We live our lives thinking, behaving, and feeling. At some level, these three are so interrelated as to drive one another with great complexity. On another level, evolution teaches us that we are feeling beings. Over 3.5 billion years we have developed through the life saving strategy of moving away from pain and toward pleasure. Those are feelings, and they directed even the bacteria from which we ultimately sprang.
There are eight common emotions manifesting in feelings: pain, joy, shame, sadness, fear, anger, guilt, love. Yes, there are variations in nomenclature, as well as possible combinations. Some therapists would list five, some nine or more… but these have been the primary ones in my experience.
So, if those are emotions, what are feelings? Feelings are sensations in the body which are alerting you as to what you’re experiencing emotionally. For instance, some people experience anger in their neck, some in their gut, some in their shoulders… but these are actual physical feelings that tell you your emotions.
Generally, when someone asks what you’re feeling, you could answer with what your bodily sensations are, or more likely, with the emotions those sensations represent. If your answer is more than a word or two… it’s likely you’re answering with a thought and not a feeling.
Feelings drive us. Once in a while, I’ll have someone in my office who will say “I want to be Bill Gates” and my response is “No, I don’t think you actually do. If I could offer a possible explanation, I’d suggest you are wanting to FEEL how you think Bill Gates must FEEL (even though you are completely unaware of how Mr. Gates actually feels)”.
When we work in therapy to address our feelings, we recognize how often past events and future projections are somehow effecting and even determining how our bodies and minds are experiencing the present moment.