Basic Emotions: Is there a limited set?

A set of basic emotions helps you develop your emotional awareness

There has been a long debate on whether there is a set of emotions or feelings that all human beings experience.

If there is such a set, which emotions are in it?

Some psychologists argue that our emotional lives are too rich to be reduced to a basic set of feelings. For them, each emotion is unique and as valuable as any other emotion. Having a fixed set of emotions would suggest some are more important than others. They don’t want to do that.

Other psychologists suggest that the range of our feelings is limited. Not every word used by clients to describe their feelings points to a distinct emotion. Many words refer to the same one.

More clients report feeling anger than outrage. Do the two words really point to two distinct emotions?

New words enter the language every year. Some of those words refer to how a person feels, but that doesn’t mean a new, distinct feeling has appeared this year that no one had experienced earlier. Students today who report feeling “bummed out,” “fried,” “gassed,” or “totaled” at the end of semester exams are all tired, plain and simple.That's not something new.

Alan Sieler, in one of his books on coaching, offers a solution between a limited set of emotions and keeping a long list of emotions that may run for several pages.

In Coaching to the Human Soul, he identifies nine emotions as a basic set and sorts other emotions into the nine groups. This process allows him to identify emotions that share a similar feeling but at different levels of intensity.

Fear, for example, may be an emotion that is common to both a nervous person and a person who is in a state of panic, but the latter experience is far more intense than the former.

Sets of Basic Emotions

Below are the nine emotions that he lists as basic emotions and other human emotions that he groups within them.

Happiness Sadness Fear Anger Surprise
Joyful Sorrow Scared Annoyed Amazed
Elated Dejected Anxious Enraged Astonished
Ecstatic Down Dread Furious Bewildered
Delighted Low Panic Hate Stunned
Overjoyed Grieving Nervous Irritated Shocked
Pleased Tentative Peeved Incredulous
Disgust Shame Curiosity Love
Loath Ashamed Fascinated Accept
Revulsion Disgraced Enamored Admire
Abhor Embarrassed Engrossed Adore
Noxious Absorbed Respect

With this approach,you can sort other emotions into these nine categories or create a new category and classify other emotions within it.

Identifying groups of emotions develops your sensitivity to the degree you experience individual emotions. This development enables you to talk more easily about your emotions with others, and with them about theirs.

Use language to change your feelings

Identifying groups of emotions has another advantage. It enables you to use the power of language to influence your feelings and moods. The more accurately you can identify your feelings, the more you can regulate their intensity.You really do feel differently when you say you feel surprised than you do when you say you’re stunned or shocked.

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