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Wheel of Emotions: How to Use it for Self-Growth

Wheel of Emotions: How to Use it for Self-Growth

Updated on Jun 26, 2023

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Wheel of Emotions Know How to Use it for Self Growth

Did you know that humans experience nearly 34,000 emotions? Yeah. Unbelievable, right? Therefore, it is not surprising that most of us cannot even name more than 10 – let alone deal with them.

And with so many emotions buzzing inside our brains and hearts – is it truly possible to navigate our feelings without getting so lost?

Is it possible for us to voyage through the dangerous sea waters and come out triumphant on the other side? And most importantly – can we ever master these messy, gut-wrenching, worrisome emotions?

The answer is yes. Read on to find out how the Wheel of Emotions works and how to use it.

Wheel of Emotions Infographics

Wheel of Emotions Chart
Wheel of Emotions Chart
How To Use Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions
How To Use Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Emotions have polar opposites. They get intense as we move towards the center of the circle, and new emotions emerge as we move outwards by a combination of primary emotions.

Now that the components of emotions and the complicated way they affect us are clear, we can take a detailed look at Plutchik’s work and the Wheel of Emotions.

The eight primary emotions are grouped into four categories with their polar opposites as follows:

  1. Joy and sadness
  2. Acceptance and disgust
  3. Surprise and anticipation
  4. Fear and anger

It is an arduous task, no doubt, to try to understand all the shades of human emotions, but the Wheel can help identify the primary emotions.

This can be helpful for individuals who do not know how to deal with high-intensity emotions or have mental health issues and mood disorders like anxiety and depression.

You will notice that there are four main characteristics of this model of emotions:

1. Primary Colors

The eight primary emotions are arranged in the middle circle, and they are each denoted by a single color.

2. Opposite Emotions

Each of the primary emotions has a polar opposite. This is visible in the arrangement of each emotion:

  1. Joy is the opposite of sadness.
  2. Disgust is the opposite of trust.
  3. Fear is the opposite of anger.
  4. Anticipation is the opposite of trust.

3. Intensity of Emotions

As we move towards the center of the wheel, emotions become more forceful. This is reflected in the colors of the wheel as well. The darker the shade of a particular emotion, the more intense it is.

This is why there are many shades of the same emotions. Anger is an annoyance at its lowest level, and at its highest level, it becomes a rage. Disgust can become loathing just as quickly as trust can become admiration.

This is when we see the emergence of emotions like vigilance, ecstasy, terror, amazement, and grief too.

4. Combinations of Emotions

The outermost circle represents secondary emotions. They are a mix of two primary emotions. For example, the emotions, joy, and anticipation become optimism, and joy with trust becomes love.

This results in the development of complex emotions like submission, awe, aggression, contempt, disapproval, and remorse.

One should be aware of their emotions in relationships. If emotions are not dealt with, they tend to intensify. This can lead to an explosive situation, especially when concerning negative emotions like sadness, anger, and disgust.

How to Use the Wheel of Emotions?

Wheel of emotions helps understand and identify feelings and helps in personal reflection. It also helps in online text analysis, and as a tool for sharing. It empowers people by propelling them towards self-growth.

The Wheel of Emotions simplifies one of the most complex concepts of our lifetime. When questioned about emotions that we experience on a subconscious level, it can be challenging to identify and verbalize what we feel.

The Wheel of Emotions helps us do the same, and that is the first step in solving any problematic situation.

Here are a few more ways the Wheel can be used in counseling.

1. Wheel of emotions simplifies emotions

This one is a no-brainer. The wheel of emotions can help you identify which emotions you are experiencing in a precise manner.

Labeling and identifying feelings can reduce confusion and uncertainty. It can also help you make sense of a stressful situation and start unraveling it.

2. It aids personal reflection

By examining the primary emotions, you can identify their stimulus, the physical and mental aspects associated with it, and how it motivates you.

It helps you become more aware of your habits and behavior. You can also maintain a journal of your emotions and use it as a tool for self-reflection.

3. It can help analyze text

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions can be used for identifying emotions in text. This is especially helpful when analyzing data gathered from online hate groups.

The simplistic approach of the wheel can be beneficial in identifying the polarity of a document and summarizing its emotional content.

4. Wheel of emotions acts as a tool for sharing

When we learn how to identify our own emotions as well as others, it becomes easier for us to share our feelings. This helps create an environment of reliability, trust, and openness. It can also propel us towards change and self-improvement.

5. Wheel of emotions empowers people

Knowing what we are feeling is incredibly empowering. When we start to accept our emotions as they come, instead of suppressing or rejecting them – we also learn how to express and constructively share them. This ultimately results in a mental and emotional state that allows us to work towards our goals.

The Psycho-evolutionary Theory

The psycho-evolutionary theory suggests ten postulates that describe the nature of emotions in humans as well as animals.

American psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik was a thought leader when it comes to studying the nature of emotions. He devised the psycho-evolutionary theory, which categorizes emotions and the responses they produce in us.

Plutchik stated that our primary emotions are an evolutionary development, and how we respond to them is greatly affected by the survival possibility offered by them.

As a result, the responses that increased the survival of ancient humans were naturally selected.

He suggested the following ten postulates about the nature of emotions:

  1. Emotions are found in all species.
  2. Emotions have evolved differently in different animals. As a result, they may be expressed differently.
  3. The evolutionary purpose of emotions is to help the animals survive. This is especially applicable when the animal encounters challenges in its environment.
  4. The expression of emotions may be different in different species, but there are common elements among emotions in all animals.
  5. There are eight basic emotions.
  6. All other emotions are a combination of primary emotions.
  7. The properties of primary emotions can be inferred from observing animals. They are ideas that help describe an event or experience.
  8. All primary emotions have a polar opposite.
  9. There is a varying degree of similarity in all emotions.
  10. All emotions vary in intensity.

The eight primary emotions, according to this theory, are – anticipation, anger, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, and disgust.

Based on this theory of emotions, Plutchik devised the Wheel of Emotions. But before we take a deep dive into the subject, let’s first take a brief look at how emotions influence us.

How Emotions Influence Actions

All emotions have five components: Recognition, Action, Appraisal, Expression, and Physiology.

There are five components to how emotions affect our actions:

1. Recognition 

This component merely involves experiencing feelings. The person monitors how their internal universe is affected by a specific set of events and recognizes what they are experiencing. 

2. Action 

Once the emotion is recognized, the body gears up to act. Not all our actions are influenced by emotions, and we can control the ones that are. For example, if public speaking fills you with fear and apprehension, you can face fear and deliver a presentation anyway. 

3. Appraisal 

Human beings can analyze their emotions, and monitor their environment to determine the cause of said emotions. Then, they can modify their emotional responses accordingly. In the above example, the person is exercising this appraisal component. 

4. Expression

This is a communicative function. It involves the expression of our feelings in the form of facial expressions, gestures, and body language. It is crucial at the interpersonal level.

5. Physiology

This component refers to the chemical changes in our body in response to emotions. For example, the rush of blood to the face when you blush, or the rise in body temperature when you feel anger.

Here is an example of how these components work:

Suppose Susan is feeling nervous because of an upcoming exam. As a result, she utters these words, “I am scared. Even my bones are tired. I wish I could go home. There’s not enough time to prepare for this paper.”

The breakdown of Susan’s emotional components is:

  1. I am afraid – Recognition of the emotion of fear.
  2. Even my bones are tired – Physiological impact of the emotion.
  3. I wish I could go home – Action component, indicating the tendency to avoid detrimental situations and emotions.
  4. There’s not enough time, Lack of preparedness – Appraisal of the situation.
  5. Facial expressions such as frowning, gestures like raised arms, raised voice – Expression of the emotion.

Generally, the purpose of human emotions is to focus our attention or move us to action. To understand the components mentioned above, think of a feeling you had lately and try to break it down. What was it telling you to do?

Criticisms of the Wheel of Emotions Model

The major criticism of the model comes from the fact that it fails to consider two emotions – Pride and Shame. While it is possible to explain to them as secondary or even tertiary emotions, it feels like a cop-out.

Both these emotions have strong roots in the minds of human beings and have evolutionary origins. Plutchik’s model fails to account for these two necessary feelings that drive many actions and behaviors of human beings.

The second drawback of this model is that it may seem too simplistic. It fails to account for emotional nuances experienced by human beings. There is also no empirical support for the theory.

The Take-Away Message

The Wheel of Emotions is ultimately a tool to help you identify, understand and handle your emotions. Here are some golden rules to follow when it comes to emotions.

A combination of using the wheel, and following these rules can help you conquer the unconquerable.

1.   Learn to listen to what your emotions are telling you.

2.   Be more patient with yourself.

3.   Learn to be more curious about how you feel, why you feel the way you do, and what action your emotions are pushing you towards.

4.   Talk about your emotions clearly and succinctly – with yourself and with others.

5.   Show real emotions to others.

6.   Learn to accept negative emotions.

7.   Learn how to control your emotions with the help of the tools mentioned above.

Closing Thoughts

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions is ultimately a tool in self-reflection. Like other methods of self-reflection, it is only as good as what you make of it. Getting a good grip on your emotions can help you turn stressful and overwhelming situations into something manageable.

It would be a beautiful world, indeed, if we all knew how to talk about our emotions. Learning the language is the starting point. There are miles to go before you sleep.

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