Exploring the Feelings Wheel

Exploring The Feelings Wheel

Episode Description

In today's episode of Mind Your Mind, your host Tim Unsinn talks with Christy Wilkie about the Feelings Wheel*. Christy, a therapist at Dakota Family Services, says humans experience 34,000 different feelings! She demonstrates how to use the Feelings Wheel to help you identify your emotions so you can control the behaviors associated with them. *Adapted by classtools.net from the Emotional Wheel. The Emotional Wheel was developed by American psychologist, Dr. Robert Plutchik.

What to Expect

  • Learn how the Feelings Wheel works.
  • Understand how to use the Feelings Wheel to identify your primary emotions.
  • Learn how to help your child identify and deal with difficult emotions.

Resources: Learn More

Things to Think About

  • Are your emotions holding you back from living your best life?
  • Does your child need help identifying and managing their feelings?
  • Can you put your feelings into words?

About the Guest


Christy Wilkie provides outpatient therapy for children and adolescents, ages 5-25. Christy typically uses a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach, but also provides collaborative problem solving and several other types of therapy. She earned her master’s degree in Social Work from Indiana University-Purdue University. Christy provides telehealth and in-person services in our Fargo location. Call 1-800-201-6495 to make an appointment.

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Exploring the Feelings Wheel

Featuring Christy Wilkie, LCSW, Dakota Family Services

Tim Unsinn: Welcome to Mind your Mind, a podcast presented by Dakota Family Services, an outpatient behavioral health clinic located in Minot, Bismarck, and Fargo, North Dakota. In this podcast, I will talk with our experts about understanding and nurturing our mental health and wellness. I'm your host, Tim Unsinn. Join me each episode as we explore the intricacies of our minds, decrease the stigma of mental illness, learn practical tips for managing our mental health and wellbeing, and recognize when it's time to ask for help. Join me now to Mind your Mind.

Tim Unsinn: Welcome to this episode of Mind Your Mind. Our guest is Christy Wilkie. Christy is a therapist in Fargo and provides outpatient therapy for children and adolescents age five to 25. Christy, it is great to have you on Mind your Mind.

Christy Wilkie: Not as great as it is to be here.

Tim Unsinn: We're going to get into today's topic, which is the feelings wheel. And I don't think that means the feeling I get when I'm behind the wheel, but we'll get into that in just a second. First question up for you. Why do you do what you do?

Christy Wilkie: You know, I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I really believe in the strength of the human spirit. And I think that everybody deserves to try to live their best life. I've been passionate about mental health from a very young age. My dad was a therapist, so I kind of grew up with that being a part of my language. Helping children has always been a passion of mine since as long as I can remember. So as I grew up and I developed that passion into really focusing in on mental health and understanding the stigma that's around it, and really having people be validated that the way that they feel is okay, but they can also feel better. And to try to help people find their healing and really their potential in life and realizing that they don't have to be miserable, that they can, they can have some control over their lives and live it to the fullest.

Tim Unsinn: Today's topic is feelings wheel. First of all, I'd like you to kind of tell us what the feelings wheel is. And then how do we use that in therapy?

Christy Wilkie: The Feelings Wheel is a wheel and it works from the inside out. So it starts with like the main emotions that we feel like happy, sad, mad, surprised, disgusted. And it works out to kind of further delineate what the actual feeling is. Because sometimes those big words that we learned from one we're like nine years old is really what they tell us when we're talking about emotions is that most people talk about their emotions like a nine year old does. And human beings, as a random fact, feel about 34,000 different emotions. And so for people to put words on that is really difficult. And so the feelings wheel breaks it down into the big emotions and then it delineates it farther from there. And then even farther from there to kind of expand your emotional intelligence and really kind of identify what you're feeling.

Tim Unsinn: All right. And with that many feelings, 34,000, how do we then use the feeling wheel as part of therapy?

Christy Wilkie: Sure. So a lot of people have big emotions and when we have big emotions that is often causes us to participate in behaviors that we don't want to participate in. And really what emotions are, is a loss of control. Emotions elicit a loss of control and human beings, just by default, want to find control because not having control is not comfortable. And so what a lot of people default to is anger because anger gives you the illusion of being in control when it's absolutely the opposite. Anger is an easy emotion to show, but it's very rarely the one that is behind that. So when you use the feelings wheel in therapy, you can kind of start with that angry emotion and then break it down into feeling, let down humiliated, mad, aggressive, frustrated, sad. And so then we kind of work out from there to be like, well, if you're frustrated, what is it that's triggering that frustration.

Christy Wilkie: And so it helps them get back to the origin of the actual emotion that they're feeling. Which is really good for people because it, it helps name the thing that is causing them to feel dysregulated. That's causing them to do things that hurt other people. That's causing them to do things that hurt themselves. And so instead of finding negative ways to find control, either through violence or yelling or name calling, they can find control in a positive way to, to name the thing that they're feeling, to expand their emotional intelligence, and put a word on what it is that's actually going on inside of them.

Tim Unsinn: So with 34,000 emotions, how easy, or how hard is it to even using the feelings wheel to narrow it down into an area of feelings, because with 34,000 it's gotta be just a, a wide variance of what that looks like

Christy Wilkie: You know, it's, it's, it's easier than you would think it would be. I mean, the feelings wheel, it doesn't have 34,000 emotions on it. We can't name every emotion that everybody feels, but it does. I mean, it probably has about 150 somewhere around there. And they just put words to things that people don't have words for—embarrassment, shame, guilt, those are all emotions that people don't like to feel. And your brain kind of kicks in and goes, it's a fight or flight thing. When you start feeling those icky emotions that you don't want to feel, your body starts to feel kind of icky, or that there's a threat somewhere in the environment and your brain goes into fight or flight, which is either you run away from it, or you kind of find these ways to have control over it, that aren't necessarily healthy.

Christy Wilkie: And so once people find out that there are other words they can use other than anger, and that it's okay to have those emotions, it really becomes easier than it sounds really. There's a lot of stigma attached to emotions specifically with men, but also with women that there are, there are things that we should, and shouldn't feel. I had a kid this morning, actually, that I was talking to. And he just said, I'm a boy. And I, and I feel all these emotions and I'm not supposed to be that way. And just to validate that, yeah, everybody has these emotions. Everybody feels these all, every given time. And to try to push them away, to try to make you feel better ends up hurting you in the long run, let's just figure out what it is. Like. Let's throw some words out there and see if he can relate to any of the words that I'm using. And then, and then tell them that it's okay to feel them and accept them in instead of keeping fighting them away. It, it gives people a lot of whenever you can name anything that's going on inside of you, there's some relief.

Tim Unsinn: It's probably a lot of pressure on the clients that you see, you know, talking about emotions we're not able to label. But this is a very helpful tool to label it, to name it and to say it, that's gotta be just relieving.

Christy Wilkie: Absolutely relieving. And for a lot of younger kids, those, those words don't necessarily make sense. And that's on me as a therapist to try to find ways to show them what that looks like. Whether it's through a picture or whether it's through faces, we'll do a lot of face drawings of what people look like when they feel different emotions. Because little kids have a harder time with big words, like even annoyed, embarrassed. Like that's not where they're at. And so for them to see that there's a range of emotions, they can feel rather than just mad, sad, happy is a relief. And it kind of opens up a lot of doors for lots of people.

Tim Unsinn: How much harder is it for kids that come to you that, uh, you know, we look at the feelings wheel that don't hear a lot of, or see a lot of those emotions within the house. There's not a lot of expression words verbally or physically. How is, how does that work into it.

Christy Wilkie: It actually helps a lot of families because we don't do a lot of work with just kids. When we are doing work with kids, we're doing work with families and that's super important. And it's a core value of Dakota Family Services, of Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch is that we're treating the kid, but we're also helping the family. And the family also needs to help put words on those feeling wheels too. And when you can just take it and give it to the parents and say, this is a tool you can use if they're having a bad day. Sit down with them and let's, let's figure this out. And then also role model with your child, what you're feeling and use it and help you expand your own emotional vocabulary. Because kids who are in therapy end up having more words to describe what they're feeling than people that have never done it. That's their parents included. So bringing the parents along on the journey with us to have it just be more of how they talk and in their house is super important.

Tim Unsinn: That must be enlightening for them as well.

Christy Wilkie: It is. I have a lot of parents that will come in and they'll explain to me what, you know, what their child is doing. And I'll explain how feelings work and why we feel what we feel and that it's okay to feel what we feel. And you kind of sometimes see the light bulb go off in parent's brains. They're like it, maybe that's what I do to. Maybe you do. And that's okay.

Tim Unsinn:  You are listening to Mind your Mind. Our guest is Christie Wilkie, and we're talking about the feelings wheel, a lot of great information, love podcasts. It's an opportunity to pause, rewind, listen, again, it's a great opportunity to share as well. And in our final question, Christie, before we let you go, for everyone that I get a chance to talk with, the question is, what do you do to personally mind your mind?

Christy Wilkie: In doing the work that I do. I know that I have to be in a space in my own, in my own body and in my own brain to be able to help the people that come into my office. So I prioritize my own mental health all of the time, because I'm no good to anybody if I'm not well, myself. And everybody deserves the best version of me when they walk into the office. So I'm very good about I run. I run every morning, somewhere between three and seven miles every day. Uh, I golf, I walk, I spend a lot of time with my family and friends. I take time to meditate. I make sure that I get eight hours of sleep every night. Just as a fun fact, sleep over all age ranges from infants to senior citizens, it has always been imperative to everybody's mental health and how we function. So making sure that you're getting sleep and eating a balanced diet, I do all those. And I laugh a lot really. I'm really funny. I think I'm funny. I try to use my sense of humor and, and surround myself with people that elicit those positive emotions in me too.

Tim Unsinn: You are funny, and you're fun to be around. Christy, thank you so much for your time on Mind your mind. We appreciate you sharing your time and your talent with us.

New Speaker: Thank you so much.

New Speaker: Thank you for joining us for Mind your mind, a podcast presented by Dakota Family Services. You can't have health without behavioral health. Remember to mind your mind. For more information, links to additional resources, contact information, and much more go to Dakotafamily services.org.


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