Using the feelings wheel to develop your emotional awareness

When we think about how we are feeling, it can sometimes be difficult to connect with the word that best describes how we feel in a given moment.

Indeed, many people are unaware of how they are feeling from moment to moment because they’ve never been taught the language connected with different feelings and emotions.

The first step towards developing your emotional awareness is identifying your feelings. A feeling wheel can be used as an effective tool for this job.

Emotional awareness is the ability to understand, recognize, and respond to your feelings.

The feelings wheel can be used as an exercise to broaden your emotional vocabulary by helping you identify the moods that you are experiencing.

When you become aware of these emotions, it’s easier to find appropriate ways to work with them.

This is a skill you learn rather than something you are born with

Children and adults alike, we all experience emotions.

However, we aren’t always aware of them and can’t process them healthily.

It’s no wonder that we do things we regret when we don’t know what we’re feeling.

Just like most other abilities, emotional awareness must be learned and practised to develop it over time.

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What is the feelings wheel?

Originally developed by Dr. Gloria Willcox, back in the early 1980s, the Feelings Wheel was “designed to aid people in learning to recognize and communicate about their feelings” (source).

Since her first version, many others have developed the feelings wheel to contain more terms, fewer terms, different colours, different languages… it’s had a lot done to it.

Yet, its essence remains the same: a reference tool that you can put on your fridge, in a notebook, on your mobile phone, or anywhere else that feels convenient, to help you name and communicate how you are feeling in a given moment.

Where can I access the feelings wheel?

There are numerous versions across the internet.

The Feel Wheel by Geoffrey Roberts

“The Feel Wheel”, March 2015, Geoffrey Roberts

The Feel Wheel starts with seven ‘core’ emotions and branches out, using colour as a way of differentiating the different sections. You can access it here: https://imgur.com/tCWChf6

Emotions Wheel by Dr Albert Wong

“Feelings Wheel 2.0”, Dr Albert Wong

The Feelings Wheel, or Emotion Wheel, by Dr Albert Wong also starts with seven core emotions and uses colour to distinguish the different starting points. However, a key difference here is the focus on feelings rather than reactions.

You can read more about the rationale on his website: http://www.dralbertwong.com/feelings-wheel/

The Gottman Institute’s Feeling Wheel

“Feeling Wheel”, The Gottman Institute, 2020

The Gottman Institute (a business established by famous relationship psychologies, the Gottmans) have also deveoped a feelings wheel. Though you’ll notice that they start with six, rather than seven, core emotions – or starting points.

You can download a PDF version of the wheel from their website: https://www.gottman.com/blog/printable-feeling-wheel/

How to use the feelings wheel to identify your emotions

The feelings wheel is a tool for people to learn how to identify their feelings, understand them better, and deal with them more effectively.

You can use the feelings wheel in a few ways.

  1. Start from the centre, identifying an emotion, and then work outwards from there to find another word or words that better describe how you feel
  2. Scan the wheel, noticing which words you are drawn to more than others
  3. Look around the wheel and begin to focus on a particular word, perhaps one that you rarely use, and ask yourself, “how do I know when I am experiencing this feeling?”
  4. Think back to an even that you enjoyed and use the words on the feels wheel to help explain the emotions you felt that made it enjoyable

If you have other suggestions for how to use this tool, please post them in the comments!

Summary

Many people struggle with finding the right word to express how they are feeling at a particular moment, usually because emotional education is rarely taught at schools or home.

The feelings wheel is a way of helping you to develop your emotional awareness by offering up many more choices than ‘ok’, ‘sad’, ‘alright’ or ‘angry’.

Developing emotional literacy doesn’t happen overnight, but taking small steps, like putting a copy of the wheel on your phone to reference every so often, can be a positive step towards communicating how you really feel in a given moment.


Photo by Nick Page

1 thought on “Using the feelings wheel to develop your emotional awareness”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I often feel stupid for not being able to express how I feel and usually get angry or try to shut down. This seems helpful. Thank you.

    Reply

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