Why It's Important to Make a Distinction Between Feelings and Emotions

People tend to throw around a lot of words to describe their emotions and feelings. We're confused or we feel frustrated. We're hurt or we're excited. Whatever the label, deciphering feelings from emotions can be a bit perplexing. If we start by learning the difference there are big rewards.

When we can pinpoint what's truly going on inside us, then we can take personal responsibility and free ourselves from what's holding us back from living a fulfilling life. We'll also be able to communicate more clearly and have more fulfilling personal relationships.


We all have emotions. More specifically, according to Attitude Reconstruction, there are only six emotions: sadness, anger, fear, joy, love, and peace. Each has a unique physical reaction. When we understand that the definition of emotion is ("E + motion"), energy in motion, things become simple. Emotions are purely physiological reactions.

Each emotion produces a different sensation in our bodies.

Each emotion produces a different sensation in our bodies.

In addition, each emotion has a different physical expression. As seen in children, there is a natural way the body releases its emotions. Just think about how babies and toddlers express negative emotions. After the meltdown they return to being fully present and happy.

The pure expression of emotions doesn't involve words. Sounds yes, words no. In order to process our emotions we need to honor and release the physical energy constructively, keeping our thoughts and words free of negative thinking. Done correctly, the emotional energy passes quickly.

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Here is the physical expression of each of the six emotions:

• Sadness: crying

• Anger: hitting, stomping, pushing, yelling, kicking (without harming anything of value)

• Fear: shivering, trembling, quivering, shaking

• Joy: bubbling, smiling

• Love: embracing, smiling, crying

• Peace: quiet relaxed silence

If you check in on what emotional sensation you are experiencing in your body you can get to the heart of the matter and determine whether it is sadness, anger, or fear. If you constructively and physically release that emotion, you'll feel an enormous relief. In just a couple of minutes you will be present to handle what needs attention in an effective way. If you do this as a matter of habit, you will increase the amount of joy, love, and peace you feel.   


Feelings are the labels we attach to our emotions. They are created when we add a mental interpretation to the emotional sensations we are feeling in our bodies. We can have hundreds of different feelings. Feelings are how we describe and interpret our wordless physiological reactions.

Feelings are the labels we attach to our emotions.

Here's an example: say you've been under the weather but dread going to the doctor. Your stomach is in knots, and your hands are freezing. You start projecting into the future. "What if it’s something serious; even cancer? I won't be able to work. What will happen to the children?" You might label what you're feeling anxiety, nervousness, or stress. But what you're actually experiencing on a physical level is the emotion of fear. And, it's just pure energy. And if we express the physical sensation, we are sure to find ourselves feeling more peace and able to handle the present.

Sadness, anger, and fear are the emotions underlying every negative feeling. For example if I feel judgmental, it means I really feel the emotion of anger and I am not accepting the way other people or situations are.

Again, if we pound or stomp around for just a couple of minutes, we'll find ourselves less judgmental and more able to see the positive.

How to Communicate Feelings

Talking about what you feel, your emotions and feelings, is part of effective communication and that brings understanding. It's simplest if you stick to the emotions you’re experiencing right now. "I feel angry. I feel sad. I free afraid."

Saying, “I feel as if you…” or “I feel that you…” or "I feel like you…" might seem like expressing feelings or emotions but the words that follow are about the other person. This style of communication is not going to illicit an open response. In fact, it makes the recipients defensive and they will be unable to hear what you are saying. For instance, rather than exclaiming, “I feel like you don’t like me,” say, “I felt hurt and sad when you called me a slob.” This gives information about you and how you feel.

Two Kinds of Feeling Words -- One is Fine, The Other is Trouble.

When we use "feeling" words we must be careful. The legitimate feeling words describe the way you feel. There are situations where we say we feel something, but are really putting the blame for our emotions on someone or something else.   

Be careful about using words that imply that something has been done to you. Words like: rejected, neglected, judged, and abandoned actually put the blame on the other person. When you say, “I feel ignored,” you’re really proclaiming, “You’re ignoring me,” or “I feel ignored by you.”

This communication immediately puts the listener on the defensive. To convey what’s true for you it's better to say, "I feel sad because I wanted to be part of the planning of the party." This is a clean communication that coveys what you feel.

Bogus feeling words are sometimes called "ed" words because the vast majority of them end in "ed." For instance, if you say, "I feel rejected" you are really saying, "You rejected me." (The message conveyed is that you are the reason why I feel so crummy. It's your fault). Or if you say, "I feel manipulated" you're actually saying, "You are manipulating me." (A sure way to produce distance and/or an argument.)

Check out the two columns below to get a better idea of the difference between the two. Then start a campaign to eliminate the disguised feeling words. Why? Because in order to communicate clearly you need to focus on describing what’s real for you! This list is based on the work of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication model.

Just read down the lists and you can feel the difference! 

Feeling Words

Not Owning Your Feelings True Feelings


put down
















let down







taken for granted






































Talking about your emotions and feelings is worth sharing and brings closeness and understanding. It's so much simpler if you stick with naming one of the six emotions.

Be careful of "feeling" words. Pause and check to see if what you are saying is descriptive about how you are feeling or whether it is really blaming others for your emotions. The latter will not further conversations or make you feel more understood. It only fuels your emotional upset, and doesn't allow you to get over it and deal with life in a positive and effective way.

©2016 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.

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Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.

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About the Author

Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T., author of: Attitude ReconstructionJude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education. Word spread about the success of Attitude Reconstruction, and it wasn’t long before Jude became a sought-after workshop and seminar leader, teaching her approach to organizations and groups. Visit her website at AttitudeReconstruction.com/

* Watch an interview with Jude Bijou: How to Experience More Joy, Love and Peace

* Click here for a video demonstration of the Shiver and Shake Process.