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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, 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 intended to be more accessible for people who are very literal or who are on the ASD spectrum.)

WHY?

When a person has 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 to function as an assessment tool or scientific measure. Human experience is diverse, and 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.

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[click here to purchase the fill-in-the-blank style worksheet or the Spanish-language version]

 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 practicing: Way back, an attuned caregiver noticed our eyes welling up with tears and affirmed our “sadness” as they comforted us, or noticed our wide-eyed panic at the appearance of a new person as they named and soothed our “fear.”

Over time and 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 a particular twisting of our gut to be the nuanced version of anger we call irritation, or a certain sort of heaviness in the chest to be sadness. Even though everybody’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 and 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 a number of ways, including art, movement, and writing.)

Order Your Own Emotion Sensation Feeling Wheel Throw Pillow Case

This 18×18 inch pillow cover with a hidden zipper is a perfect gift for school counselors, behavior aids, therapists, and teachers. It ships free within the US!

The Two Ways We Experience Emotions:

Researchers have found that emotions come to be in two ways: “bottom-up” experience, described above, where particular body sensations inform our awareness that something is going on emotionally. There’s also “top-down” emotional experience, that’s 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 be helpful for starting conversations that begin to make connections on a cognitive level – kind of like top-down emotional experience. It’s my hope that 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. Worksheet pack includes 8.5×11″ worksheet, 11×11″ (tiles to two pages), and an XXL file for large format poster printing (excellent for a hands-on group or IOP activity).

downloadable worksheet for learning to connect body sensations with emotions

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.

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Through Patreon, you can get instant access to download all printable PDFs, licensing for professional use, and early releases- all while supporting the creation of more resources.

Lyndsay

Saturday 5th of February 2022

Thank you for making this! I've never found something so accessible for myself.

Kathleen

Sunday 13th of June 2021

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

Lindsay Braman, MACP, LMHCA

Sunday 13th of June 2021

Republishing my art without permission to do so is copyright infringement, regardless of the attribution offered. For more information read more about licensing my art or send an email to inquire about purchasing a license for republishing.

Adriana Molina-Schmuker, LLMSW

Monday 17th of May 2021

Hello,

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

Lindsay Braman, MACP, LMHCA

Monday 17th of May 2021

I do! You can find several free Spanish language resources here: https://lindsaybraman.com/spanish/, and a few more are available for download via my Patreon page.

Jennifer Tinsley

Tuesday 13th of April 2021

I’m a patron. How do I access the pdf of the emotion wheel?

Lindsay Braman, MACP, LMHCA

Wednesday 14th of April 2021

Hi Jennifer, Patrons can download the Emotion Sensation Wheel through this link on Patreon.

Cie

Tuesday 13th of April 2021

Thank you for such colorful creations Lindsay!!

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