Emotion Families

So today I thought I would talk about emotion families; often we can think we feel a range of emotions but not realise that they are part of an emotion family with a certain emotion being the “parent”. This is something I am learning about in DBT in the emotional regulation module and I was quite surprised to be honest how they all fell into families rather than just be sort of similar.

Like I said above emotions are in groups and when I sat and thought about it in DBT it made a lot of sense angerespecially when I struggle with emotions as it is. Now I can feel less overwhelmed (fear) and calm down to see the bigger picture. When I was looking at the “emotion families” handouts I noticed I really only feel 3 emotions which are fear, anger and love – although I’m not an emo so yes I do feel happiness too but I actually struggle to acknowledge that sometimes.

I have written out all of the emotions into a word art graphic to show just how many words we describe emotions actually fit into a parent emotion. There are a good few groups so this post may end up being just pictures!!!

disgustThe parent groups are:

  • anger
  • disgust
  • envy
  • love
  • fear
  • happiness
  • jealousy
  • guilt
  • sadness



We often actually feel emotions in cycles these cycles start with one emotion then often finish with another for instance guilt often follows anger depending on the situation. So for instance if I shout at the kids due to frustration which is an anger word I will more often than not feel bad because they are kids and they don’t know any better or because I have had a short fuse that day which has caused me to bite quicker than I would if I had had enough sleep/not in pain/hungry.

This next bit sounds silly at first but you can only experience an emotion if you are aware of the emotion. For example you may feel tired and low but unless you are aware of feeling low you aren’t experiencing the emotion sadness.

happinessCurrently in DBT we have been taking an emotion and working out why we feel this emotion. We start with writing what the describing word or emotion we are feeling is and the intensity we felt it. Next we write out the prompting event for the reaction, any vulnerability factors like like of sleep etc. How we interpreted the situation, what were we feeling within ourselves, any urges and our facial and body expressions. What we said and did in the situation and any after effects the emotion had on ourselves.

From there we start to check the facts of the situation – this often can’t fearbe done at the time depending on the emotion or feeling we are experiencing. But hindsight is a beautiful thing as they say and we can always do it after the event. So checking the facts is broken down into sections, so the first part is where we look for any extremes or judgements during the prompting event. Then we list as many other interpretations, thoughts or beliefs relating to the event we can which allows us to possibly decrease the intensity of the emotion. We need to check for threats as our emotions are often trying to protect us (fear, anger, guilt) and then we check to see what the worst scenario is and are there ways to cope with it? Once that long winded checking the facts is done we then look at our current intensity factor and hopefully we have had a crisis jealousaverted. Obviously some situations you can think about these as you are going through it but not all others allow for it.

The scenario we have been given in therapy is as follows:

You are broken down at the side of the road, it is raining and you see your friend driving past. They see you waving but keep on driving.

So we had to describe how we would feel at this point, obviously anger, fear, sadness and even disgust could be the main ones. As we automatically jump to the worst because we are getting cold and wet and no one is helping, yet the one person we thought would stop has just carried on going.love

What you don’t see is there is a young child in the back of the car critically ill and your friend is on the way to the hospital so they can seek medical attention.

Now we have more facts to go on the previous emotions may change or the intensity may change if you felt fear or sadness. But guilt and shame may now come into play when you have either spoken to your friend or another friend may have gotten back in touch with you. In this situation you depending on your emotion may have had chance to check the facts and your situation may seem less important and you feel concern for your friend and the small child. 

sadnessEmotions as I said earlier come about in cycles these are:

  1. prompting event
  2. attention/awareness
  3. interpretation
  4. preexisting vulnerability factors
  5. biological changes
  6. experiences
  7. expressions
  8. actions
  9. emotion name/awarenessshame
  10. aftereffects
  11. secondary emotions

Who knew there was such a huge process in which emotions happen! Let alone that they have families. I always thought something happened and then you responded to it. I was quite shocked that so many different factors filtered into how we acknowledge and experience let alone how few main emotions there actually are. Hopefully this hasn’t been too baffling because I am NOT a DBT trainer just someone going through it and this post partly was written to help me make further sense of the module.



To read last weeks Time to Talk Tuesday’s instalment on escapism through film click here.

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