The Difference Between Feelings and Emotions


By Jayaram V

People use the words emotions and feelings interchangeably. In a very general sense you can use them as synonyms. However, there is a clear difference between them, which is very difficult to understand unless you pay close attention. Emotions and feelings are the same in a very limited sense. We use both of them to make sense of the world and our experience, but in different ways. If you read the literature available on the subject to know the difference, most likely you will "feel" confused and suffer from disturbing "emotions."

Traditionally, the word feeling is associated with the sense of touch. Just as you smell good or bad smells, or hear good music, you feel the warmth of the sun or the coolness of the air. In a broader sense, it denotes any physical sensation you experience in your body like numbness in your body, or dryness, and sourness in your throat.

Finally, it also denotes any mental sensation, impression or effect, you may feel in your mind, in response to an event inside you or outside you. It is In this respect feelings come closer to emotions in meaning and significance, and create the confusion.

Emotions denote strong mental states created in your mind or awareness in response to the conditions that exist in your environment. They arise in response to events to elicit in you specific behavior or prepare you for them. Emotions help you deal with the world and direct your relationship with it.

If you are not already confused, let me confuse you further and explain what they really mean in the real world, or what I understood as their main difference. Feeling is a physical or mental experience. Emotion is a state of awareness about you or your environment. In other words, you feel different sensations when you come into contact with different objects. In the same manner, you also feel emotions in response to events such cool air, humid conditions, or a dangerous and life threatening situation. Thus, you may feel good or bad about yourself, someone or something. You may also feel angry, happy, fearful, sad, depressed, disinterested, uninteresting, unhappy and so on. In this, you are the subject, your feeling is the mental process, and your emotion is the conclusion you draw about your relationship with the event.

In other words, your feelings make you aware of your emotions and through emotions you interpret your experience and perceptions. For example, "I saw an injustice on television. I felt bad about it. Hence, I was angry, sad, and disturbed." Thus what you feel about the world or situation can produce in you strong emotions and let you know how you should respond to them.

However, feelings can also be used as a noun using emotions and mental states to qualify them. For example, you can experience angry feelings, fearful feelings, unhappy feelings, happy feelings, sad feelings, disturbing feelings, and so on. Here, you are using feelings in the same sense as emotions. It is probably the frequent use of this approach, which makes people believe that feelings and emotions are the same. As we have seen, they are the same only in a limited sense. You can effectively use this distinction in daily life to sense your feelings, identify your emotions, identify the conditions and thoughts that produce them, and use such knowledge to change your thoughts and control your emotions. Any further explanation, may confuse you and make you feel angry, annoyed, or perplexed.

Jayaram V is the Founder President of and author of serveal articles and books including Think Success: Essays on Self-help