Self-development

Gaining Emotional Literacy with Plutchik’s Wheel

by Kinga Lewandowska — 5 min read

Gaining Emotional Literacy with Plutchik’s Wheel

Humans can experience around 34000 of them. Adding depth to who we are, they enable us to taste life in all its flavors, even when they get completely out of control. Some people like to bury them inside, keep them hidden, and some of us learn how to use them as a driving force, for example, in artistic expression. Sometimes they meddle with our success, other times they take us precisely where we want to be.

Emotions – the energy within, the essence, the colors.

They connect us with our inner selves and others, manifest who we are to the outside world, and make our reality multidimensional. When we get swept away in their currents, become impulsive or overwhelmed, we learn this force is one to be reckoned with. Still, the healthiest way is not to run away. If you tame and befriend your emotions, they can open you up to life’s splendor like you’ve never known before.

Left, Right, Left

In simple terms, our brains consist of two hemispheres. The left hemisphere processes information through logical, rational, and analytical integration, whereas the right hemisphere solves problems by intuition, and relying on insights and perceptions. However, in recent years the clarity of this division has been disputed among scientists and we have yet to see any clear evidence to support brain lateralization.

Nonetheless, the creative, artistic right brain is believed to be more emotional. However, is the fact that it makes logical sense not proof enough that all of us use the whole brain in our perception of the world? Regardless of whether you lean towards numbers and data, or art and creativity, we are all human and therefore emotional, no exceptions. We all have access to feelings, they affect even the most reserved among us (whether they admit it or not), and learning to harness their power can only make us stronger.

Emotional Intelligence

To govern our emotions effectively we need EQ – intrapersonal and social intelligence. The latter, interpersonal component facilitates the communication between us and others. It’s the capability to interpret and empathize with another person’s mood, feelings, motivations, intentions, desires and their overall emotional condition. It’s the ability to step in somebody else’s shoes and have a peek through their glasses.

Intrapersonal intelligence is rooted in our self-awareness. It’s the familiarity with our own strengths and weaknesses, the ability to define our internal reality, the knowledge of our identity, patterns of processing and handling emotions, and the cognizance of how we are similar to or different from others. It’s the bedrock for developing interpersonal intelligence and our armor protecting us from harm.

There’s hardly anything emotional intelligence could not help us tackle. Managing toxic positivity? Check. Bracing ourselves against emotional vampires? Check. Same with loneliness, procrastination, managing expectations, impostor syndrome, dealing with failure or perfectionism – these and so much more are also jobs for the EQ. Without emotional intelligence whatever we are is chaos. Knowing how to embrace our feelings, express them, learn from them, and oversee the butterflies in our stomach so they fly in formation can have a profoundly positive impact on our lives. But we first need to know exactly what we’re up against.

Name It To Tame It

Emotions are energy in motion. They are composite biological signals that originate in the brain and manifest as physical feelings throughout the body (oh, hello sweaty palms before an important event). Being able to correctly identify and name your experience can bring relief in itself, but it is also the first and most important step towards mastering emotional literacy.

Whenever you feel things getting a bit out of control inside you, press pause and look within. Close your eyes. The good old method of taking a deep breath and counting from five or ten backwards can do miracles. Tune out the world and focus on the emotion. Try to distance yourself from it, observe, and analyze it from all possible angles. If you have synesthesia (the neurosensory wire-crossing in which senses seem to blend together), your emotion might even have shape or color. Approach it with curiosity.

There are no good or bad emotions, only data. Repress the urge to repress negative feelings – they are all messengers, they carry meaning, they have purpose, and help us survive (fear being the flagship example). Listen to what your emotions want to communicate. Trust them to guide you. Learn their language to better comprehend and express them.

“When you numb one feeling, you numb them all.” – Brené Brown

At Intelligent Change we are big believers in practical implementation of our knowledge and in taking action. Therefore, should you still feel lost or wobbly about finding proper vocabulary to articulate what you’re feeling, as always, we know a tool that might help.

Shades of The Plutchik’s Wheel

As part of his psychoevolutionary theory of emotions, psychologist Robert Plutchik analyzed common reactions in the animal kingdom. Since all mammals experience the same basic emotions, he managed to build a universal tool we can use to identify our emotional states in all their shades and levels of intensity.

wheel of emotions and feelings

A feeling chart, a flower, or an ice cream cone (when you mentally fold the image) – whatever we want to call it, the Plutchik’s wheel is a manual for naming, understanding, and managing emotions. It’s a visual, colorful, and organized representation of eight primary human emotions with their milder and harsher derivatives. Due to our contrasting physiological reactions, they are represented on the wheel as polar opposites, high and low frequencies, antagonistic forces.

At any given moment, we experience one dominant emotion (located somewhere in the second circle) accompanied by a diversity of its variations, secondary emotions with their fawn alternatives as well as all the spaces in between (we feel you, mind blown). It can be a lot to take in but we all experience an array of turbulent states like these during our lifespan, hence, it’s useful to have a systematized image of what can be boiling under the surface.

For example, when we feel love, it can be a combination of joy and trust. When we’re delighted, it might be joy and surprise holding hands. Feelings of remorse can result from sadness plus disgust. Contempt may arise from disgust and anger, and so on, and so forth.

Then, we have the strength of every one of those (that intensifies in saturation towards the center of the wheel and loses color towards its outer edges). This way, joy goes from serenity to ecstasy, trust from acceptance to admiration, surprise from uncertainty to amazement, sadness from gloominess to grief, disgust from dislike to loathing, or anger from annoyance to fury.

This is how it works in black and white:

pensiveness sadness grief ecstasy joy serenity

annoyance anger rage terror fear apprehension

interest anticipation vigilance amazement surprise distraction

acceptance trust admiration loathing disgust boredom

Combinations of these emotions lead to:

joy + trust = love

trust + fear = submission

fear + surprise = awe

surprise + sadness = disapproval

sadness + disgust = remorse

disgust + anger = contempt

anticipation + anger = aggressiveness

serenity + interest = optimism

These shifts, combinations, layers, and relations make our lives complex, sometimes blurry, but always interesting. There’s no one way to use the wheel but its structure can help you specify what you feel and therefore prevent negative emotions from escalating and embrace the positive ones so they only evolve into their higher vibrations.


Life Is an Emotional Journey

Emotions place our focus on what matters most, make us pay attention to our behavioral patterns and triggers, and they shake things up so we can live fully. Visualizing and verbalizing our emotional states helps us grow. Once we have the vocabulary to decode what is happening inside us, we can react appropriately and control our responses better. With broader perspective comes stronger self-awareness.

Life holds riches beyond our wildest dreams. Emotions are keys that can unlock all that treasure and every second we have a choice to either reign over them, or let them rule us. Own what you feel and take care of your emotional hygiene because emotions are also contagious. When you navigate and manage yours well, you positively influence your surroundings and actively change the world for the better.

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