Until five minutes ago, I was unaware of the distinction between emotions and feelings.
I thought these words were interchangeable, and they’re definitely not (oops). But I am happy to know that I am not the only one making this mistake.
Here’s some science behind it all:
I loved this article from Wake Forest University explaining the difference between feelings and emotions:
“Both emotional and physical sensations—such as hunger or pain—bring about feelings, according to Psychology Today. Feelings are a conscious experience, although not every conscious experience, such as seeing or believing, is a feeling. Emotions can only ever be felt through the emotional experiences it gives rise to, even though it might be discovered through its associated thoughts, beliefs, desires, and actions. Emotions are not conscious but instead manifest in the unconscious mind. These emotions can be brought to the surface of the conscious state through extended psychotherapy.”
Further explained by Bryn Farnsworth,
“Emotions are associated with bodily reactions that are activated through neurotransmitters and hormones released by the brain, feelings are the conscious experience of emotional reactions.”
Daniel Goleman was a science reporter for the New York times in the early 1990s. He happened across a small academic journal published by two psychologists—John Mayer and Peter Salovey. These psychologists offered the first formulation of a concept they called “emotional intelligence” (EI) and whether or not it was an ingredient of a successful life.
The amended and simplified version of this theory is described as “The ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions, and regulate emotions to promote personal growth.”
EI is just as important in determining success as an IQ.
Goleman describes the five main components of Emotional Intelligence as self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy, and social skills.
Simply put, emotional intelligence is the ability to pause and survey an experience; it is the ability to choose and respond to a situation consciously. You make decisions as your fully-resourced self when you’re aware, present, and grounded; you are anchored into your beliefs and values and are responding in a way that brings you closer to your goals and feeling good.
Until my 20s, I didn’t know that feelings and emotions were natural, or that everyone has them.
My experiences taught me that feelings of sadness and vulnerability were weaknesses and that stoicism, anger, valor, and hustling were to be revered. I didn’t know emotions and feelings provide information about experiences and can be used as a navigational tool.
I also had no idea that sadness is as important as joy or that anger is a clue that a boundary has been crossed. I have learned emotions are merely signals that tell us to pay attention to something. There are no such things as good or bad emotions, only positive or negative reactions.
I became a mother at 23-years-old. I remember my little girl, just five pounds, using social cues to let me know what she needed. The screaming told me something was wrong. Danger. Help. We would feed, burp, change, snuggle, shush, and do all the necessary things to soothe her. As she got older, we lived for the giggles and coos. We were so extra—making the silliest faces or funniest noises to elicit one more belly laugh from her.
When she began toddling and asserting her boundaries, we would redirect her to safety, but it would piss her off because it wasn’t what she wanted. Hello tantrums; the physical release of emotions. (Gosh, they’re loud.) Do you know how stubborn and determined a two-year-old is? And how much energy they have?!
As a new mother, I didn’t label her outbursts as good or bad. It was just an inside look into her beautiful world. They just were. We would sit in the discomfort together and process. Sometimes I would end up in tears too because of sheer exhaustion or frustration. But we stayed connected and worked through it. She wanted what she wanted, and being told no was unacceptable.
What if we were to look at ourselves in the way that I viewed Mya? What if we have each other the grace of being fully human—messy, feeling, emotional, complicated, alive beings.
Instead of shutting down the emotions, pause and witness them; use that information to mother yourself.
As I pause to respond before reacting to something, I check in with my physical body: am I hungry, tired, and over-stimulated? Am I in a situation I would prefer not to be in? Am I able to leave?
If not, can I sink into an appreciation for what can attract more goodness? My go-to’s in a pinch are: my health, being able to use all my senses to experience life, the ability to breathe without a machine, and having people to love.
The meaning of my life is rooted in my connections. However messy and complicated it is, I am so grateful for people and my connections. And my abundance—having access to clean water and food.
Practicing gratitude and appreciation shifts your brain chemicals from lack to enough and can calm the sympathetic system.
Get curious about your emotions—the physical response to a situation and your feelings. Attain a conscious awareness of your emotional reactions.
“Am I responding as my fully-resourced self, or am I operating from a place of fear and survival?”
“Am I practicing grace for others and for myself?”
“Is this an unhealed wound projecting into the current situation?”
Here are five skills from Mark Manson to help you develop emotional intelligence:
1. Practice Self-Awareness
It involves understanding yourself on three levels: what you’re doing, how you feel about it, and (the hardest part) figuring out what you don’t know about yourself. (This is where my therapist comes in. We have a conversation about current situations and how my past creeps into the decision-making.)
2) Channeling Your Emotions Well
Don’t focus on controlling your emotions—you can’t. Focus on managing your emotions; recognize what you’re feeling, decide whether or not it is an appropriate emotion for the situation, and act accordingly. (Is it really appropriate to be angry and frustrated with a tired, hungry three-year-old?)
3) Learn to Motivate Yourself
The “Do Something Principle.” This means to take action when it is not just the effect of motivation, but also the cause of it. Mel Robbins says that if you think of doing something, you have five seconds to act before you talk yourself out of it. (Think of a time you really didn’t want to clean, but you did and felt so good seeing the progress.)
4) Recognize Emotions in Others to Create Healthier Relationships
Everything we’ve covered so far deals with handling and direction emotions within yourself. But the whole point of developing emotional intelligence should ultimately be to foster healthier relationships. Physiologically we are wired for connection, and we can deepen those connections through empathy.
5) Infuse Your Emotions with Values
Emotional intelligence is meaningless without orientating your values. Conmen are highly emotionally intelligent; they use this quality to manipulate people for personal gain; they value themselves above all else and at the expense of others. We’re always choosing what we value, whether we are conscious of it or not. That’s why being clear about your values and beliefs is so important—it’s a container where your energy can be directed.
Love over fear.
Abundance over lack (life isn’t a pie; if someone else gets some, it doesn’t mean less for you).
Soul over ego.
Integrity over what is fast, fun, or easy.
Courage over comfort.
Growth over stagnancy.
I am teaching my girls EI. Mya receives so many compliments about identifying what she is feeling (and others) and advocating for herself and those around her. She uses this information to guide her toward her number one value, which is love for all beings. She values people over things and connections over being right. She can pause and surrender to moments and fully feel what is going on before making a decision. This is one of her superpowers—she’s only nine.
Let’s all start using emotional intelligence to create the life we desire.
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