What Are Feelings, and How Do They Differ from Emotions?

Written by: Aleksandra Eriksen Isham – PhD
(Psychology)

Last updated date : March 28, 2022

Table of Contents

What Are Feelings, and How Do They Differ from Emotions?
  1. Emotions
  2. Feelings vs. Emotions
  3. Feelings Are Subjective
  4. Feelings Are Evaluative
  5. Feelings Can Motivate
  6. Want to Learn More?
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In our daily life, we often use the words feelings and emotions to explain the same thing. When we use these words, we normally mean how we feel about an event, a person, or a thing. For example, we may tell someone that we experienced a lot of feelings or emotions during an event or towards a person. It is true that feelings and emotions are related to each other. However, there are some important differences between the two. So, what exactly are feelings? And what are feelings vs. emotions?

Chapter 1:
Emotions

changes in our facial expressions and the way we move. These changes are initiated by areas in the brain that are responsible for behaviors we need to survive. They are designed to help us act in ways that increase our chances of surviving, and are more or less the same for everyone.

As an example, imagine a person on a hike with a friend. Suddenly this person sees a snake and instantly stops in her track. Her face expresses fear, which in turn makes her friend stop in her track too. All of these responses have unfolded before the two friends have even started to consciously think about the situation. This is an example of how emotions can help us respond quickly to a threatening situation where there is no time to think, and help us warn others about a dangerous situation without having to say anything.

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Chapter 2:
Feelings vs. Emotions

What about feelings vs. emotions then? Well, first of all feelings are less instant, automatic, and universal than emotions. Instead, they are influenced by how each person’s mind evaluates a situation and the changes in our bodies caused by emotions. Therefore, unlike emotions, feelings can differ a lot from person to person. In addition, while emotions involve a lot of changes in our brain and our body that we do not notice, we are always aware of our feelings. In other words, while emotions involve a range of responses to a situation that we are not aware of, feelings are what we actually feel in these situations. Finally, feelings can motivate us to act in ways that go beyond the instant and automatic actions caused by emotions. Now, let us dig a little deeper into these different features of feelings vs. emotions.
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Chapter 3:
Feelings Are Subjective

As mentioned, feelings are experiences that may differ a lot from person to person. What exactly does this mean? Well, one thing that it means is that even if a situation causes similar emotions for two people, the way the two people feel in that situation may differ. Imagine two people rock climbing. The instant and automatic emotion during rock climbing may be the same for for these two people. Their hands may get sweaty, they may start to breath faster, and their heart may start to race. In other words, they have an automatic fear response. Yet, the two people may differ a lot in how they feel. One person may experience the situation and bodily changes as very unpleasant, while the other person may feel energized and excited.

The same type of emotion can even feel different for the same person, depending on the situation. Imagine that the person who feels energized and excited when rock climbing meets a snake. This situation will probably cause many of the same responses as rock climbing. Just like during rock climbing, the person might notice their hands going sweaty, their breath speeding up, and their heart starting to race. Yet, unlike during rock climbing, the person may now feel very horrified.

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Chapter 4:
Feelings Are Evaluative

So we have seen that feelings can differ a lot from person to person and situation to situation. But why is this is the case? Well, a person’s feelings depends on how their mind evaluates a particular situation and the related emotions. These evaluations are in turn influenced by things such as a person’s experiences, beliefs, and memories. Therefore, evaluations may differ a lot from person to person and situation to situation, resulting in different feelings.

For instance, the person who felt energized and excited when rock climbing may believe that fear responses such as sweaty hands and a racing heart simply are sensations that can be challenged and overcome. They may also have several past experiences where they have safely reached the top of a climbing route. On the other hand, the person who felt that the same situation was very unpleasant, may not have the same experiences of safe rock climbing. They may also believe that sweaty hands and a racing heart means that something bad is going to happen. Therefore, the first person ends up feeling energized and excited, while the second person ends up feeling horrified.

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Chapter 5:
Feelings Can Motivate

Finally, because feelings are evaluative and often experienced as either unpleasant or pleasant, they can motivate our actions. These actions are not automatic and instant like the ones brought on by emotions. Instead, feelings motivate future actions. For example, it is likely that the person who felt energized and excited when rock climbing is motivated to go rock climbing again. This is because they expect that rock climbing will make them feel good. On the other hand, the person who felt uncomfortable while rock climbing, may not want to go rock climbing again. This is because they expect that it will make them feel bad. This shows how our feelings can motivate and impact our future actions in different ways.

So, as you have now seen, emotions and feelings are related but also differ in important ways. Most importantly, while emotions are automatic and instant responses to a situation, feelings are how we subjectively feel in these situations after our minds have evaluated the situation and related changes in our bodies.

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Chapter 6:
Want to Learn More?

At Epsychonline we have a range of resources that can help you learn more about feelings vs. emotions and other topics. You may want to read up a bit more on “Perimenopause Chronic Fatigue: Does It Make You Tired?” to get a better understanding of “What Are Feelings, and How Do They Differ from Emotions?”. We also have a series of self-help courses, including one on “DBT for Anger”. You can visit our Courses page to find a course that suits you.

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