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Emotion Sensation Feeling Wheel Handout by Lindsay Braman

An image showing three inset circles. The inner wheel is basic emotions- happy, sad, disgust, etc- the middle circle contains feeling words- despair, disappointment, awe, etc. The outer circle contains words that describe a sensation that someone might feel in their body if they were feeling the corresponding emotion.

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The Emotion Sensation Feeling Wheel

WHAT IS IT:

It’s an adaptation of the “feelings wheel” that many therapists and educators use to help people learn to better recognize and name their emotions. This wheel is adapted to include common body-based expressions of emotions.

HOW THE EMOTION SENSATION WHEEL IS DIFFERENT:

The two inner rings of this wheel are emotions. The outside ring contains descriptions of the actual physical sensations that may accompany that emotion, described in concrete sensory language. (Language is intended to be more accessible for people who are very literal or who are on the ASD spectrum.)

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WHY?

When people have not had practice recognizing and labeling their emotions, asking them to identify complex emotions becomes an intellectual exercise with limited opportunity to promote growth and change. My emotion sensation wheel prompts mind-body awareness, connection, and conversation.

HOW TO USE:

• A jumping-off point
• A conversation starter
• A reference sheet
• A fill-in-the-blank worksheet for growing self-awareness

This chart is not intended as an assessment tool or scientific measure. Human experience is diverse. Good use of this resource should expect and embrace responses like, “That’s definitely not true for me” or “Actually, that belongs over in that section.” All responses generate opportunities for making connections, help integrate mind and body, and prompt valuable conversations that can help people grow in understanding how their unique body-sensations and emotions are connected.

Download the English or Spanish Version Here:

Practitioners and educators in the United States may request a free copy of the Spanish-language version here.

[click here to purchase the fill-in-the-blank style worksheet]

Many emotional experiences, researchers at Columbia University have shown, start in the body before moving into awareness. When we can easily name an emotion we’re feeling, it’s because we’ve had a lifetime of practicing. Way back, an attuned caregiver noticed our eyes welling up with tears and affirmed our “sadness” as they comforted us. Or, they saw our wide-eyed panic at the appearance of a new person as they named and soothed our “fear.”

Over time and through countless interactions that increase in complexity, children internalize an entire catalog of emotions and their corresponding body-sensations. With this catalog, humans can – in a split second and without conscious thought – understand specific embodied, emotional experiences. For example, a particular twisting of our gut is the nuanced version of anger we call irritation or a certain sort of heaviness in the chest is sadness. Even though everyone’s body cues are just a little bit different, researchers in Finland found that for most of us, the felt sensation of any specific emotion is pretty similar from individual to individual.

Emotion-Sensation Feeling Wheel; an image showing three inset circles. The inner wheel is basic emotions- happy, sad, disgust, etc- the middle circle contains feeling words- despair, disappointment, awe, etc. The outer circle contains words that describe a sensation that someone might feel in their body if they were feeling the corresponding emotion.

But not all of us have the opportunity to develop a rich emotional vocabulary affirmed by an attuned caregiver. Often, people who missed that process (called “mirroring” by developmental psychologists) while growing up move through life experiencing a full emotional range within their physical body, but are unable to name, express, or seek comfort for (or connection-in) these emotions. At its most pronounced, this difficulty connecting and naming our feelings is known as Alexithymia. Although, many (if not most) humans have some familiarity with the experience of not being able to notice or name feelings.

Drawing of a person with a thought bubble above their head. Inside the thought bubble is "I feel..um.." with scribbles inside the bubble. Below is text that reads: "Alexithymia is when a person is not able to express, tell the difference between, and name emotions."

Growth, for someone who struggles to name the emotions they experienced – or even acknowledge they are having emotions at all – means learning to recognize the sensations of a particular emotional experience and connect it to a cognitive, conscious understanding in order to express the emotion. (Expression can look like what we typically think of as emotional expression – tears, raised voice, etc. – but emotions can be expressed in many ways, including art, movement, and writing.)

The Two Ways We Experience Emotions:

Researchers have found that emotions come to be in two ways:

  • ⬆️”bottom-up” emotional experience – (described above) where particular body sensations inform our awareness that something is going on emotionally.
  • ⬇️”top-down” emotional experience – when information (like finding out we’re not getting a promotion we wanted or being rejected by a romantic partner) creates a cognitive awareness of emotion that then moves down into the body.

Because emotional experience moves in two directions, people who struggle to feel, name, and express their emotions should seek recovery on multiple levels as well.

an emotion wheel pilow.

Get this design on a professionally printed poster, a mug, or on a throw pillow via my shop

This chart can help start conversations that begin to make connections on a cognitive level – like a top-down emotional experience. I hope this chart will be used in holistic work to engage the conscious logical brain, the body, and the emotional–limbic brain.

ALSO AVAILABLE: Blank Worksheet

This worksheet has the outer ring blank for customizing to an individual’s own body. The worksheet pack includes an 8.5×11″ worksheet, an 11×11″ (tiles to two pages), and an XXL file for large format poster printing (excellent for a hands-on group or IOP activity).

Printing tip: For smooth, crisp lines on a standard 8.5 x 11 page, set the following in your printer settings: 1. select “fit to page,” 2. choose “high-quality printing.”

[this resource and others are available in Spanish via the Spanish Language Resources page]

Image Description for Screen Readers:

The Emotion Behavior Wheel consists of four layers of rings and six sections of colors: red, purple, blue, green, yellow, and orange. 

The inner circle is solid grey with a white title that reads “Emotion Sensation Wheel.” The second circle – moving outward – is where major emotion categories are written. Moving clockwise from the top right, the categories read: anger (red), disgust (purple), sad (blue), happy (green), surprise (yellow), and fear (orange). 

The third circle is where the corresponding feelings to those emotion categories are written. In the red section of anger are the feelings: offended, insecure, hateful, mad, aggressive, irritated, distant, and critical. In the purple section of disgust are the feelings: disapproval, disappointed, awful, and aversion. In the blue section of sad are the feelings: shame, apathetic, despair, depressed, lonely, and guilt. In the green section of happy are the feelings: optimistic, intimate, peaceful, courageous, satisfied, proud, curious, and joy. In the yellow section of surprise are the feelings: excitement, awe, confusion, and shock. In the orange section of fear are the feelings: scared, anxious, powerless, inferior, unwanted, and embarrassed.

The fourth – and outermost – circle is where corresponding sensations to the associated feelings and emotion categories are written. In the red section of anger are the sensations: lip-tremble, limp, hiding, hot, scowl, turning away, loud words, flushed, heart racing, clenching, tight jaw, headache, numb, gut-turning, feeling hot, and lip curled. In the purple section of disgust are the sensations: shuddering, writhing, need to move, face-scrunch, nausea, lump in throat, queasy, and turn away. In the blue section of sad are the sensations: looking down, empty, curling up, slouching, crying, body aches, tiredness, hollow feeling, slow heart, heaviness, weak, and eye rolls. In the green section of happy are the sensations: buzzing, light, warm, sensitive, still, relaxed, steady, jaw set, calm, soft, tall, inflated, brow-furrowed, awake, energetic, and open. In the yellow section of surprise are the sensations: jumpy, electrified, eyebrows up, jaw droop, speechless, breathless, sweaty palms, and startled. In the orange  section of fear are the sensations: trembling, numb hands, fidgety, foot-tapping, racing heart, quiet, frozen, tense, cold, unsteady, blushing, and tender.

15 Comments

  1. Okay. This is super cool! This is exactly where I get stuck in therapy. My therapist asks, “what is your body telling you?” and I have to work for an answer. And I had no idea I could buy your art on various objects! I got my eye on a pillow. 🙂 Thanks for this important work, Lindsay!

  2. I am a patron on Patreon. How do I access the color version of this emotion sensation wheel?

    1. Hi Heather, as a Patron, you can download the Emotion-Sensation Wheel via this page on Patreon” https://www.patreon.com/posts/35405504 Just scroll to the end of my post and you’ll see, right above the comments, links to download PDFs.

      Thanks for your patronage and please let me know if I can help you find anything else!

  3. I would like to have the feelings wheel in a format like a dry erase, or hook and loop. So I can put it on my wall and change the markers.

    How can I get that? Thanks

    1. Brilliant idea! I don’t have a product like this available BUT you can make your own by getting a poster-sized print of the XXL Blank Worksheet (available above) and placing it in a frame with a glass or plexiglass front. Dry erase markers should wipe clean from the glass as often as needed.

  4. Hi! This is so awesome! I would love to order a pillow slip of this wheel. Do you have that available?

    1. Hi, Colleen!
      Check out Lindsay’s Society6 page. The pillow is available there.
      Thanks,
      Elizabeth (Lindsay’s Assistant)

  5. Hello,

    I am curious if you have any products in other languages such as Spanish for my clinical practice.

  6. I am interested in using the emotion sensing wheel image in my upcoming book. Is that allowable with appropriate attribution?

Comments are closed.