“The eight primary emotions in the emotion wheel are sadness, anger, disgust, joy, trust, fear, surprise, and anticipation,” Espinoza explains. “Humans also have secondary emotions, which are emotional reactions to an emotion such as the feeling of shame when angry or feeling fear as a result of anger.”

According to research by psychologist David L. Robinson, it’s important to respond to your emotions authentically to connect to your truest self. If the primary emotion is not felt, you can lose connection to that feeling and instead identify with the secondary emotion, which almost functions as a red herring to what’s really happening. 

On the emotion wheel, the primary emotions are also grouped together in the center based on likeness and placed in direct opposition to its actual counter on the wheel to form its polar opposite. “Emotions exist along a spectrum of intensity,” psychotherapist and trauma coach Dylesia Hampton Barner, LCSW, explains. “Polar opposite emotions serve the purpose of capturing the emotional states leading to the most heightened intensity within a particular emotion and provide guidance for what can happen when unwanted emotions go unaddressed. For instance, annoyance can become rage.” 

Below are the descriptions, causes, and reactions of the foundational, primary emotions used in Robinson’s emotional experience research:





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