Nowadays, when we need a little extra help dealing with our emotions, we usually begin by consulting the enormous amount of online information that is currently available. This can be quite disconcerting, often leaving us feeling even more lost our in minds than before when reading reams of information trying to pinpoint what we are feeling and why. This is the leading reason why emotions are regularly referred to as ‘deep’, ‘intense’ or ‘complicated’. With the average human having the capacity to experience an estimated 34,000 potential emotions, there is nothing shallow about them at all. With such a wide scope of emotions to deal with, a great number of people struggle to identify and share what they are feeling with others. Since our emotional states are a key component of how we interact with people and our surroundings, this has the potential to deteriorate once close and valued relationships with others, as well as with ourselves.

The old saying that knowledge is power rings true if you find yourself spiraling in an emotional tornado. Feeling overwhelmed happens to the best of us, and more frequently than many people would like to admit. This is regularly the result of not being able to ground ourselves by knowing what exact emotion we are trying to deal with, and why we are being forced into a mental space we seemingly can not control. Having the ability to pin down the specifics of ones emotional state is a superpower that only a few have been able to truly master. But being capable of characterizing and expressing your emotions doesn’t have to be as tough as it may initially seem. Everyone has the potential to access and exercise this superpower in their daily lives. As the same for any topic, once we have learnt a bit more about a subject, we can recognize that it is not actually as daunting as we may have thought. A small amount of understanding can go a long way.


Stop Spinning and Focus

Emotion Wheel

Back in 1980, psychologist Robert Plutchik realized that many people experienced an internal struggle when it came to expressing their emotions. Through his research, he discovered that there were over 90 completely different definitions for the term ’emotion’ that had been published in academic literature. This level of confusion over just the definition of the term brought him to the understanding that the inability to correctly identify and communicate ones emotions was a universal predicament. 

Plutchik’s solution to this problem was to simplify the process by creating an easily accessible representation of a range of emotions. The product of this revolution in the world of psychology was a visual aid in the form of an emotion wheel, which almost anyone could use to identify, describe, and share how they felt with others. By looking at the emotion wheel, it has a variety of colors and feelings that make understanding our emotional selves, and others, a whole lot less perplexing. There have been a few variations of the wheel created since the 1980s, and each one serves a slightly different purpose. 


Spin your Own Wheel

Broadly speaking, the emotion wheel is an uncomplicated visual aid in a circular form. It’s an easy to ‘read’ format which takes away a great deal of mental energy when learning to identify, interpret and understand different emotional states. Essentially, each type of wheel provides a graphic representation of numerous emotions that distinguish between an array of confusing feelings in moderately unique ways. They outline primary or baseline emotions, but also provide detail on more complex emotional states, and how ones feelings may be produced with the combination or interaction of two or more emotions. This creates layers of more complex emotion, which untangles a network of previously jumbled feelings. If you are feeling lost or confused, or having trouble finding the exit off an emotional rollercoaster, you can apply the emotion wheel to help out. 

For example, you could recognize that you are feeling sad, but there are a range of emotions that can be involved with this intense mental and emotional state. Everyone experiences sadness differently, which can make dealing with it increasingly burdensome. This can become an torturous internal struggle, and frequently we find ourselves fighting a loosing battle. When we reach a certain point of mental and emotional confusion, it can be seemingly impossible to discern different emotions or causes from one another. The emotion wheel may not be able to cure depression, but it can provide us with a deeper understanding of our emotional selves. This can in turn, create a foundation for us to start addressing the problem with added perspective and compassion. 

Passed studies have shown that by implementing an emotion wheel in various instances of emotional difficulty, they have the potential to increase ones emotional intelligence. This can help you understand yourself or others on a deeper level and can provide you with deeper insight into why you or someone else is feeling a certain way. You can begin by examining the wheel of your choice, and pinpoint the least complicated emotion that you can identify. You then follow the networks on the emotion wheel to resolve which feeling or feelings you are experiencing. The following explanations of each wheel can better inform you which emotion wheel, or combination of wheels would best suit your personal needs.


Different Spins

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Originally the brain child of Robert Plutchik, the first form of the emotion wheel is a colorful flower-shaped diagram. It shows an array of eight petals, and each one exhibits a different emotion. These feelings span out from the centre of the flower, to the points of the petals in order of their perceived emotional intensity. The more intense forms of each emotion are located in the centre of the flower, while the least intense forms are located at the tip of the petal. The emotion wheel positions the petal or emotion directly inline with its opposite emotion, making emotion identification a much simpler task. For example, located in the middle of the petals are the most easily identifiable form of each emotion. These primary emotions and their opposite are; joy versus sadness, trust versus disgust, surprise versus anticipation, and finally, anger versus fear. The space between the petals, which is shown in white, are used to display the emotion that is produced by combining the two emotions or petals on each side. For example, if you feel both joy and trust, the combined emotion could produce love.

The interaction of opposite emotions also elaborate on the physiological reactions that occur when a person experiences each emotion. For example, if one feels joy, they will more than likely want to connect to others. However, with the contrasting emotion, sadness, they will probably want to withdraw from social interaction. Why this is important, is if you are unable to work out why you feel like you do not want to socialize, you can examine the wheel and note that maybe you are experiencing grief, sadness, or pensiveness.


The Junto Emotion Wheel

Emotion Wheel

A popular, modified version of the emotion wheel was introduced by The Junto Institute. It is considered by far the most comprehensive emotion wheel, as it applies 108 emotions. Instead of making use of the 8 primary emotions (like the Plutchik wheel), this emotion wheel shows 6 core emotions in separate wedges; love, fear, anger, sadness, surprise, and joy. This also differs to other models, as it identities love as a primary emotion. These core emotions are located at the centre of the wheel, which are then circled by a range of more complex emotions that span out to the outer parts for the circle. The second tier categorizes 5 complex emotions for each of the core feelings, and the final third tier identifies 10 more intense variations of the core emotion.

This wheel is mainly used when you can’t quite define the source of why you are experiencing a particular emotion. For example, you may be able to identify that you are feeling sadness in relation to your partner, but you are unsure how to describe the ingredients that made you feel this way. In this case, you can examine the wheel and see that the second tier of sadness is connected to emotions such as being hurt, unhappy, disappointed, shameful, lonely, or gloomy. You could then possibly decide that you are feeling lonely, which connects to both isolation and/or a feeling of neglect in the third tier. Just by taking a few seconds to consult the wheel you can clarify that you are feeling neglected by your partner. This can reduce the amount of time and suffering when wanting to address the problem, as it can become easier to manage by better understanding the reasons behind your emotions. In this hypothetical scenario, it is much easier for your partner to understand that their neglect for you has caused you to feel sad, than simply informing them that you feel unhappy in the relationship. In a similar fashion, being able to identify a specific emotion and it’s root cause can deepen your understanding of others. This has the potential to increase your empathy for others, and you can learn how to address a problem from a different angle in a positive way.


The Geneva Emotion Wheel 

This emotion wheel was developed by a body of academics, with the intention of gauging peoples emotional reactions towards events, situations, as well as objects. It underwent intensive research and testing procedures until it was finalized, which have made it highly effective. One of the novel inclusions that came from this experimentation process was that it also identifies which emotions are more manageable than others.

Visually, this wheel is located within a square that has been divided into 4 quadrants. It includes an XY axis to differentiate between unpleasant and pleasant emotions on the first axis. On the second axis, it shows the range between which emotions we have a high level of control over, and those which we have little to no control over. For example, on the first axis we can find envy as being unpleasant on the one extreme, which is opposed by satisfaction as being pleasant on the other. For the second axis, we can see sadness as being an emotion we have little control over, and on the opposite side we find anger, which we surprisingly have a higher level of control over. This can be incredibly useful when coming to accept and process particular emotions. As quite often we find it difficult to discern what we can, and can not control in terms of our own feelings. Granted, some people have a higher mastery over how they react emotionally to a situation, while others may find this quite a bit harder. But this can help us understand what areas we can work on in order to improve our emotional reactions, and realistically regulate our expectations of ourselves and others. Once more, this also helps us not to be too hard on ourselves when we experience an emotion that we have little control over in reaction to a certain event or situation. 


A Positive Spin

Being able to understand how we feel, and describing this to others can enhance our personal as well as professional lives. Be it with a colleague at work, or with your spouse at home, the desire to understand and express our own emotions on a daily basis are typical experiences of being human. The ability to harness these skills can contribute to leading a more content and successful life in innumerable ways. It could mean the difference between obtaining the promotion you have been working towards for years, or having to accepting staying in the same position. Or it could be just letting someone know how and why they make you feel a certain way, or simply, how much they mean to you.

A diverse range of people have benefited from employing one or all of the above mentioned emotion wheels to improve the quality of their daily lives. From high powered professionals to the average person, the simplicity of these devices have the ability to be of practical service when it comes to the finer points of ones emotional development. Psychologists and therapists make regular use of the emotion wheel with their clients, to provide them with the autonomy they need in order to empower themselves and take control of their own emotions. Sometimes our experiences can be too painful to verbalize. Allowing clients to point out their emotions on a diagram without a word, can make the first step to healing less frightening. This also provides a psychologist with more detailed information about a particular issue. This can help determine the tools they need to employ while walking alongside their clients during the healing process.

Using an emotion wheel has the potential to remove the added strain from the effort of wanting to heal from past experiences, gaining a better understanding of those around us, or to just improve ourselves on a smaller scale. By working on obtaining this superpower, by yourself or with the assistance of a professional, you can be granted access to the information and understanding you need to make positive, healthy and long-lasting decisions.