Is it a Feeling or an Emotion?

The difference between a feeling and an emotion

Today, the emotions are so neglected that most people are oblivious to the deep currents that move them, hold them back, and lose them.

If I say, “I am grateful”, I could mean one of three things: that I am currently feeling grateful for something, that I am generally grateful for that thing, or that I am a grateful kind of person. Similarly, if I say, “I am proud”, I could mean that I am currently feeling proud about something, that I am generally proud about that thing, or that I am a proud kind of person. Let us call the first instance (currently feeling proud about something) an emotional experience, the second instance (being generally proud about that thing) an emotion or sentiment, and the third instance (being a proud kind of person), a trait.

It is very common to confuse or amalgamate these three instances, especially the first and the second. But whereas an emotional experience is brief and episodic, an emotion—which may or may not result from accreted emotional experiences—can endure for many years, and, in that time, predispose to a variety of emotional experiences, as well as thoughts, beliefs, desires, and actions. For instance, love can give rise not only to amorous feelings, but also to joy, grief, rage, longing, and jealousy, among others.

Similarly, it is very common to confuse emotions and feelings. An emotional experience, by virtue of being a conscious experience, is necessarily a feeling, as are physical sensations such as hunger or pain (although not all conscious experiences are also feelings, not, for example, believing or seeing, presumably because they lack a somatic or bodily dimension). By contrast, an emotion, being in some sense latent, can only ever be felt, sensu stricto, through the emotional experiences that it gives rise to, even though it might also be discovered through its associated thoughts, beliefs, desires, and actions. Despite these conscious and unconscious manifestations, emotions need not themselves be conscious, and some emotions, such as hating one’s mother or being in love with one’s best friend, might only be uncovered, let alone admitted, after several years in psychotherapy.

If an emotion remains unconscious, this is often through repression or some other form of self-deception. Of course, self-deception can also take place at the level of an emotional experience if it is not acceptable or tolerable, for example, by misattributing the type or intensity of the emotional experience, or misattributing its object or cause. Thus, envy is often construed as indignation, and Schadenfreude (the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others) as sympathy. Fear of ghosts or ‘the dark’ is almost certainly fear of death, since people who have come to terms with death are hardly frightened of such things. Beyond this, it could be argued that even the purest of emotions is inherently self-deceptive in that it lends weight in our experience to one thing, or some things, over others. In that much, emotions are not objective or neutral perceptions, but subjective ‘ways of seeing’ that reflect our needs and concerns.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jane Smith-Eivemark
    Dec 21, 2014 @ 12:50:57

    Hello Dr. Burton,
    I’m a fan of your work.
    Please accept my sincere thanks for what you are doing to help foster better health.

    Best wishes for this holiday season.
    Jane

    Reply

    • Neel Burton
      Dec 21, 2014 @ 12:56:19

      Thank you Jane. I really appreciate your kind words.

      Reply

      • Jane Smith-Eivemark
        Dec 21, 2014 @ 13:01:19

        Neel,
        I am a manager in a substantive health system based in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. I work with colleagues to help them better appreciate much of the work of the soul. My training as a Jungian analyst informs my work; also, I hold a professional doctoral degree in theology. We need, as you say, doctors of the soul. I believe you, indeed, are one. I am hoping to help try to establish some synergies within the University of Toronto and the Ontario Association of Jungian Analysts (to name two sources) where people can come together to consider just what it could be to develop ways of learning for the soul that can be applicable in healthcare.

        Thanks for getting back to me.
        Warm regards
        Jane

  2. Neel Burton
    Dec 21, 2014 @ 14:44:29

    That sounds like a very worthwhile project. Good luck with it!

    It would be good to know the outcome of the consultations, in due course.

    Reply

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