What differences are there between feelings and emotions, and what impact do our thoughts have?
We tend to use the words “feelings” and “emotions” interchangeably. Though related, there are distinct differences worth understanding.
Feelings vs. Emotions vs. Thoughts
Do you ever question how our mind and body processes emotions and feelings versus thoughts? Wondering which happens first? Or ponder which has the greater power over our decisions, life path, and overall quality of life?
By gaining insights about these different nuances, we can put that knowledge to use in making better choices.
We can change our thoughts and ultimately create positive change in our lives.
Here’s a breakdown to offer some clarity:
Emotions are physical reactions, often stemming from an outside influence. Sometimes these stem from internal experiences, such as being spurred by a memory rather than an immediate outside influence.
Since emotions affect our bodies at a physical level, these are objectively measurable. We can truly monitor brain activity, blood flow, body language, and facial micro-expressions.
According to Debbie Hampton (author of the book Beat Depression and Anxiety by Changing Your Brain), “Emotions are lower level responses occurring in the subcortical regions of the brain, the amygdala, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortices, creating biochemical reactions in your body altering your physical state.”
They precede feelings and are more instinctual and physical in scope.
(Example: You’re out hiking, and the only way to cross a river in your path is to traverse an old rickety bridge. Your body may have an instinctual and visceral reaction, resulting in the emotion FEAR.)
What are feelings, then?
Feelings are the result of our thoughts interpreting our personal experiences, and their associations with emotional experiences.
Emotional responses are biologically based and more instinctual, so there isn’t much variation from person to person. With feelings, on the other hand, results vary greatly between individuals since these are linked to our unique associations and memories.
What’s particularly interesting is that emotions and feelings can create somewhat of a “loop.” An emotional experience can cause a feeling. Over time, the concentration on that feeling creates linked emotions that stem internally from the associated feelings.
(Example: Once you crossed the bridge mentioned earlier, you focused on what other obstacles might lay in your path. This may result in the FEELING of being afraid. This is similar to the fearful emotion, but distinctly different in that it is the THOUGHTS about the EMOTION that create the FEELING.)
Thoughts are mental processes that serve as the link between our emotions and feelings.
They represent our beliefs, opinions, ideas, and over time, our attitudes.
How we THINK about an experience (one that has evoked an emotional response) will feed the associated resulting FEELING.
(Example: Using the bridge example again, after crossing, you may have ruminated about how difficult your hiking path was. Or you may have thought about how many other obstacles could be ahead. These THOUGHTS lead to FEELINGS – feeling afraid as one example.)
How This Understanding Can Benefit You
Our internal experiences are created by emotions, thoughts, and feelings – all working together in a connected way.
Whether or not we can easily change our emotions is uncertain because limited research has been done to-date.
However, research does exist to show that you can change your thoughts and create new thought patterns.
In changing your thoughts, by association, you can alter your feelings.
You can CHOOSE what you focus on (for example, by choosing to think about the excitement of an adventure rather than what other obstacles may lie ahead).
And you can CHOOSE to feel brave rather than afraid.
Changing our thoughts and feelings related to emotional experiences is not necessarily easy.
However, you CAN affect substantial positive change in your life by reframing your thoughts. It merely takes practice.
Ultimately, the truest benefit is an enhanced life experience.