Personal Development
How to use the emotion wheel to get to know yourself

How to use the emotion wheel to get to know yourself

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Exploring the Emotion Wheel

Feelings can be complicated, and it is not uncommon for people to struggle to communicate and understand the full range of emotions. To better identify and understand the nuances of emotion, understand emotion as a stimulus for behavior, and seek to improve communication and relationships, psychologist Robert Plutchik, Ph.D. created the Emotion Wheel in 1980. This helpful tool is a circular graph that provides a comprehensive overview of the breadth of emotional experience.

Understanding the Core Emotions

The Emotion Wheel is composed of eight primary emotions, with each color-coded and associated with a variety of nuances. Fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, anticipation, trust, and joy are the eight core emotions, and each are opposite in feeling, such as joy and sadness, trust and disgust, and anger and terror. Being able to identify and understand the nuances of these emotions is essential for successful communication and relationships.

The Feeling Wheel

Psychologist Dr. Gloria Willcox created a similar tool in 1982, called the Feeling Wheel, which featured only six core emotions and each were negative. This version was designed to more accurately depict the subtleties of emotion. Whether using the Emotion Wheel or Feeling Wheel, both of these resources are effective when seeking to improve insight into the range of human emotion and how they interact.

Using the Emotion Wheel

The Emotion Wheel is a valuable asset for both personal and professional use. When used to self-check in, it can provide a better understanding of how emotions are felt, and why specific behaviors or responses are elicited. This is key to the classic fight-or-flight response, which is a chain reaction initiated due to a sensory stimulus and transpiring emotional state. By understanding the source of our emotions, we can gain control over how we process them.


The Emotion Wheel is a useful tool for better understanding emotions and improving communication and relationships. It provides insight into the wide spectrum of human emotional experience and can help identify and understand the nuances of emotion. Using the Emotion Wheel can help us better understand our deeper psychological states and create healthier responses to external stimuli.

The Emotion Wheel: A Tool to Understand Adaptive Behaviors and Constructed Emotions

Psychologist Robert Plutchik has mapped out eight basic emotions and how they correspond with adaptive behaviors. These behaviors and the related hypotheses of the emotions they evoke are as follows:

  • Prototype Adaptation, Protection- Withdrawal: Retreat, contraction; Hypothesized Emotion: Fear, terror
  • Prototype Adaptation, Destruction- Elimination: Removal of barriers to the satisfaction of needs; Hypothesized Emotion: Anger, rage
  • Prototype Adaptation, Incorporation: Ingesting nourishment; Hypothesized Emotion: Acceptance
  • Prototype Adaptation, Rejection: Rejection response to harmful material; Hypothesized Emotion: Disgust
  • Prototype Adaptation, Reproduction: Approach, contact, genetic exchanges; Hypothesized Emotion: Joy, pleasure
  • Prototype Adaptation, Reintegration: Reaction to loss of a nutrient object; Hypothesized Emotion: Sadness, grief
  • Prototype Adaptation, Exploration: Investigation of one's environment; Hypothesized Emotion: Curiosity, play
  • Prototype Adaptation, Orientation: Reaction to contact with a strange object; Hypothesized Emotion: Surprise.

The emotion wheel offers a variety of practical applications, including mindful parenting and developing emotional resilience. It can be used as a tool for labeling and expressing all the nuances of different feelings. When we recognize the connection between our emotions and our needs and values, we become better equipped to manage our stress and practice self-compassion.

It's important to differentiate between feelings and emotions. Feelings are physical sensations, while emotions are our interpretations of those sensations. Through self-reflection and the use of an emotion wheel, we can gain a deeper understanding of our emotions and why we feel a certain way.

When considering how to use the emotion wheel correctly, consulting with a coach or therapist is recommended. This can help us to identify the underlying emotions and what they're trying to tell us.

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