The (Very) Short Course On Feelings

By: Ted Harro

Maybe like me, you’ve had a tortured relationship with feelings. You’re in the right place. In this one short, graphic-novel-ish post, I’m going to give you the essentials on feelings. In very small words to match my tiny little feelings.

Let me start with this newsflash: You have feelings.

I have worse news for you: Your spouse has feelings too. 

Here’s the good news. There are only five basic feelings. I know this because my wife is a therapist and she told me so. 

Here are the five primary feelings:

These five are primary feelings, kind of like the primary colors we learned in grade school. I won’t make you finger paint with these feelings. You can probably tell that art class was not my favorite. Even finger painting.

The Range Of Feelings

Just like with colors, these feelings can come with different intensities. Let’s take anger. Even I knew that I got mad before The Therapist schooled me in feelings. Experts in emotions will tell you that when you’re annoyed, that’s mild anger. If you’re enraged to the point of physical violence, that’s severe anger. As you can imagine, there’s a big range of anger between irritation and punching someone in the face.

The same is true for the other emotions. When you’re disappointed, that’s mild sadness. When you’re so depressed you feel numb and can’t get out of bed, that’s severe sadness. When you’re uneasy, you’re a little scared. But when you’re panicked? That’s severe fear. You get the idea.

The Therapist has helpfully curated this Feeling Word Cheat Sheet. For each emotion, the feeling words range from mild at the top of the list to severe at the bottom of the list. 

We have this list printed out and posted on our whiteboard next to our dining room table. Just in case Gretchen needs help identifying her feelings.

Writing that last line made me happy, pleased to be exact. Look at me go.



  • Tiffany Clark Posted February 23, 2020 6:12 am

    So once you’ve identified the right feeling, then what do you do with it? Or is the point simply to be aware of your own feelings and those of your spouse? I’m beginning to get the picture that feelings can operate as relational connectors, but I’m not sure how.

    • Ted Posted February 24, 2020 8:19 am

      Great question, Tiffany! I’m going to ask The Therapist to chime in here, but I’ll give my two cents. Being aware is a great starting point – and as we unpack more of the science of successful relationships, we’ll show how that awareness can help you catch, diagnose, and repair disconnection with your spouse. I’ll also be writing about how feelings are the truth serum for your beliefs. In other words, we all carry around many stories about God, ourselves, and those around us – we just lie to ourselves about them most of the time. Feelings tell us what we really believe. More to come!

  • Gretchen Harro Posted February 24, 2020 10:22 pm

    Emotions drive our behaviors. Primary emotions, especially when they are operating outside our awareness, are often followed by reactive/secondary emotions. Consider a classic scenario that I hear over and over. One spouse is at home with the kids. The other has gone out with friends, and stays out longer than expected. The one spouse at home starts to worry (one of the levels of fear), and says to herself, “Where is he? I thought he would call by now. I wonder if he has had an accident.” One text message unanswered is followed by 10. As time goes by, fear turns into anger. “He’s an inconsiderate jerk. He’s avoiding my texts.” You can imagine the argument when he gets home.
    If she were aware that she’s feeling afraid, she could more successfully express that fear in a way the spouse could hear. “When you stay out longer than I expect, I start to worry that you’ve had an accident. I get scared because you’re important to me and I don’t want to lose you.” That last bit, “I get scared because you’re important to me and I don’t want to lose you” is what we call “attachment language” and it goes a long way to helping your partner know what’s going on with you. If she’s aware of her fear, that kind of conversation is possible. If she is unaware of the fear, she’s going to get mad every time and the two of them will start saying to themselves, “How do we keep getting stuck in the same argument?”

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