What is the Wheel of Emotions & Where Does it Come From?

The wheel of emotions is a diagrammatic visualisation of all of our emotions, which was designed originally by Robert Plutchik in the 1980s.  Plutchik wanted to show that there are a select number of primary emotions and that all other emotions are basically derivatives of these emotions.  He believed the range of emotions illustrated in the wheel are because of the psychoevolutionary nature of humans as primate animals.  For example, he grouped some emotions into Fight or Flight characteristics, so this is where the emotions fear or terror originate from us as humans.

How Can the Wheel of Emotions Help Me Guide My Emotions?

Close your eyes and ask yourself what are you feeling right now?

Right now, I am feeling disappointed that my friend cancelled on me at the last minute.  Let’s take a look at where the feeling of disappointment sits in the wheel of emotions.  

So, in the image below, we can see that disappointment sits within the emotional range which is categorised under sadness.  So when we feel disappointed by someone or by something it means we are grieving in some way.  You could say when someone disappoints you that you have lost something.

Or, for example, when you say you feel excited about the idea of visiting your grandmother, the feeling of excitement or anticipation before the visit, we can see this feeling sits within the happiness emotional range.

Comfortable vs. Uncomfortable Emotions:

Because of his tendency to break things down methodologically, Plutchik split the emotions into comfortable and uncomfortable categories.  This is a very general distinction, but it is a very important distinction.  In a way, you could also describe this classification into positive and negative emotions.  As children, understanding the difference between comfortable and uncomfortable emotions is key to our early development.  Teaching children to embrace the idea that as humans, we have a wide emotional continuum is very healthy & ultimately helps children to develop into emotionally balanced and resilient adults.

Emotional Blocks:

Experiencing what is called an emotional block is a very human experience to go through.  What it means is as a child or as an adult you might experience times where you are overwhelmed.  It is this very feeling of being stuck when someone or something stumps you.  One of the reasons why Robert Plutchik invented the wheel of emotions was to help people in overcoming emotional blocks.  The Wheel of Emotions can offer someone who is emotionally stuck, the vocabulary needed to unpack their emotions.  In a way, it helps us expand our way of thinking about a current or past situation so we can articulate how we might want to behave next time.

Tips on How To Use the Wheel of Emotions:

1. Regulating your emotions

Practising identifying your emotions helps you to regulate your emotions.  By regulating your emotions more you will feel more in control & have more rewarding interactions with others.

2. Becoming more self awareIdentifying your feelings and being able to name them eloquently is a great way of actively becoming self aware of how you feel about others & the world around

3. Thinking your way out of difficult situations

Decoding your emotions when feelings are running high or when situations are very stressful is a great way to help you de-escalate a situation.

4. Identifying your triggers

The next time you are stressed or anxious about something, try to name the feeling and reason why you became stressed.  If you can diagnose your triggers, you can empower yourself so that the next time you are confronted with a situation like this, you are more emotionally prepared.

5. Uncovering your past

Figuring out your emotional triggers can help uncover situations in your past where you either struggled to master your emotions or where you felt you couldn’t cope.  Usually emotional blockers have originated somewhere in our past so it is a very valuable exercise to unearth past experiences which originally overwhelmed you.

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