotion—the average time it takes for it to move through the nervous system and body—is only a minute and a half. After that we need thoughts to keep the emotion rolling. So if we wonder why we lock into painful emotional states like anxiety, depression, or rage, we need look no further than our own endless stream of inner dialogue.” ~ True Refuge – Tara Brach

“The way to heal pain, the only way, is to feel and release it.  Your pain is your pain. Your fear, desperation, and resentments are yours, too.  All these emotions belong to you.  Feel them, learn from them, and let them go” (Melody Beattie, Journey to the Heart, 1996).

Emotion

Emotion

Emotions cannot be permanent.  That’s why they are called “emotions”–the word comes from “motion,” movement.  They move; hence, they are “emotions”.  From one to another you continually change.

-Osho

Intense emotions have been likened to an ocean wave.   They crash over you and may knock you off your feet,  however, just like a wave, they always recede.  Learning to ride these waves of emotion without “acting out” is a necessary life skill.

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