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Feelings & Feedback: No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

Two new wheels rolled into my life around the same time. This was fortunate, not only since unicycling has never appealed, but because they support each other really well. Both have helped tremendously in my client work and personal relationships. I'm excited to now share these invaluable tools with you!

One of the first feelings modules I remember using was a magnet stuck to my childhood fridge that said "Today I Feel."

Aside from the fact that most of us experience a variety of emotions each day, whenever I checked in with that magnet––and therefore myself––to see how I was feeling, I had a sense of satisfaction in acknowledging, naming, and framing my emotional state. The little pictures were undeniably a great help!

As a new therapist I encountered similar tools, mostly long lists, categorized logically, but not in any way that made sense to the emotional brain. I'd look at these lists and feel overwhelmed (something I now see the Feeling Wheel categorizes as "bad." No wonder they didn't stick!) Although well-intentioned, these lists weren't effective, and I swear even sent an inquiring client of mine running after he was bombarded by several hundreds of feelings words on a page.

These experiences soured me temporarily (as "bad" feelings are known to do) on feelings compilations, such that when a friend of mine mentioned the Feeling Wheel shared with him by his therapist, I was skeptical. Though impressed by his introspection and inner work, I wasn't sure I wanted to run down the rabbit hole of overwhelming options again anytime soon, and I wasn't convinced it would be useful in my therapy practice. So, I left it alone for a while.

Despite my lack of initial interest, the Feeling Wheel stayed with me, in the way that important things do...

I'm reminded of a story my mom used to tell, about working with her spiritual teacher, Maureen. Mom went to Maureen seeking counsel, and as she spoke, scribble down notes as fast as possible, trying to catch as many nuggets of wisdom as she could. Seeing this, Maureen would say, "Micki, you don't have to write it all down. You'll remember what you need, when you need it."

Following the flow round yet another bend, I'm now remembering that my inspiration for giving the Feeling Wheel a second chance was introduction to none other than the Feedback Wheel! Let me introduce you to this relational tool now.

(Forgiving the subpar quality of the image), this simple wheel turns arguments into conversations just like that. Not to imply that it's easy; for most of us, Step 2. "What I Made About It" can pose considerable challenge. Let me give you an example:

Charlie and Brett have dinner each night around 7:30pm. Charlie usually arrives home from work around 7. One evening at 7:15, Charlie has neither come home nor contacted Brett to let him know she'll be late. Brett starts to have feelings. By 7:30pm he has strong feelings, and a story to go with them.

Thankfully, in this rather idyllic example, he also has the Feedback Wheel! Not only is it printed and posted on the fridge (aren't refrigerator magnets great?!), having used the wheel only a few times––first in couple's counseling then in daily life––he has already internalized it. By the time Charlie gets home, Brett is ready to communicate from a productive perspective, rather than berating her with dark emotion-driven narratives as he likely would have a few weeks before.

"Honey." He says, as she comes in the door. "I'm having some feelings." Charlie's eyes open wide as she prepares for a predictable onslaught,"Where have you been?! I've been waiting and worrying! You're always home by this time..."

Instead, Brett works his way through the wheel:

  1. When I saw that you weren't home by 7, I started to wonder. When you weren't home by 7:15, I turned to worry. By 7:30 I'd made up an entire story.

  2. The story I made was "Something must be wrong. Charlie always comes home by this time, and if not calls/texts. I could call/text her, but then I'd be nagging. I'm afraid she's angry, or hurt, or maybe just doesn't care to come home and be with me.

  3. My story made me feel AWFUL. I felt worried, scared, sad and dejected.

  4. I wanted contact from you, to feel reassured that you were safe, that you love me, and that everything is all right.

Hearing this, Charlie takes a deep breath and says, "Hon, I'm sorry. When I saw it was 7:15 and I hadn't yet left from home, I made a story that you would be angry with me..." And so on.

This example is likely relatable for many of us, perhaps couples especially, but really any person in any relationship with other humans (ehem). In other words, everyone! What's hopefully evident is how easily this very benign situation between Charlie & Brett could have derailed into an evening of hurt feelings, distance, and tears; instead of creating the opportunity for a conversation that resulted in actually bringing the two closer.

One thing to note: in the example, Charlie responds with a Feedback Wheel of her own ("When I saw the time, etc."). If one person uses the Feedback Wheel, it's not necessary for the other to respond in any particular way. In fact, active listening is often the best bet: "Brett, I hear that you felt worried and sad..." Sometimes, listening in this way will bring out more of the story and feelings: "Yes! And I was also angry, because I made up that you didn't care." Eventually, when we feel effectively heard, we can settle back into evenings of Netflix and chill ;-)

Circling all the way back to the Feeling Wheel, perhaps you've already picked up on where it fits into this picture, Step 3: How I Felt About It.

If at first this wheel overwhelms you, makes you feel stressed or bad, remember you're not alone. When you're ready, you can begin to explore and discover how to make the Feeling Wheel best work for you.

One possibility is to start in the middle, with only 6 simple feelings to choose from. These will likely seem overly simplistic at times, yet they help capture the tone of the moment. Then, if so inclined, you can work your way out to the more complex realms of those emotions.

Another approach is to go all the way around the wheel, starting anywhere you like, and try to identify which feelings are most familiar to you, and which ones may seem foreign (credit to one of my clients for this brilliant approach!). If you start on the outside, you can work your way in, perhaps realizing something new, like that loneliness is a form of sadness. Getting in touch with core feelings may help you emote, feel them, and move through them more effectively.

I cannot recommend strongly enough that you print/draw, study, and begin to internalize these two wheels. In my research for this blog, I discovered that printing the feeling wheel in black and white and coloring in the emotions yourself is a popular way to familiarize yourself with the fullness of feelings! I would also love to hear your feedback on how these worked for you, and what approach you took to working your way 'round the wheel. Thanks for reading. Best of luck! Warmly,



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