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Using the Feeling Wheel to Know Your Emotions (S.4, Ep.11)

November 7, 2023 @ 6:02 am CST

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About This Episode

In this practicast, Practicing Connection co-host, Jessica Beckendorf, guides us through how to use the Feeling Wheel, a free, printable resource, to help us identify what we are feeling. Knowing and naming your feelings can be really helpful for allowing yourself to feel it, reflecting to pinpoint the cause, knowing what actions you can take to help regulate the feeling a bit, and deepening relationships by accurately communicating your feelings when you need to.

“Practicasts” are shorter episodes of the podcast highlighting a specific practice to help empower us to work together to improve our resilience and readiness.



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Bob Bertsch: Hi, and welcome to Practicing Connection. I’m Bob Bertsch. This is our first-ever practicast, a shorter episode of the podcast highlighting a specific practice to help empower us to work together to improve our resilience and readiness. Each month, we’ll continue to share our longer episodes with you, but now you can listen each week in between those longer episodes to get inspired by a new practice on the practicast. We hope you’ll give these practices a try and find them useful. In this episode, my practicing connection co-host, Jessica Beckendorf, will be guiding us through how to use the Feeling Wheel, a free printable resource to help us identify what we are feeling. Hi, Jessica, how are you doing?

Jessica Beckendorf: Hi, Bob. I’m doing pretty great because I’m so excited to be sharing this practice with our listeners. It’s a really great practice for getting to know yourself better, and that’s one of the ways that I’ve used it myself.

Bob: Well, I’m really excited to hear more about it. Can you tell us how using the Feeling Wheel can help us feel better?

Jessica: Yes. Not knowing your emotions can make it really difficult for you to know how to feel through an emotion. I think we’re always hearing like, “Feel your feelings,” but when you don’t know exactly what that feeling is, it actually can make it really difficult for you to do that. It can make it difficult to understand what actions to take in order to help regulate your emotions a bit.

Sometimes our emotions might cause us to do or say something unhelpful or even damaging. Knowing and naming the exact emotions you’re feeling that are causing the physiological symptoms you might be having can be really helpful for actually allowing yourself to feel it. Then reflecting to pinpoint the cause, like why you’re feeling what you’re feeling and then knowing what actions you can take to help regulate the feeling a bit. This can help deepen relationships also by accurately communicating your feelings when you need to.

Bob: Yes, I definitely can think of times when I said something at work or at home without being aware of the emotion I was feeling, and it maybe was not particularly helpful. How did you learn about the Feeling Wheel?

Jessica: I first learned about it from actually a multicultural awareness workshop, but then it kept showing up in other ways. I took an emotional intelligence workshop where I learned even more how to use it. If you’re not familiar with emotional intelligence workshops, there’s an assessment that you can take, and my results showed pretty accurately that I’m not great at identifying my emotions.

I’m really good at social awareness and telling what everyone else in the room is feeling modifying myself and going and helping everyone else, but I’m not great at identifying my own emotions. This was a little surprising to me because I’m generally pretty self-aware, but I never realized that I just labeled my emotions as good or bad without fully understanding them until I was at this workshop, in my upper 30s. This was pretty late that I was really realizing this.

For example, not long before I attended this workshop, a colleague had been in a terrible accident which rendered them unable to work any longer. Someone who had been in the office I’d been seeing five days a week was no longer there. It was devastating to everyone at our office, even those of us who were newer, and I was one of the newer people. I thought I had been feeling sad about what happened, but through an activity at this workshop that utilized the feeling wheel, I realized that while I was definitely sad for my colleague and for their family, what I was actually feeling that was affecting me personally was fear.

Essentially my ground was shaky because I realized that an accident like that could happen to me or someone in my house. This was a really key distinction, this key distinction between feeling sad or feeling fear because I wasn’t getting the support that I needed as someone who was scared. Because I thought I was sad, I didn’t even know how to talk about what I needed.

What I ended up doing was really isolating myself a little to cry and to be sad in my feelings. I didn’t even know how to talk about it, much less actually how I was feeling. It certainly didn’t help those who were trying to support me to know how they could best support me in that moment. The feeling wheel after that became such an important tool for me and has become an important tool to the participants in the emotional intelligence workshops that I now teach.

Bob: Can you give us an example of when you might use this practice? Are we pulling the feeling wheel out all the time? Is there just certain situations where it’s helpful?

Jessica: Yes, that’s a really good question. I would recommend starting out by using it just to identify emotions. Even if you’re confident that you know what you’re feeling, take a look anyway and pinpoint the word. If you’re not sure what you’re feeling but maybe you recognize that you’re feeling something, like maybe your face and neck are flushed. For me, my neck and my chest get red and hot. Maybe your forehead is furrowed or tense and you can’t seem to loosen that tension. Maybe you’re feeling some tension in your neck, shoulders, or back, or whatever physiological symptoms show up for you.

If you’re like I was when I started, you might use this when you recognize that you’re feeling something, “Bad,” but you’re having a hard time pinpointing what kind of bad. Or maybe you’re just feeling a little lost or stuck, that’s another good time to pull out the feelings wheel. You don’t have to pull it out, to answer your question, you don’t have to pull it out for every single thing. I would just start when you’re feeling these physiological symptoms and you’re not sure what to do with it.

Bob: Yes, that sounds helpful and really right. Those times I can think of where you’re wondering like, “What’s going on with me right now?” I’m just not sure where, like you said, the physiological things are coming from or just how maybe you’re feeling inside and you’re just not sure how to put a name to it. I think it’d be really great if you could walk us through the practice of using the feeling wheel. Would you mind doing that for us?

Jessica: Yes, of course. Like we’ve been saying, using the feeling wheel can help us practice recognizing our emotions as they arise, and recognizing our emotions can lead to a deeper understanding of ourselves and better communication and deeper connections with those we work and live with. There are different versions of this feeling wheel. If you wouldn’t did a search online, you would find many different versions.

The wheel that I’m using today was adopted from the work of Dr. Gloria Wilcox in 1982. Probably a lot of the ones that you see out there have been adapted from this work. This tool is arranged in concentric circles with pie slices, breaking the circles up into different sections like wedge sections. What are considered the core emotions are located at the center. These are things like mad, sad, scared, powerful, joyful, and peaceful.

With different intensities of these emotions that are located on the outer layers of the circle. We’ll provide a copy of the feeling wheel that I use in the show notes for this episode at All right. Now, the first step is to have a printed or digital copy of a feeling wheel at your fingertips. There are even some apps you can download to help. Some participants in my workshops have told me that they like to keep a copy next to their desk. Others have told me that they keep a copy on their phone. Or again, an app would work for that as well. Whatever works best for you will be perfect.

Step two then is using the wheel. When you’re feeling something that you can’t pinpoint, use it to identify exactly what’s coming up for you. We brought up earlier these physiological symptoms that you might have furrowed brows, tension in your neck, shoulders, back, or your face or your chest, heating up and becoming red. Whatever it is for you. Clammy Hands is another good one. Step two is using it when you’re feeling these things.

Third, reflect on what happened that brought the feeling up. You find the feeling on the wheel and then you think, “Okay, well what exactly brought this up? What happened? Who was involved? Why is this feeling emerging in this situation?” Then finally, when you’re ready, and this is optional, the feeling wheel we’re using today is organized. Once you pinpoint the emotion you’re feeling, you can look to the wedge that’s on the opposite side of the wheel and use those emotions to find some action that you can take to help you bridge from a feeling that maybe is not very helpful to you in that moment, to one that can be a little more helpful to you.

Or at least to bring you to a more of a state of calm. More of a state of like, “Okay, I can get through this. I’m going to get through the rest of my workday. I’m going to process this more. In the meantime, I’m going to do something that will help me allow myself to breathe through this or stay with this feeling.” A quick recap. First, have a copy ready. Second, use the wheel when you’re feeling those physiological symptoms. Third, reflect on what happened, why was that feeling emerging in that situation.

Then, if it’s relevant to you in the moment, try to look to the opposite side of the wedges and find something, an activity that you can do that might bring you a little bit more sense of calm in the moment.

Bob: That’s awesome, Jess. Thanks so much for guiding us through that. The Feeling wheel just seems like a really helpful tool.

Jessica: It has been for me. It’s helped me to know myself so much better to get the help I need when I need it, and it’s helped me to improve my personal and working relationships by helping me communicate more clearly. I hope this practice is as useful for all the listeners here as it has been for me.

Bob: That’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for joining us. We hope you’ll give this practice a try and share your experience in the Practicing Connection Community LinkedIn Group where people supporting military families practice the skills that empower us to work together so that we can positively impact our communities and help families thrive. You’ll find the link to the group on our website at one We’re gonna be back next week with another practicast with another practice for knowing yourself better called What Lights You Up. Until then, keep practicing.

Kalin Goble: The Practicing Connection Podcast is a production of OneOp and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense under award numbers 209-48770-30366 and 2023-48770-41333.

[00:11:38] [END OF AUDIO]


November 7, 2023
6:02 am CST
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