Recovery Messages & News

Q&A On Feelings and Emotions

With Ms. Paige Abbott, Registered Psychologist

What is the difference between ‘feelings’ and ’emotions’?

Often these terms are used interchangeably. Historically, the word ‘feeling’ was meant to connote anything that could be taken in or experienced via the five senses of sound, sight, touch, taste, and smell. This is what we ‘feel.’ ‘Emotion’ has been used to refer to our subjective, inner experience and associated with words like sadness, happiness, joy, contentment, and rage. The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Dictionary of Psychology states that the word ‘feeling’ is reserved for the conscious, subjective experience of emotion. Simply put, this means that the emotions are being realized, or felt, by the individual. We all know, however, that emotions may not always be felt, but that does not mean that they do not exist. Therefore, in healthy healing it is important to try and move emotions to the ‘feeling’ level.

Sounds easier said than done. How does one do that?

The action involved in doing this is quite simple, however many find the practice quite challenging as so many of us are used to avoiding, escaping, and ignoring emotions. Moving emotions from an unconscious level to the conscious feeling level can be accomplished by allowing time and space throughout your day to pause and ask ‘How am I feeling?’ The more foreign this is, the more regularly it needs to be practised. It also involves asking others ‘What are you feeling?’ and sharing your own feelings, as well as using tools like journalling and meditation to allow emotions to come.

Why is it important to pay attention to feelings?

The avoidance of emotion and feeling can aggravate existing physical and mental health conditions, including Addiction, Chronic Pain, and every other mental health disorder that exists. This is not to say that emotions cause these conditions but they can make these existing conditions worse. Healthy recovery for Addiction, Mental Health and Chronic Pain involves regularly attending to feelings so that there is not a build up that subsequently drives a need for escape. Being more aware of feelings also improves communication, aids in boundary setting, and helps clarify who you are, what is important to you, and what you need. Feelings are an essential ingredient of the human experience and ALL of them (even the uncomfortable ones!) need to be paid attention to.

The idea of focusing on feelings can bring about a lot of fear. What if doing this makes things worse?

Initially focusing on feelings and bringing emotions into the conscious experience may be uncomfortable but it is not a bad, unhealthy or detrimental thing. Over time, doing this regularly helps prevent a build up of emotion that will spill out at inopportune moments or drive intense experiences like suicidal ideation, homicidal ideation, self-harm, rage, or intense crying episodes. It is not the feelings themselves that are driving these intense expressions of emotion: it is the build up of them over time. The more you connect with and get your feelings out (through writing, sharing, verballizing, reflection), the less vulnerable you will be to these experiences.