Feelings: Knowing How You Feel


BY KALI MUNRO, M.Ed., Psychotherapist, 2002

Identifying how you feel can sometimes be confusing. You know that you’re feeling something, but may not know exactly what.

To start, it can be useful to distinguish between primary and secondary emotions. According to Hendricks and Hendricks (1993), primary emotions are sadness, anger, fear, sexual feelings, and joy. Other emotions and experiences are combinations of these primary emotions. For example, guilt is a combination of fear and anger in different proportions – you may feel primarily scared and a little angry, or primarily angry and a little scared. Shame is a combination of sadness and fear. And, jealousy is a combination of sadness and anger.

Some people think anger is a secondary emotion; a combination of fear and sadness. I think anger can be a primary or a secondary emotion. When anger becomes routine, or the one emotion that someone feels comfortable expressing, it is a secondary emotion. When anger is a secondary emotion, it helps to go deeper and become aware of other feelings that are present.

Next, is the connection between our emotions and our body. Each primary emotion creates body sensations – we feel our feelings in our bodies. Tuning into your body sensations can help you to identify how you’re feeling on a deeper level, and to stay with your feelings.

People ask what they should do with their emotions. The best thing you can do with your feelings is to identify the primary emotions and to feel them. Staying aware of your body sensations helps you to do that and to remain grounded.

To identify your primary emotions, notice what you’re feeling in your body. Then, look at the following chart (Hendricks & Hendricks,1993) to help clarify how you are feeling.

SADNESS Throat, Chest, Belly Lump, Narrowing Pressure, Aching, Empty
ANGER Back of Neck, Head, Shoulders, Arms, Hands Ropes of Tension, Lumps, Throbbing Temples, Clenched Jaw, Drawn in Tight, Blocky, Held Back, Curled
FEAR Belly Area, Head, Face, Chest, Throat Butterflies, Fluttering, Clutching, Heavy Ball Dizziness, Shortness of Breath, Tension around Eyes and Mouth, Mouth Dry
SEXUAL FEELINGS Genitals, Lower Belly, Front of Body Streaming, Fullness, Good Achy, Warmth
JOY Chest Area, Eyes, Front of Body Spacious, Expansive, Glowing, Clarity, Bubbling, Giggly Inside

There may be other feelings you experience which aren’t listed above. When you’re feeling an emotion that’s not listed, take a moment to tune into yourself, and spend time considering each primary emotion and whether or not you are feeling any of them. We often feel more than one feeling at a time and it can get quite complicated trying to sort it all out. Focusing on the primary emotions helps to simplify the process, and to go deeper.

G. Hendricks, Ph.D. & K. Hendricks Ph.D., Centering And The Art Of Intimacy Handbook, Fireside, NY, 1993.
For more help dealing with your emotions see my article, What To Do With Your Feelings.
Copyright © KALI MUNRO. All rights reserved.