Our emotions influence the way we act, think, and form relationships. They lie at the very core of who we are, and how we interact with the world around us. Despite their omnipresence, the universe of emotions remains enigmatic, a realm where the boundaries between joy and sorrow, love and anger, and calm and chaos often blur and shift. This can make our emotions complex and difficult to grasp.
The emotion wheel then emerges as a concept that can guide us through our emotional landscape.
The origin story
As per Plutchik’s model of emotions, given by American psychologist Robert Plutchik , there are eight core emotions which form the basis for all other emotions and can vary in intensity. These are— anger, joy, sadness, fear, acceptance, surprise, anticipation, and disgust.
Plutchik’s feelings wheel also indicates the intensity of emotions according to the colour: the darker the shade, the more intense the emotion. For example, anger at its least level of intensity is annoyance. At its highest level of intensity, anger becomes rage.
Similarly, fear ranges from timidity to terror, surprise from uncertainty to amazement, sadness from gloominess to grief, and disgust ranges from dislike to loathing.
In his theory, Plutchik theorised that a combination of emotions may also lead to new emotions. For example, joy and trust combine to form love; trust, and fear form submission; sadness and disgust may lead to remorse, and serenity and interest may combine to form optimism.
The feelings wheel in the therapy room
Since Plutchik first conceptualised the feelings wheel, it has evolved to include over 100 different emotions. It is a valuable tool in a therapist’s room to help one gain awareness over what they are feeling.
Mannya Chandy, Mangaluru-based counselling psychologist, says that the feelings wheel is a great tool to gain insight into what the client is going through in a particular situation. “A lot of times, I’ve found that hidden emotions, or emotions that the client is not aware about, also show up through the feelings wheel. This further helps in understanding their thought process and how they perceive that situation,” says Chandy.
She adds that it can also provide a starting point for therapists to ask further questions to know how these thinking patterns came to be.
Khushi Khandelwal, Mumbai-based counselling psychologist also often uses this concept in her practice. “A client might not have a lot of awareness into exactly what they’re feeling. Asking them to pinpoint [on the wheel] how different incidents made them feel, helps to reach the core emotion they may be experiencing,” she says.
Why knowing your feelings is important
The feelings wheel is a helpful tool for introspection. Understanding the kinds of emotions that we experience can help understand where they come from.
“A client comes and describes that work is stressful. Now the word stress doesn’t just mean one thing. It encompasses a whole lot of other emotions behind it. Using the feelings wheel, they can identify what are all the emotions that they’re experiencing and what about a situation makes them feel that way,” says Chandy.
It gives them vocabulary to describe what they are going through and that helps with self-awareness, she adds. Moreover, it can help them be kind towards themselves when they are experiencing something difficult.
Additionally, being aware of one’s emotions is an important component of emotional intelligence. A 2022 research study published in Frontiers Psychology journal, led by researcher Robert Moeller, United States, found that high emotional intelligence acts as a protective factor for stress, anxiety, and depression. It also found that being aware of one’s own emotions helps in fostering a feeling of social belongingness and promoting overall well-being.
Therefore, there is value in gaining more insight into the different hues of our own emotional landscape. Emotions are usually much more complex than they seem on the surface. The emotions wheel is a tool that can help navigate this complexity.