The Feelings Wheel

Table of Contents

While ‘talking about our feelings’ is greatly encouraged, it can be very difficult to put words to our emotions. Some feelings are very clear-cut, we may feel upset if someone is rude to us, or bored waiting in a long queue, but a lot of the time, our feelings are very hard to explain.

We all know those days where something is wrong but we just can’t pinpoint what it is. We may move through the day feeling blue, quiet and not our usual selves.

Other times, we may feel frustrated, impatient, agitated or overwhelmed, and not quite sure why.

Of course, this is also true with feelings we deem more positive. Some days we may feel more energetic than others.

We may feel confident, valued and inspired. While sometimes the feeling in question is very obvious, other times the emotion may feel buried a little deeper.

What is the Feeling Wheel?

The feelings wheel is a colour coded wheel that aims to help us recognise and put words to our emotions.

It was designed by Dr. Gloria Willcox and is often used in therapy to help individuals explain how they are feeling. 

The feelings wheel is a large wheel that helps us make sense of our emotions and put them into words. It is a colour-coded wheel with the aim of helping to simplify complex emotions.

It consists of 6 core feelings, with 2 more layers surrounding it with different degrees of each emotion.

The wheel was created by Dr. Gloria Willcox and can be used to help recognise specific feelings. Different variations of the feelings wheel have been created, with very similar core emotions.

The Feelings Whee
The Feelings Wheel by Dr Gloria Wilcox

What are the Six Core Feelings?

The wheel consists of 3 positive core feelings; joyful, love and surprise, and 3 negative core feelings; sad, anger and fear.

Almost all our feelings can be narrowed down to one of these core emotions. 

The wheel is made up of 6 core feelings; sad, anger, fear, joyful, love and surprise. Each feeling is surrounded by a range of other more specific feelings related to that core emotion.

The outermost ring is even more specific, with feelings such as jealous, embarrassed, delighted and cheerful.

When we can’t describe exactly how we are feeling, the feelings wheel can help. We are usually feeling some degree of one of the 6 core feelings, although we may not realise it.

If you know you are feeling sad but you’re not quite sure why, it may help to look at the outer rings to see if there’s anything specific you can pinpoint.

How to Use the Feelings Wheel?

The feelings wheel can be used to identify how you are feeling. To start, try to identify the primary emotion from the 6 core feelings.

Work your way outwards, seeing if any of the feelings labelled in the outer rings apply to you. Once you have identified the feeling, spend a few minutes trying to work out the trigger. 

Using the feelings wheel can help you navigate the thousands of emotions that we may experience at a given time. To be more specific, there’s around 34,000 human emotions!

Identifying the primary emotion can be either the hardest or the easiest step. We may know that we are feeling sad, but not understand why. Alternatively, you may feel a number of conflicting emotions, without realising that these all stem from sadness.

Being unable to verbalise how you are feeling can be very damaging, and the feelings wheel can provide us with clarity. It is often used in therapy to help individuals examine how they are feeling, working out what emotions stem from various events.

Often, the best way to use the feelings wheel is to simply look at it. If you have a feeling you can’t quite put into words, take a look at the core emotions and see if you can narrow it down to one of these.

Even finding an approximation of your current feeling can help.
Once you have worked out the core emotion you are feeling, work your way outwards to see if any of the words on the outer circles ring true with you.

Try to retrace each emotion back, working out when you first began to feel like this. It may be a certain event or something someone has said to you.

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Alternatively, it could be more subtle. An underlying dissatisfaction with your job can lead to anger, or sadness, as well as more subtle emotions such as jealousy or feelings of isolation.

Once you have made connections between a feeling and a certain trigger, you can begin to work through your emotions. Take steps to address the trigger of any negative feelings.

If you are unsatisfied in your job, you may put a plan in place to ask for greater responsibilities or even start to think about looking for something new.

Building connections between events and feelings can be very helpful, as feelings of agitation and frustration on a Monday morning could simply be due to a delayed train or poor night’s sleep.

On the other hand, these connections can help us realise which areas of our life need addressing.

The Feelings Wheel - Sadness
Breaking feelings down can help make them feel less intense.

Why Putting Emotions into Words Helps

Talking about your feelings is vital when it comes to addressing and understanding those negative emotions.

But the mind is very complex, and working out how you feel can be difficult! Breaking each emotion down into the specific feeling and the trigger can help you manage negative emotions such as anger and fear. 

We are all told to speak up when it comes to our mental health, but what happens if you don’t really know how you’re feeling?

The feelings wheel can help us break down our feelings. While anger or sadness or fear can feel completely overwhelming, breaking each feeling down will make them seem less intense. 

Breaking down our feelings can help us realise that our emotions are just emotions, usually brought on by a specific event.

We may feel as though we don’t just feel the emotion, we are the emotion.

Compartmentalising our feelings can help us realise that they are just emotions that we can choose whether or not to act upon. 

Key Facts

  1. The feelings wheel was created by Dr. Gloria Willcox.

  2. This colour-coded wheel can help us recognise and understand how we are feeling.

  3. It is made up of 6 core feelings, and lists a huge number of feelings that stem from these core emotions.

  4. Once we have recognised how we feel, we can work out what has caused these feelings, and address it.

  5. Breaking down our emotions into events that lead to feelings can make them feel far less overwhelming.