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The Feelings Wheel

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

A Tool For A Better Understanding Of Our Intricate Emotions

Emotions can sometimes be tricky to understand.

We each feel differently and use different tools to express what we are going through.

However, to share our emotions, there is one thing that is often our go-to method - words.

Language is arguably one of the fundamental advantages that has developed our species to where we are today.

That being said, it also has some specifics which may be hard to navigate, especially in terms of our own emotions.

Here, we present one tool developed in recent years, which uses words regarding feelings in

a fascinating way - the feeling wheel.

How Was The Wheel Made?

The concept behind the tool has taken inspiration from two people.

One is Robert Plutchik and his idea of a correlation between emotions and their depictions in colors.

The other concept comes from Joseph Zinker’s belief that therapists are a kind of artist, especially in the area of communication.

After learning about these two concepts, our main character, a woman named Gloria Willcox, decides to unite them in a new tool.

She designs a colorful wheel, separated into three concentric circles, which are split based on six core emotions.

However, based on some of the resources used, there are only four emotions, 3 of which are negative.

Willcox wanted to achieve a balance between the “comfortable” and “uncomfortable” ones and separated the positive emotion into three more specific feelings, thus creating a total of six.

According to her, the six core emotions are: angry, sad, scared, joyful, powerful, and peaceful.

The first and most inner circle has these six base feelings, and the two consecutive sections hold more specified emotional divisions, each relating to the primary ones.

With this, Willcox completed the Feeling Wheel mental health professionals worldwide work with to this day, or some variation of it.

But why is it so commonly used, and more importantly, what are its benefits?

The answer comes from the source.

Why Is Naming Our Emotions Important?

Willcox thought such a tool was needed because of her experience as a psychotherapist.

She often found her customers at a loss for words when they were trying to explain the nuances of their feelings.

We often express our emotions in a nonspecific manner - that is, we tend to say things like “I feel bad” instead of “I feel insignificant or apathetic.”

This is because we are taught from an early age what is and isn’t generally accepted to say in a social setting.

After years of not focusing on the nuances of our feelings, it’s normal to stop differentiating them, therefore making them harder to explain.

Having a tool that shows the more complex and nuanced emotions and what core feeling they’re based on would help her patients be more exact in their explanations.

And this information would help her, and her colleagues create a more accurate analysis.

Naming our emotions helps us get a more detailed behavioral understanding and thus think of a better, more specific, situational response.

This is proven by research, which states that “people who distinguish finely among their unpleasant feelings were 30 percent more flexible when regulating their emotions, less likely to drink excessively when stressed, and less likely to retaliate aggressively against someone who has hurt them”.

Now that we understand why the Feeling Wheel is valuable let's see how to use it.

When And How To Use The Tool?

There are three separate instances in which we can use the Feeling Wheel.

They are based on the intensity of the emotions and the purpose of the exercise.

The first instance is immediate reflection - when you explore the emotions you are feeling at a specific time, usually after something has just happened.

The second one is daily reflection - it should happen at the end of each day as an overall evaluation and contemplation of the past 24 hours.

Finally, the wheel can be used as a long-term tool.

Here, the focus is on the deeper, more complex emotions we feel.

They are usually based on continuous or more extreme situations, which take more time to unpack emotionally.

The simplest way to analyze your answers is by following the below-mentioned steps.

First, you need to score each emotion on a scale from one to ten - this way; you know how serious and deep the feeling is.

Second is the duration of the emotion - this is pretty self-explanatory, but it helps with understanding whether it is an ongoing issue or a response to a specific situation.

Finally, and most important is to focus on the thoughts this emotion brings.

It's often hard to put our thoughts into words, but this is integral to understanding our emotions and accurately dealing with them.


The Feeling Wheel, developed by Gloria Willcox, is a tool that doesn't require additional guidance when using it.

This makes it even more valuable because it can help an immense amount of people.

Now that we have learned how to use it, nothing is stopping us from benefiting from its value.



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