Last week’s ‘managing emotions’ course was a bit more theoretical as we discussed the theory of emotion.  Once again for my own record I’m writing up my notes but please let me know if you find them useful too.

Theory of Emotion

There are approximately eight primary emotions:

  • Anger
  • Joy
  • Fear
  • Interest
  • Sorrow
  • Surprise
  • Disgust
  • Guilt/shame

We are born with the potential for these emotions.  All others are learned and usually have some combination of the basic emotions.

Emotions are particular types of patterned reactions to events.  They are complex and involve lots of components.  You could think of them as signals within the body that tell us what is happening. In many ways emotions are like an instant news service that gives you constant updates about what you are doing and what you are experiencing.

Emotions involve action urges (an important function of emotions is to prompt behaviour e.g. fight or flight).  Although the action itself is not usually considered part of the emotion, the urge to act is.

Primary Emotions

Your initial reactions to what is happening to you are called PRIMARY EMOTIONS.  These are strong feelings that come on quickly and that don’t involve having to think about what is happening.  For example someone does something to offend you and you gt angry.

Secondary Emotions

In addition to primary emotions it is also possible to experience SECONDARY emotions.  These are emotional reactions to your emotions or feelings about feelings.  For example feeling guilty about being angry.  Numerous secondary emotions can be experienced in response to a single primary emotion.

Waves of Emotion

Emotions can come and go like waves.  Most emotions only last for seconds.  When an emotion seems to stay around it is called a mood.

Sometimes emotions can be self-perpetuating, once an emotion starts it keeps restarting itself and it is easy to see how things can get complicated quite quickly.  For this reason, it is important to try and identify what the original primary emotion is in distressing situations so you can learn to cope with that feeling before the avalanche of secondary emotion overwhelms you.  This is where emotional regulation skills can be helpful.  They help you cope with distressing primary and secondary emotions in a new and healthier way.

Model for Describing Emotions:


We also looked at the above model for how emotions come about.

  • The triggering event can be internal (memories or thoughts) or external
  • Vulnerability factors involve past trauma, stress, lack of sleep, hunger, physical illness
  • The interpretation stage can change what happens
  • Medication affects brain changes