EMOTIONS 101: Two Simple Hints For Figuring Out What We’re Feeling

Emotions 101

photo by Andreas Praefcke CC 3.0 Wikimedia Commons


I’m doing my happy dance, because today is the official launch of the 5th book in my mystery series and this is the third installment in my Tour of Fives Blog Tour celebrating its release.I’ll be at Debra Eve’s Later Bloomers on Saturday explaining how I ended up an author so late in life, and Shannon Esposito’s cyberhome on Monday talking about why I love mysteries.

(The book’s on sale for $1.99 thru 6/12; just sayin’).

What are our basic emotions?

Guess what, we have FIVE of them!

Here are a couple simple ways we can get a hint as to what we are feeling in any given situation.

Hint 1:  Most human emotions (there are some exceptions) fit into five basic categories. Here’s a gimmick therapists use with clients who have trouble sorting out their feelings. When you’re not sure what you’re feeling, ask yourself if you feel MAD, SAD, GLAD, SCARED or BAD. (The first four are self-explanatory; bad refers to guilt and shame.)

Hint 2:  Emotions are made up of two components:  visceral, physical sensations, and our mind’s interpretation of those sensations based on the context.

These physical sensations are most often felt in our stomachs, chests, throats and eyes, and some of them can be related to different emotions. A clenched stomach may be mad, scared or bad (because there’s an element of scared in bad–more on this in a moment).

Tears welling in our eyes, or a stinging sensation when we’re resisting crying, can be related to any intense emotion, not just sadness. I cry when I’m angry (which is extremely frustrating; it’s hard to get the other person to take you seriously when you’re bawling like a baby). My mother, on the other hand, was grinning through her tears all the way through my wedding ceremony.

painting of Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene by Artiemisia Gentileschi

Other sensations are more unique to an individual emotion. A dry mouth or sweaty palms are most often associated with fear. A light, bubbly feeling in one’s chest would most definitely be some type of glad feeling.

Feeling a pain, tightness or a hollow feeling in one’s chest is so universal to sadness and grief that these emotions are often portrayed in art or on the stage by the person touching his/her chest. This is also most likely where the idea of a ‘broken heart’ came from.

Indeed, we often touch the area of our bodies where we are feeling intense emotions–clutching our throats when we’re afraid or our heads when they feel like they’re going to explode with anger or frustration.

The context matters a lot, even with these somewhat more specific sensations. John’s sweaty palms and dry mouth have a different connotation depending on whether he’s about to go into battle, propose to his girlfriend, or give an acceptance speech for an award. Our fear of this…

pacing tiger




is going to be different from our fear of this…

Emotions 101 -- Navy sailors taking a test



…even though the physical sensations may be similar (pounding heart, clenched stomach, lump in the throat).

It’s really helpful to get acquainted with what sensations you normally experience for any given emotion. This helps you sort out what you’re feeling more quickly. Which, in turn, helps you react more the way you want to react to situations (i.e., it gives you more control over how you express your emotions).

There’s a natural tendency for each person to experience their emotions more in certain parts of their bodies than in other parts. Some folks may experience most feelings in their stomachs, others more in their chests, etc. I’m a chest person myself: light and bubbly (happy), tightness (scared), outward pressure (anger), etc. Guilt/shame are the exception for me. These I usually feel as a sick feeling in my stomach and a lump in my throat.

Which brings me back to an earlier point. Shame and guilt, while they are definitely separate feelings from fear, originally derive from it. They are among what are called the self-conscious feelings and, unlike the other basic emotions, they don’t appear until the second year of life. Why?

Because we have to have a sense of ourselves as a separate entity from others before we can feel these feelings about ourselves. When we get it that we are a separate self (around 15-24 months), we begin to fear that our self will be rejected by others. This starts out as fear of punishment by our parents/teachers, slides into fear of their rejection and eventually is internalized as guilt. Once that happens, we will feel guilty even when nobody’s watching!

Shame, as I’ve discussed before, is when we feel not just that our behavior is wrong, but that our very being is not okay. (See these earlier posts for more about guilt and shame.)

Happily, there is one more self-conscious emotion: pride! This of course falls into the ‘glad’ category. That’s another chest one for me, as it is for a lot of people–a swelling sensation in the chest!

Naval Academy grads throwing hats in the air

U.S. Naval Academy graduation (public domain, Wikimedia)

These visceral sensations and their context are incredibly important to us writers. They help us show the reader what the characters are feeling. Which brings me to my book (you knew I’d go there eventually, didn’t you?)

Showing the characters’ feelings in this book, without having those emotions overwhelm the story, was particularly difficult. Kate Huntington and everyone near and dear to her are at risk. They are literally running for their lives, hiding out in various safe houses, as they try to figure out who is trying to kill them. She and her husband are particularly challenged to deal with their fears about losing each other.

And I’ll stop there before I spoil the story for you. Hope you’re intrigued enough to check it out below. Then please talk to me about all this. What sensations are most often associated with which feelings for you? Are you more a stomach or a chest person, or maybe a throat person?

book cover

When a former client reaches out to psychotherapist Kate Huntington and reveals a foreign diplomat’s dark secret, then dies of ‘natural causes’ just days later, Kate isn’t sure what to think. Was the man delusional or is she now privy to dangerous information?

Soon she discovers her client was totally sane… and he was murdered. Someone is now trying to eliminate her, and anyone and everyone she might have told. Forced into hiding, she and her husband, Skip, along with the operatives of his private investigating agency, struggle to stay one step ahead of a ruthless killer. Skip and his P.I. partner are good investigators, but this time they may be in over their heads… and they could all end up drowning in a sea of international intrigue.

This book is part of a series but is designed to work quite well as a stand-alone also. Now available on AMAZON and BARNES  & NOBLE  And ON SALE FOR $1.99 thru June 12th! (Goes up to $3.99 on 6/13)

Hey don’t run off yet. Please leave me a comment. I love comments! 😀

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once or twice a week, sometimes about serious topics, and sometimes just for fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    K.B. Owen
    June 6, 2013 at 8:32 am

    Wow, Kass! What a wonderful post. Writers are going to want to bookmark this, for sure, and I love how you tied it in with your new book! The story was a constant tight-rope-walk of emotions, and totally absorbing for the reader. I love it when an author keeps me up WAAAYY past my bedtime. 😉

    I love the physical tips you’ve included here. Definitely useful!


    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 6, 2013 at 11:30 am

      Wow, Kathy! Thanks for your kind words about the book.

      And the tips in the post, but mostly the book. 😀

  • Reply
    Amber West
    June 6, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Oh, I’m an angry cryer too!!

    Great post.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 6, 2013 at 11:40 am

      Thanks, Amber! It’s so frustrating, isn’t it? I actually had a boss laugh at me one time when I was trying to confront him.

  • Reply
    shannon esposito
    June 6, 2013 at 10:30 am

    First let me say, I’m loving the book! You guys go grab it while you have the bonus of a sale! Second, I usually have very physical reactions that come with emotion, but it takes me awhile to figure out the why. Like, why am I freaking out? Why did that just make me angry or sad? I’m always careful to figure out why something is affecting me before I say anything, which drives my hubby nuts because he thinks my silence is me being upset with him… or he used to. Now he gives me space until I come to him to explain. Emotions are such a necessary evil. 😛

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 6, 2013 at 11:33 am

      Excellent point about needing to sort out the why as well as the what. Sometimes it isn’t what you think it is.

      I was mad at my husband one time, but it didn’t feel right. He hadn’t done anything. So I made myself stop and think about it. And realized I was really mad at someone else, who had said something unkind TO HIM the day before. It was his relative who’d made the comment so I couldn’t say anything. The next day my stifled anger was coming out and pointed toward HIM. The poor man!!

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 6, 2013 at 11:38 am

      So glad you’re loving the book!

  • Reply
    Catie Rhodes
    June 6, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Glad is a light feeling in my chest. Sad is tightness in my throat and chest with stinging tears in my eyes. I cry easily with both glad and sad.

    I am a stomach person with anger, fear, and “bad.” Fear and bad both start as anger. Anger boils under my skin, my thoughts racing in the background. Fear floats and tingles. I feel like I am going to fly away. Bad is a sick to the stomach feeling. But I’m always angry before I can get to those feelings. Anger is my defense position.

    It took me a lot of years to learn to figure out the “why” of my feelings, but I always do it now. Like I said, I start out angry. Then, I remind myself that anger is usually fear or hurt. After I pick which one, I try to narrow it down further. What do I fear? What hurt me and why? Why do I feel threatened by that thing?

    Unless I really believe venting my feelings is going to help a situation, I keep them to myself. Once I’ve gotten to the root of my feelings, I almost always realize I am the problem. Thus, I’m better off talking myself down than going into battle.

    If I choose to go into battle, I fight like a viking. There is always fallout, and I always feel “bad” later.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 6, 2013 at 3:59 pm

      Wow, Catie, I am super impressed with your self-awareness. I know what you mean about feeling bad after expressing anger, but sometimes we have to stand up for ourselves or for what is right. If you’ve thought it through before deciding to let it fly, your anger was probably righteous.

      • Reply
        Kassandra Lamb
        June 6, 2013 at 4:00 pm

        BTW, I all too often lead with my anger as well. 🙂

        • Reply
          Catie Rhodes
          June 6, 2013 at 8:15 pm

          I have a hard time believing that! You always seem so together.

          • Kassandra Lamb
            June 7, 2013 at 12:43 pm

            *snort* That’s cuz you’ve never pissed me off, Catie. 😉

  • Reply
    Kristy K. James
    June 6, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    I agree that this post will come in very handy for writers (and have saved it in my writing files). As for where I feel stuff? Hmm. I don’t know that I really pay that much attention, but scared is a really sick feeling in the pit of my stomach…and kind of in my throat. Other than that…I don’t know. Though I also cry when I’m mad (I tend to clean or sort when I’m mad, too).

    Anyway, just got the book. I’m looking forward to it, but not sure when I’ll get it read. If I make it a treadmill book, there are two ahead of it. 🙂

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 7, 2013 at 12:42 pm

      Wow! I’ve been bookmarked! Thanks, Kristy. And thanks for buying the book. I hope you get a chance to read it soon. Would love to know what you think.

      I wish I could get into cleaning when I’m mad. My house would be spotless most of the time. 😀

      • Reply
        Kristy K. James
        June 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm

        LOL…yours and mind both. But I haven’t done a good clutter busting session in more than four years. It’s time. Of course if someone wanted to piss me off in a major way, I might finish it faster. 😉

  • Reply
    Debra Eve
    June 7, 2013 at 12:57 am

    Intriguing, Kassandra. I’d never thought to tie emotions to their physical sensations, especially when writing. When someone hurts me, I do actually feel I’ve been kicked in the stomach. Great “show-don’t- tell” advice!

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 7, 2013 at 12:45 pm

      I’m glad you found the post helpful, Debra! Thanks for coming by. Can’t wait to hang out with your readers on Saturday.

  • Reply
    Lee J Tyler
    June 8, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    As Debra said, this is a great show-don’t tell device. And it shortcuts the narrative to one gesture. What a great article (and tip!)
    I’m also putting your books on my wish list.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      So true, Lee. A simple gesture can say a lot. And I’m always looking for ways to cut the word count. I tend to be much too wordy. My nickname as a kid was Chatty Kassie.

  • Reply
    Chen Sun
    December 15, 2013 at 4:48 pm


    Excellent article Kassandra. Will you please let me know how to learn more about body sensations, feelings, emotions, and suppressed emotions?

    FYI, I’m developing a methodology to learn how to sing based, in part based on releasing suppressed emotions. Good posture is actually a counter-measure to suppressed emotions’ bodily suppressed feelings. Hence, better posture, less suppressed feelings, better singer. For example, as you mentioned above, the proud (glad-feeling) chest, and its parallel, the iconic proud peacock-chested singer. I’m publishing a book or website about this, eventually. If you know about the area of suppressed emotions and posture, please let me learn more.

    Thank you,

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      December 17, 2013 at 1:39 pm

      So sorry, Chen Sun. I just found your comment hiding in the spam folder.

      Most of what I commented on in this article I learned from my experience as a therapist. I don’t know what research may have been done on the subject, but I suspect there is some out there.

      I also know from both personal and professional experience that emotions can get bound up, if you will, in our body tissue. Therapeutic massage and other types of body work can be extremely valuable to release those old emotions so that one can relax muscles better, breathe deeper, stand up straighter, etc. But a word of caution–releasing those emotions means just that. The person will feel them again and will need to process the cause of them to get rid of them for good.

      Hope this helps. And good luck with your project. It sounds fascinating.

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.