Unlocking the Power of the Emotion Wheel: A Guide to Self-Awareness

CoachHub · 23 January 2023 · 5 min read

Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are complex topics yet immensely powerful. Knowing yourself and being able to regulate your emotions is a vital skill to have in your personal and professional life. Thankfully, it can be learned in time. Better awareness and self-regulation lead to better relationships, better communication and better results at work.

Plutchik’s wheel of emotions is a simple and effective tool to help with the process of improving self-awareness and emotional intelligence. The feeling wheel offers a map of human emotions to use in times of stress.

Using this tool provides an insight into the complex world of our emotions and can help us to unlock our power over our emotions.

emotion wheel

(image source)

Understanding the Emotion Wheel

The Emotion Wheel is a visual map of the various types of human emotions. The tool is used to help individuals identify their emotions and guide them to self-regulate in moments of intense emotional discomfort.

The Emotion Wheel was developed by Robert Plutchik. Plutchik’s theory on human emotions states that there are 8 primary emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust. The wheel displays these 8 categories of emotion and claims they are at the root of all feelings. The secondary emotions on the periphery are less intense experiences of these eight emotions or are a combination of two primary emotions. The centre also displays the most intense experience of our primary emotions.

The components of the Emotion Wheel:


Each category of emotion is represented by a different colour. The more intense the emotion, the more intense the shade.

2. Layers

The outer layers show the least intense emotions. Moving into the centre layers you have the primary emotions and at the core of the wheel you have the more intensified versions of the primary emotions.

3. Relations

The categories of emotions relate to each other in two ways. The categories combine to create secondary emotions in the spaces between while the categories opposite from each other demonstrate contrasting emotions.

The purpose of the wheel is to offer clarity and guidance during challenging emotional experiences. The wheel offers an insight into the various possible emotions, their combinations and their contrasts. Using the wheel we can label the primary emotion, identify potential paths of emotions, (secondary emotions) and learn how to balance negative emotions with the opposite, positive emotion.


Using the Emotion Wheel for Self-Awareness

The Emotion Wheel is an excellent tool to improve self-awareness. When an individual is overwhelmed and unsettled by intense emotion they have a visual tool to give them an insight into what is happening. Having an awareness of your emotions will help you to avoid destructive reactions to your emotions and allow you to respond in an empowering way.

How to use the wheel to improve your self-awareness:

Plutchik’s theory of the nature of human emotions states that all emotions start with a stimulus and end with a behaviour:

Stimulus → perception → feelings → physiological change → impulse →reaction → behaviour.

Understanding this journey of your emotions from stimulus to response helps you to improve your awareness of your emotions and regulate your responses. This process begins with recognizing the stimuli that create negative emotions. You can then design your reality to take these triggers into account.

It is impossible to avoid every negative stimulus, therefore you must also look at the moment of impulse →reaction and learn to insert a pause. Creating space between impulses and reactions allows you to take time to choose a response that serves you best.

Knowing your triggers helps you to know when you are vulnerable as well as recognize the feelings that may cause you to react impulsively. Becoming aware of these situations enables you to choose environments and responses that allow you to express yourself to your highest degree.

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Managing Emotions with the Emotion Wheel

Learning to manage your emotions can be one of the most empowering skills you can learn. When you can successfully self-regulate in moments of intense emotional discomfort you become untouchable from external triggers. An antagonising colleague or a difficult customer cannot get the better of you because you are able to recognize your emotions, create space between your reaction and consciously choose a reasonable response that will serve your objectives.

How to use the wheel to self-regulate your emotions:

Becoming overwhelmed with emotion is a normal part of the human experience but it does not have to be the norm in your life. With tools, such as the emotional wheel, you can learn to manage your emotions and improve your professional and personal life.

The power of the emotion wheel is two-fold:

  1. Identifying & naming emotions: seeing your emotions clearly helps you self-regulate and become more emotionally intelligent.
  2. Recognizing complementary and opposite emotions: regain control and balance your behaviour.

With identification comes separation and the ability to choose a response rather than being lost in the emotion. For example, instead of being controlled by anger you can recognize it, take a step back and choose to respond with patience. With the practice of balancing your emotions with their opposite, you can more easily shift them. For instance, if you can recognize feelings of boredom and see that the contrasting emotion on the wheel is acceptance you can begin to cultivate the emotion of acceptance towards your present situation.

Digital Coaching

Learning to understand, manage and regulate your emotions can be a challenge for any human. It is often hard to look at your emotions objectively and understand what emotional patterns and limitations need to be overcome. Getting external help along the journey can help to identify what lies beyond your awareness.

A personalised digital coaching program is an excellent resource to identify disempowering emotional patterns, establish new tools to self-regulate and create new ways of responding. A coach can help define your limitations, set a vision for the future and keep you accountable.
Programs can be tailored to your exact needs and can take place in any location. With a small investment in yourself, you can receive expert support and guidance toward creating a new way of managing your emotions.

With regular coaching sessions, you can better understand yourself and your emotions and overcome the challenges that are holding you back. Digital coaching is the perfect tool for establishing new patterns and releasing old emotional habits. This is a challenging process but with the right support, you can create significant change in your life.

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The process of becoming more self-aware and emotionally intelligent can be enjoyable and enriching. With tools such as the Emotion Wheel, we empower ourselves to be more in tune with our emotions and understand the best way forward. Consider exploring digital coaching as a means of strengthening awareness and self-regulation. A professional coach acts as a guide, motivator and teacher who can help you integrate tools such as the Emotion Wheel into your daily life. You will undoubtedly create more ease and joy in your life with heightened self-awareness and emotional regulation and it is a worthy process to invest in.

Cathy Stapleton
Cathy is an Irish writer based in Berlin, Germany who is passionate about using words to inspire growth. As a certified mindfulness facilitator and performance coach, Cathy aims to create work that helps people connect with themselves and heighten their awareness. When she is not writing she is usually running in nature, meditating or contemplating an existential crisis.

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