Let’s Talk About Emotions!

Emotions are an essential part of who you are, but they can be messy, complicated, and downright confusing sometimes. Knowing how to name them and talk about them — with both yourself and others — is a key part of developing emotional health.

Fortunately, you don’t have to navigate the process of identifying your emotions alone. Paul Ekman, a psychologist and leading researcher on emotions, surveyed more than 100 scientists and used their input to develop what’s known as the Atlas of Emotions.

This online interactive tool breaks down emotions into five main categories:

  • anger
  • fear
  • sadness
  • disgust
  • enjoyment

Keep in mind that this is just one way of categorizing emotions. For example, a recent study suggests that there are 27 categories of emotion. But Ekman’s concept of five main types of emotion offers a good framework for breaking down the complexity of all the feels.


People generally like to feel happy, calm, and good. You might express these feelings by smiling, laughing, or indulging yourself.

You might feel enjoyment when:

  • you feel close and connected to people you care about
  • you feel safe and secure
  • you’re doing something that triggers sensory pleasure
  • you’re absorbed in an activity
  • you feel relaxed and at peace

If enjoyment and its related feelings feel elusive, try to take a look at other emotions or feelings are getting in the way, such as:

  • trouble focusing on what’s happening in the present
  • worry
  • stress
  • a low or anxious mood


Everyone feels sad from time to time. This emotion might relate to a specific event, such as a loss or rejection. But in other cases, you might have no idea why you feel sad.

If your sadness lingers or begins to have a significant impact on daily life and makes it hard to work, go to school, or maintain your relationships, it may help to talk to a therapist.


Fear happens when you sense any type of threat. Depending on that perceived threat, fear can range from mild to severe.

Keep in mind that the level of fear you feel doesn’t always match up with the intensity of the threat. For example, if you live with anxiety, you might feel fear around situations that don’t actually pose much of a threat — though that doesn’t make the fear any less real.


Anger usually happens when you experience some type of injustice. This experience can make you feel threatened, trapped, and unable to defend yourself. Many people think of anger as a negative thing, but it’s a normal emotion that can help you know when a situation has become toxic.

There are a lot of ways to deal with anger, many of which can cause problems for you and those around you.

Everyone gets angry from time to time. But if you feel like you have anger issues, a therapist can help you develop effective tools for dealing with these emotions.


You typically experience disgust as a reaction to unpleasant or unwanted situations. Like anger, feelings of disgust can help to protect from things you want to avoid.

It can also pose problems if it leads you to dislike certain people, including yourself, or situations that aren’t necessarily bad for you.

If you feel strong dislike toward a group of people, a specific person, or toward yourself, consider talking to a therapist about your feelings

Even if you aren’t sure exactly what’s behind your disgust, they can help you work through the emotion and explore positive ways of coping with it.

Putting It All Together

Emotions can be complicated. Some might feel intense, while others seem mild in comparison. You might feel conflicting emotions at any given time.

But emotions can serve a purpose, even when they’re negative. Instead of trying to change the emotions you experience, consider how you react to them. It’s usually the reactions that create challenges, not the emotions themselves.

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