Identifying and expressing your feelings is a skill that takes time to master. People have the potential to experience a massive range of emotions, with some research suggesting as many as 34,000 possible distinct emotions.1 With such an incredible capability for emotional experience, how can you possibly narrow down what you’re feeling?
Researchers have proposed different categorizations over their decades of studying emotions. Dr. Robert Plutchik, an American psychologist, suggested eight dominant emotions that encapsulate the spectrum of feelings a person can experience. These include:
Learning to identify these emotions is a great first step toward pinpointing and expressing more complicated feelings. What are the eight dominant emotions that you can experience?
The 8 Dominant Emotions
Dr. Robert Plutchik’s classification of emotions is an important approach to emotional theory. These eight dominant emotions are the foundational point for the wide range of emotions a person can experience. He organized each of these primary emotions into a tool called the Wheel of Emotions, which simplifies the complex experience of human emotion. So what are each of the eight dominant emotions?
- Joy: Feeling happiness, satisfaction, or enjoyment
- Sadness: Feeling disappointed or hopeless
- Anticipation: Feeling excited or looking forward to something
- Trust: Feeling accepting or approving of something
- Disgust: Response to a repulsive stimulus
- Fear: Response to a perceived danger or threat
- Anger: Response to mistreatment or being held back from something
- Surprise: Response to an unexpected stimulus
Dominant vs. Secondary Emotions
Dominant emotions are the overarching, driving feelings that a person experiences. However, there are varying levels of intensity within these 8 dominant emotions. For example, you may feel a bit bored by someone you don’t find very interesting but not disgusted by their presence. On the other hand, losing a loved one produces grief, an emotion much deeper than sadness.
These more complex emotions are called secondary emotions and include varying degrees of the eight dominant emotions.2 Identifying secondary emotions requires some initial understanding of your dominant emotions. After you understand these primary emotional categories, you can start determining the intensity of each emotion as it comes up.
Effectively Expressing Your Emotions
Once you can identify your emotions, you must learn to express them effectively. Well-adjusted adults don’t move through the world at the whim of their emotions. They also don’t stuff or refuse to look at feelings as they come up. The healthy approach lies somewhere between these two extremes.
Some people are more emotionally intelligent than others, meaning they can recognize and express their emotions. Thankfully, anyone can learn to express themselves effectively through consistent and dedicated practice. You can start with simple exercises like journaling or seek in-depth help through therapy or counseling if your difficulties stem from a more serious mental health problem.
If your mental health keeps you from effectively expressing your emotions, Pasadena Villa can help. We’ve spent the last 25 years providing comprehensive care for adults living with mental health conditions. Our specialized Social Integration Model centers around evidence-based practices that provide you with a path to wellness.
- Training. (2014). How Controlling Your Emotional Responses Can Improve Your Performance at Work.
- American Psychological Association. (2022). APA Dictionary of Psychology.