Behaviors, Emotions And Feelings: How They Work Together

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Stephanie Deaver, LCSW

The words “emotions” and “feelings” are often used interchangeably. However, they are not one and the same. While they are closely tied together, they are two different things. When you begin to understand precisely what they are, it can help you identify the impact that they have on your behavior. This can be life-changing for helping you navigate successfully through life’s ups and downs.

What are the basic emotions?

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Emotions are not conscious. They are reactions that are produced in your physical body. They can be triggered by experiences that you’re having, as well as by your thoughts and memories.

There has been some debate in research over the number of categories of emotions.  Some researchers have found as many as 27 different categories. However, with there being some similarities between different emotions, they are often broken down into six basic emotions. They include happiness, surprise, fear, disgust, anger, and sadness.

Additional research has also found that when it comes to facial expressions, there is little difference between both anger and disgust, along with fear and surprise. This leaves us with the most basic list of emotions, including happiness, fear, anger, and sadness.

What are your feelings?

Feelings, on the other hand, happen in our minds. They are conscious. And they are a reaction to the emotions that we are experiencing. Our feelings are based on our perception of the events and situations that are happening around us or within us.

Because of this, people can experience the same situation and walk away feeling very differently from each other.

So, what’s the real difference?

Even the explanation of emotions and feelings make them sound very similar. The differences between the two basically break down to the fact that emotions happen as a result of a physical response within your brain. Feelings are what happens as a response to the emotional experience that you have.

How emotions and feelings can impact your behavior

Because your emotions create a physical response within your mind and your feelings are consciously something that you’re thinking about, they can have an impact on your behavior.

For example, if you’re walking down the street at night and think that someone is following you, you may experience fear. This can cause your body to react in a way that initiates your fight or flight response. When you feel fear, it can impact your behavior. You may decide to walk faster, or you may decide to quickly go into a building where you can’t continue to be followed. If someone was walking behind you, and you didn’t feel fearful because of it, your behavior would be different.

As you can see, there are times when your behavior must be able to respond to the emotional experience and feel that you have.

Why you shouldn’t allow your feelings to control you

There are some situations, like the one above, where it can be beneficial to you that you behave a certain way because of your emotions and feelings. However, that’s not always the case.

If you always allow your feelings to control your behavior, you may find that life and your relationships are harder than they need to be. Because your feelings are based on your perception of certain events, they can lead you astray.

In the example given above, the person walking behind you at night may not have been dangerous. However, because you perceived it to be dangerous, your perception dictated how you acted.

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While in that example, it may not have been a big deal for you to behave in a way because of fear, there are other times when it can negatively impact you when you allow your feelings to be in control. For example, if your spouse doesn’t show up when they’re supposed to in the evening, you may feel afraid that something happened to them. If you allow your feelings to run away with your thoughts, you may end up thinking that your spouse is cheating on you. Then, when they do show up at home, you may start an entire fight over the situation. When in reality, they may just have been stuck in traffic, and their phone died, so they couldn’t call to let you know.

All the emotions that you have are real, but your feelings are based on your perception of the situation. That means your feelings could be wrong. You may perceive things in a way that’s not true, which leads you to feel a way that you don’t need to feel in the moment. So, while the way that you’re feeling in the moment is true, it doesn’t need to be. This is why allowing your feelings to control you can be so dangerous.

How to gain control of your feelings

If you’ve been in the habit of allowing your feelings to control your life, you may find yourself exhausted. You may feel like you’re constantly riding a roller coaster going through emotional ups and downs.

Gaining control of your feelings can be an important first step in making improvements in your own life. The tips below may help:

Give yourself time to think.

Before you act, take a few moments to think about the situation and your feelings. Try to look at it from different viewpoints to see if the way you perceive the situation is correct.

You may find it helpful to spend time doing deep breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation to slow your mind and body, so you can gain control of your feelings before making a decision on how you’re going to act. Both of these practices can help you to lower your blood pressure, slow your breathing, and create space in your mind to look at a situation in a new light.

Learn to recognize your emotions

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You may not be in the habit of knowing how to recognize the emotions that you’re experiencing. This can leave you feeling out of control. You may be responding and behaving in ways that you don’t quite understand yourself. When you take the time to learn how to recognize and identify your emotions, it can help you better understand why you react in certain ways.

Once you do this, it can help you learn how to change your reaction because you understand where it’s coming from.

Focus on changing your thoughts

Your feelings can control your thoughts. You may think of certain things because of the way that you’re feeling. And because your feelings may not be true, you may end up with wrong thoughts.

However, if you choose your thoughts, it can help you regain control of your feelings. You can get a clearer perspective of what’s actually happening in a situation to make sure that your feelings align with what’s actually happening.

Learning to control your thoughts often starts with learning how to recognize what you’re thinking. You may be in the habit of just thinking whatever comes into your head, which will then be controlled by your feelings. This can lead to things like negative thoughts and self-talk.

However, if you spend some time focusing on your thoughts, you can learn how to change them. This can help you learn to recognize the wrong thought patterns that you have. The more you practice this, the better you can get at catching wrong thoughts and replacing them with the right ones.

Realize you can control your behavior.

If you’re a parent, you have most likely spent time trying to teach your child how to behave. If you’ve ever seen a toddler get upset before, you probably experienced a temper tantrum. They may have thrown themselves on the ground, pounded their hands on the ground, and screamed and cried. Toddlers are still learning how to control their feelings and behaviors.

Chances are good that you don’t behave the exact same way that a toddler does, but there may be other behaviors in your life that you could do better at controlling. For example, just because you feel angry does not mean that you need to respond in anger. Or, just because you’re afraid to give a big presentation at work doesn’t mean that you have to call in sick that day and not do it.

You can feel a certain way and still choose to react and behave differently.

Work with a therapist.

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If you’re struggling to recognize your emotions or gain control of your feelings, you may find it beneficial to work with a licensed therapist, like those at BetterHelp. A therapist can help you start to understand why you behave a certain way and how to recognize your emotions and feelings more effectively. They can also help you learn how to develop new thought patterns and behaviors in your life.

If you’re exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster that you’ve been on, don’t delay in reaching out for help if you need it. While some people believe that therapists only work with those diagnosed with mental health disorders, that’s not true. Mental health professionals can help you learn strategies and habits that can help you live successfully in your day-to-day life. This includes learning how to control your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.


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