What Is the Feelings Wheel and How Can It Help Your Relationship?

Rohan Mathew


So, what exactly is a feelings wheel? In the therapy world, it’s a tool that helps people pinpoint and interpret their feelings and improve emotional intelligence. It’s a visual aid that divides emotions based on color associations and centers around six core feelings and how secondary feelings are related. The feeling wheel can be used to help us put words to our emotions and care for our mental health.

Along with individual self-care, the feelings wheel can also be used as a tool to improve your relationship. If you are more in touch with your own emotions, you will be able to communicate more effectively. You will also be able to interpret other people’s emotions more accurately which can also improve communication and how you approach situations.

Here is a brief history of the Feelings Wheel, how to use it for yourself, and how it can help your relationship:

What is the history of the feeling wheel?

The Feelings Wheel was created by Dr. Gloria Willcox, a psychotherapist who noticed that her patients often struggled to articulate how they were feeling. She set out to create a visual aid to solve this problem and pulled from Robert Plutchik’s concept of emotions as colors to create a colorful wheel of emotions.

The initial concept had four central emotions: scared, sad, mad, glad. Dr. Willcox wanted there to be a balance between the positive and negative emotions, so she divided glad into three different core feelings: joyful, powerful and peaceful. Since it was created, the Feelings Wheel has been used far and wide to help people identify, name, and communicate their emotions in a more nuanced way.

What are the six core emotions?

Though different wheels sometimes have different names for the core emotions, the most common are sad, mad, scared, joyful, powerful, and peaceful. These emotions are surrounded by secondary emotions like apathetic, critical, insecure, energetic, confident, and thankful. These are things that we feel on a regular basis, but are sometimes unable to identify. A lot of the time, we may feel apathetic, but do not realize that apathy is actually a manifestation of sadness, the core emotion. Or we may be feeling embarrassed without realizing that at its core, embarrassment is the same as feeling scared. Using the Feeling Wheel helps us make associations between feelings and what is at the core of the feeling.

How to use a feeling wheel for yourself

Dr. Willcox describes the Feeling Wheel as a tool that can offer power to individuals. Understanding your emotions and the core of these emotions can provide clarity and precise language that can empower people to communicate what they are feeling and, by extension, what they need from others. 

A lot of people are first introduced to Feelings Wheels during counseling or therapy sessions, but this doesn’t have to be the case! Anyone can download a Feelings Wheel and use it on their own accord. All you need to do is notice when you are having an emotion and then locate it on the wheel so that you can pinpoint exactly how you are feeling.

How to use a feeling wheel in life, work, and relationships

All relationships benefit when communication is more clear and articulate. The majority of conflicts arise when there is miscommunication. Being able to articulate your feelings can help you avoid this, and that’s where the Feelings Wheel comes into play. Having a better understanding of your emotions can allow you to articulate them to others in a more clear and precise way, which is beneficial in any relationship, from friends and family to romantic partners. 

How using feeling wheel can improve self-awareness

In addition to improving interpersonal communication, using the Feelings Wheel can also help improve your self-awareness. If you are not in touch with your feelings, you may not understand why you are acting or reacting a certain way, which can lead to erratic behavior. The Feelings Wheel can help get you more in control of your emotions and behavior. 

Bottom line? The more in touch you are with your feelings, the better you’ll be able to communicate them. You’ll also be more able to interpret others’ emotions, which helps significantly improve your relationships with others.  

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