Tag Archives: five basic emotions

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

statue of children dancing

(photo by Andreas Praefcke, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia)


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…

Navy sailors taking a test

(both photos, public domain, Wikimedia)



…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.

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