The Feelings Wheel: A guide for better emotional communication

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It can, sometimes, be challenging to express how we feel. On top of that, your feelings can feel fuzzy and vague, seeming bigger and louder, and sometimes, quiet and hurtful.

This confusion can make it challenging to identify how you are feeling and communicate that to the people around you or even to yourself.

Most of the time, feelings don’t come down to rudimentary concepts like ‘good’ or ‘bad’; they can feel deeper and more descriptive than that. Feelings are complex, and yet, in general, we use oversimplified and even misleading language to describe them.

This not only makes it difficult for you or the other person to identify how you are feeling but also makes it challenging to be politically correct or considerate to others (even yourself). A good example is how we have resorted to describing ourselves as depressed, casually, when we are feeling stressed, anxious or tired.

Here, we are not communicating our feelings effectively, which can make it difficult for the other person to help you feel better. When you don’t understand your emotional state, there’s little you can do to self-soothe either.

One way of navigating the turbulent waters of emotions and communication, without getting lost in the storm, is to use the right tools—Gloria Willcox’s Feelings Wheel included.

In this post, we do a deep dive into how recognising your feelings can help you improve your emotional communication.

Understanding The Feelings Wheel

Inspired by Robert Plutchik's comparison of emotions to colours, Gloria Willcox designed The Feelings Wheel using six core feelings.

It is essentially a chart designed to help you identify the specifics of your emotional state, quickly and easily. It allows you to label how you’re feeling more intuitively, which can lead to better emotional communication and the use of the right tools that help you manage those feelings.

The Feelings Wheel features three rings:

The innermost ring, which comprises six core feelings.

The middle and outer rings, which includes specific emotions associated with core feelings that are more descriptive of how you are feeling.

The core feelings in the innermost ring are our go-to feelings, but they tend to be vague, which may not support powerful emotional communication.

This is where the two outer rings step in to give you a better idea of what you’re feeling and what you can do about it.

For example, if you are experiencing sadness and you refer to the outer rings of The Feelings Wheel to identify whether this is caused by guilt, it may help you understand what you need to do to improve your mood.

This is important because what you would do if you realise you are lonely, differs from what you would do if you are feeling guilty, for example.

The Feelings Wheel is easy to navigate and helps you get a clear idea about why you are feeling the way you do. How can you use this to improve your emotional communication, though?

Improving emotional expression is the first step to better communication

Your emotional expression refers to how you convey your feelings verbally and non-verbally. It is part of the emotion regulation process and it functions as a way of communicating your internal state of emotion to the people around you.

Knowing how you are feeling or having an awareness of your emotions is the first step towards better communication. It allows you to address and work on your mood constructively and meaningfully. Using The Feelings Wheel, you can label your feelings and increase your emotional vocabulary.

It’s really just like how you would discuss your sicknesses or injuries with your GP. Even if you don’t understand what’s happening to you, you can identify what’s wrong and what you’re feeling.

When we experience negative emotions, we’re quick to play the blame game, but that never solves the problem and if you’ve noticed, is never effective when it comes to communicating your feelings productively.

This is exactly what you can achieve by using The Feelings Wheel.

Labelling deeper emotions supports emotional communication

Take anger, for example. It tends to be a surface-level emotion, and you need to identify what lies beneath it to really feel better.

When your colleagues react to something you do or say out of anger, it’s hard to take a step back and think about why they may be feeling that way.

If that same person, however, tells you that they feel they are not appreciated for their efforts or can’t handle their workload, it is a lot easier to hear them out.

In The Feelings Wheel, the innermost ring displays these surface-level feelings, and the primary feelings that cause these surface feelings to arise are displayed on the outer rings.

If you are trying to change how you feel for the better, identifying what’s triggering you is very useful. It can also help you put your thoughts into words and tell people how you feel.

Labelling deeper emotions, rather than just defining surface-level emotions, is so helpful because it makes it easier to understand and make sense of the problem you are experiencing.

Support effective emotional communication by understanding your feelings better

Being able to identify an emotion is only the first step to working through it—whether that work needs to be done alone or with another person (your significant other, therapist, co-worker, or best friend).

Being aware of your feelings is also a fundamental element of mindfulness. Without mindfulness, it’s difficult to be emotionally intelligent and improve your emotional communication skills.

Get in touch with our team at Awakened Mind and discover how you can interact with your emotions and feelings constructively and communicate them better using our advanced, structured, and holistic mindfulness app.

Together with The Feelings Wheel, you can develop greater emotional intelligence with a little bit of work.