The 6 Different Ways of Feeling

By on June 8, 2015
Business man pointing the text: How do you Feel?

Think you’re in touch with your feelings?  This article might have you questioning long-held assumptions…



We all have them. They changed the evolutionary game.

They’re what separated us from the reptiles, and allowed us to attach to our mammalian parents. And they’re what make us human, able to experience connection and inner guidance.

And yet…


When I say “I feel…”


I often think feeling is just one thing. When I’m having one, I think:

  • It’s true,
  • it’s the same as other feelings.
  • All feelings are made equal.

Except they’re not.

Different kinds of feelings are radically different.


What are my true feelings?


So, let’s unpack feeling. There are at least 6 different kinds.

Probably more. But let’s start with 6. They’re really different. Even though each one uses the verb ‘feel’.


1. Sensory Feelings

This is the most basic kind of feeling. And perhaps the original meaning of the word. It’s a sensory feeling.

I feel your hand in my hand.

I feel your touch. It’s undeniable. It’s not open to interpretation. I feel your hand. And it’s touching my hand.

However I can also feel internal sensations. These can be a little more elusive. But they’re the same awareness of sensation.

I feel a contraction in my belly.

If I can be quiet and still enough I’ll notice it. A slight pulling, dry sensation in my lower gut. It feels contracted. Sometimes it may not be so subtle. A raging suck in my entire lower body.

Feelings on the level of sensation are very direct. They’re closest to the source of experience. They require no interpretation. They simply require observation.


2. Emotional Feelings

I feel angry.

It’s not a sensation. Though it has a sensory base to it. Probably a hot sensation, rising. But it’s more than that. Anger is an emotion. And again, we feel it.

I feel sad.

It doesn’t require too much interpretation. Although sometimes it can take us years to actually recognize an emotion. It took me a long time to recognize anger in myself. I misidentified it a lot. And it would get twisted into depression.

There are four fundamental emotions: anger, sadness, fear and joy.


(Want to handle your most powerful, triggering emotions with great skill? Pema Chodron gives a free talk in this video, here!)  To access the video… Click on the image.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 11.01.11 PM


3. Feelings of Desire

I feel a desire to kiss you.

There are hundreds of shades of emotion. Some of things we call emotions are not really emotions.

Desire is not an emotion. It’s a pull.

It’s the pull of Eros. Eros is the root of erotic, but erotic doesn’t mean suspender belts and baby-oil, it means the mysterious force of nature that has us want something. It’s love with movement. It’s evolution rising up.

I love writing. I want to write.

We feel it. We feel desire. Desire is not sexual. Though it can be expressed sexually. Desire is the movement that wants to push out and through, into something new.

“I feel a desire to help you create your new teaching program.”

It’s not an emotional feeling. I just feel I want it. I desire it.

Desire is not an emotion, it’s a pull. Click To Tweet

4. Intuitive Feelings

“<>I’m feeling an intuition that it could be powerful for you to explore your relationship to money.”

I said that to a new client recently. I just had a ‘feeling’ that exploring his relationship to money was going to unlock a lot of the things he was struggling with.

It wasn’t an emotion or a sensation. It wasn’t a desire. I didn’t want him to explore it necessarily. But I had a feeling it could open up some things neither of us could quite see yet.

It was an intuition.

Dan Siegel, the famous Neurobiologist says intuition is a feeling based in science. It’s the ability to draw information from the neuronal webs that surround all your bodily organs.

We think our brain is in our head. It’s not. We have neural networks throughout our entire body. The biggest cluster is indeed in our head. But we have two enormous clusters around our heart, and in our gut too.

I have this really strong feeling we should go meet this guy. I don’t know why.

Intuition is the ability to feel the messages from our body.

(Use caution and discernment here, this can easily cross the line into Shadow Feelings, below.)


5. Relational Feelings

I feel really close to you.

Closeness can mean physical proximity. But when I say “I feel close” I normally mean that I feel connected to you. It’s a relational feeling.

We’re mammals. We’re designed to attach to one another. Young mammals attach to their parents in a way that other species don’t. It’s one of the things that separates us from reptiles, birds, insects and other creatures.

We can feel the texture of our relationships, in the moment.

I feel really seen by you.

…is not about literally being observed with the eyes, it’s feeling understood. In other words, you and I are connected, and we’re both feeling the mutual understanding that we’ve created.

Relational feelings are the felt experience of being connected with another human being.


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6. Shadow Feelings

There’s a bunch of stuff that we think we feel, that aren’t actually feelings. Or they are feelings, but they’re masquerading as something else.

We’re now into the territory of language games.

Language births consciousness. But it also warps it. We can say things in language that are impossible to actually experience in reality.

The philosopher Alfred Korzybski was one of the first to write about this. He pointed out that in language we can talk about the distinction between our bodies and our minds. And yet, if you really look, you can never find the split. It’s always a body-mind. You cannot actually experience one without the other.

I feel like I have to work harder to succeed.

It’s not a sensation. You can’t find any sensation in your body that’s labeled “I have to work harder.”
It’s not an emotion either. Or a desire. It could be an intuition. A calling to work harder.

When I ‘feel’ this feeling though, it’s not an intuition. It’s an assessment.

Some part of my mental map of the world says that the level of hardness with which I’m working is insufficient. And yet if I try and experience the scale of sufficient and insufficient I can’t find it. I’ll discover that my idea of ‘sufficient’ is completely arbitrary.

This is a shadow feeling.

And this particular one is simply a ‘belief’. It doesn’t rest on anything true. If you follow it down, you’ll discover that it’s simply a concept, resting on another concept, resting on another concept. There is no solid ground under it.

There’s no feeling there at all.


We’re misreading our feelings…


We’re making category errors. We’re mistaking one kind of feeling for another. A lot.

We misinterpret emotions as intuitions. I feel fear at the prospect of starting a new project (which is utterly inevitable), and yet I misidentify that as an intuition that I’m not meant to be doing it.

We misinterpret relational feelings as sensations. I experience disconnection with someone close to me, and then ‘feel’ that person has ‘pushed me away’.

We misinterpret beliefs as emotions. I get pissed off in relation to you, but I then tell you that “I feel you shouldn’t have said that thing to me.”

We’re confusing our feelings. It gets us into trouble in our relationships, in our businesses. It warps our connection to reality.

It confuses us, as we walk the winding path toward realizing our work in the world.


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About Ewan Townhead

Conscious entrepreneur, writer, consultant and general student of Life. CEO of Waking Up the Workplace, founder and janitor at Townhead Productions. Big fan of authenticity, rugby, Leonard Cohen, self expression and pecan pie.


  1. Robert MacNaughton

    October 3, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    Great distinctions here Ewan… important.
    Next step I want for a lot of people is ‘how’ to feel.
    Getting a lot of traction from David Hawkins great new book: “Letting Go”. Highly recommended.

    • Ewan Townhead

      October 7, 2015 at 5:39 am

      The how is in the noticing. Get slow and quiet enough to feel what’s already there. It’s not a disconnection issue (usually), it’s an intimacy issue. We’re unwilling to invite in our feelings, because they can hurt, and do hurt inevitably. But then we just end up in different bedrooms, and no one’s getting any.

      • Robert MacNaughton

        October 7, 2015 at 2:28 pm

        Thanks Ewan. Creating the space for the feeling to just be there is exactly what works for me. But in my experience, there’s more ‘hurt’ and pain in the management and avoidance of the feeling; which is what has me avoid and be afraid of it. Once I finally make contact and create space for it… it doesn’t hurt at all anymore.

  2. Ewan Townhead

    October 8, 2015 at 6:52 am

    Right. It’s so much less draining.

    For me it does still hurt. More in fact. But to borrow a Wilber phrase, it bothers me less.

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