What is the Emotion Wheel

The Emotion Wheel: Exploring and Navigating the Depths of Human Emotions

Emotions are an integral part of the human experience, shaping our perceptions, actions, and overall well-being. Understanding and effectively managing emotions is crucial for personal growth and healthy relationships. The Emotion Wheel, also known as the Wheel of Emotions, is a powerful tool that helps us explore, identify, and navigate the complex landscape of our emotions. In this article, we will delve into what the Emotion Wheel is, its significance in psychology, and how to use it for greater emotional awareness and self-reflection.

What is the Emotion Wheel?

The Emotion Wheel is a visual representation of the range of human emotions, organized in a circular format. It categorizes emotions into primary, secondary, and tertiary levels, allowing individuals to pinpoint and understand the nuanced variations within each emotional state. The wheel provides a framework for recognizing and expressing emotions more effectively, facilitating self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Understanding the Layers of the Emotion Wheel

1. Primary Emotions:

   At the core of the Emotion Wheel are the primary emotions, which are the fundamental and universally recognized emotions. These include joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. Each primary emotion serves as a base for more complex emotional experiences.

2. Secondary Emotions:

   Surrounding the primary emotions on the wheel are the secondary emotions, which arise from combinations and variations of the primary emotions. Examples of secondary emotions include frustration, envy, guilt, anxiety, excitement, and hope. These emotions exhibit a greater level of complexity and are influenced by personal experiences and contextual factors.

3. Tertiary Emotions:

   Extending further from the secondary emotions are the tertiary emotions, representing the subtle shades and nuances within the emotional spectrum. Tertiary emotions reflect more specific and contextualized feelings. Examples include disappointment, contentment, unease, fascination, serenity, and remorse.

How to Use the Emotion Wheel:

1. Self-Reflection:

   Begin by familiarizing yourself with the Emotion Wheel. Take a moment to reflect on your current emotional state and identify the primary emotion you are experiencing. Trace the path from the primary emotion to the secondary and tertiary emotions to gain a deeper understanding of your emotional landscape. This self-reflection can help you gain clarity and insight into your feelings.

2. Vocabulary Expansion:

   The Emotion Wheel can expand your emotional vocabulary, allowing you to articulate and express your emotions more effectively. As you explore the wheel, take note of the various emotions and their descriptions. This expanded vocabulary enables better communication and connection with others when discussing emotions and experiences.

3. Emotional Regulation:

   The Emotion Wheel can assist in developing emotional regulation skills. By identifying the specific emotions you are feeling, you can respond to them in a more intentional and adaptive manner. Recognizing the nuances within emotions can help you choose appropriate coping strategies and regulate your emotional responses more effectively.

4. Empathy and Understanding:

   The Emotion Wheel is not only a personal tool but also a way to enhance empathy and understanding towards others. By familiarizing yourself with the range of emotions on the wheel, you can develop a greater capacity to recognize and validate the emotions of those around you. This fosters empathy and supports more meaningful and compassionate connections with others.

5. Therapeutic Applications:

   Therapists and mental health professionals often utilize the Emotion Wheel in therapy sessions. It serves as a visual aid for clients to identify and explore their emotions, promoting self-awareness and facilitating the therapeutic process. The wheel can be a helpful tool in various therapeutic modalities, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and emotion-focused therapy.


The Emotion Wheel provides a valuable framework for understanding and navigating the intricacies of human emotions. It offers a visual representation of the emotional landscape, allowing individuals to explore the depths of their feelings, expand their emotional vocabulary, and develop greater self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

By using the Emotion Wheel, we can gain a deeper understanding of our emotional experiences, recognize the nuances within emotions, and effectively communicate and regulate our emotions. It serves as a tool for self-reflection, vocabulary expansion, emotional regulation, empathy, and therapeutic applications.

Remember that emotions are complex and multifaceted, and the Emotion Wheel is a guide rather than a definitive map. Everyone’s emotional experiences are unique, and emotions can manifest differently based on personal, cultural, and situational factors. The Emotion Wheel is meant to support and enhance our understanding and exploration of emotions, but it’s essential to recognize that emotions are fluid and dynamic.

As you engage with the Emotion Wheel, embrace curiosity and self-compassion. Allow yourself the space to explore and embrace the full range of emotions you experience. Use the wheel as a tool for self-discovery, growth, and enhanced emotional well-being.

Incorporating the Emotion Wheel into your daily life can help you navigate the complexities of emotions, cultivate greater self-awareness, and foster healthier relationships. As you delve into the depths of the Wheel of Emotions, embrace the opportunity to connect with your inner emotional world and embark on a journey of self-exploration and personal growth.

So, take a moment to explore the Emotion Wheel, embrace the richness of human emotions, and embark on a path of greater emotional awareness, understanding, and well-being.

I'm Alana Wade, a psychologist with over five years of experience working with relationships. I've dedicated my career to helping couples and families create lasting, meaningful connections.