Emotion Color Wheel

How to Navigate and Use An Emotion Color Wheel

As time goes on and we begin to further understand ourselves, new methods of navigating our own identity and emotions are created. Some of them are complex, like many forms of therapy or in-depth personality tests. Some, however, are strikingly simple, like the emotion color wheel.


Open the emotion color wheel module


The emotions color wheel is a new way of understanding feelings that parents have been using for kids, and with great success. It’s also become fairly popular with some adults, who use it from time to time as a tool of self-exploration.

What is it, though, and how can we properly use an emotion color wheel?


What Is An Emotion Color Wheel?

An emotions wheel, or feelings wheel, is a color wheel where the colors represent various emotions. Think of it as a map to understanding your own feelings. While some may differ in which emotions they choose to convey, the most basic ones tend to have only six: disgust, anger, fear, surprise, happiness, and sadness.

They’re used as a way of expressing one’s feelings without saying it, as well as helping someone to identify what they themselves are feeling as a way to further understand themselves. They’re usually just printed out and are simple to use. Just point to the spot on the wheel that best expresses how you’re feeling.

An emotion color wheel as basic as having only six emotions is usually reserved for kids, who have a less complex way of seeing the world around them and understanding their own feelings and identity. For example, you wouldn’t exactly expect a four year old to identify guilt on a color wheel, or to really grasp what that means on a deeper level.

Don’t get it wrong, though: these aren’t meant for just children, but for growing adults and adults as well by upgrading the color wheel to a more complex version, with the main additions being intensity and blending the colors together.



Anger - Emotion color wheel

“Anger” is such a broad word. You could identify “anger” as being the same as “aggravated” and “enraged”, even though to be “aggravated” or “enraged” are completely different feelings. So how do you express intensity on a wheel? The answer is rather simple: get closer to the center. As feelings intensify, they get closer and closer to the center, with the center being the most intense you’ve ever felt this emotion before, and the outer edge being a lingering feeling. This would go with every emotion: from aggravated to enraged, from content to euphoric, from upset to devastated, from anxious to terrified, from squeamish to repulsed, from surprised to dumbfounded. All of these words can easily be used to convey how someone is feeling with ease.


Blending the Colors

happy - emotions color wheel

A good emotions wheel for older children or adults should have the borders between the emotions to be removed. Little kids tend to only react with one emotion, while adults have far more nuanced and complex ways of thinking about things. Unlike toddlers, we tend to feel more than one emotion at one time. That’s why many emotion wheels are in a certain order, which if you’re going to make your own color wheel by hand, you should take note of. Clockwise, they’re usually put: Angry, Afraid, Surprised, Happy, Sad, and Disgusted. They’re put this way because of which emotions you’re likely to blend together. One is likely to be angry and disgusted, such as when you see someone who betrayed you in the past. Same would go for happy and sad, such as a mother seeing her son finally leave home for college. You’re unlikely to see the mixing of two emotions such as happy and afraid, or sad and angry. This way you can merge two emotions together and use the method of intensity to really communicate to yourself how you feel.




How To Use an Emotion Color Wheel

Using an emotions wheel isn’t difficult at all, though it’s how you use it and who it’s for that matters. It’s going to be vastly different using it with a child than using it with, say, yourself.


With Kids

Kids, especially the youngest ones, always have trouble identifying what they themselves feel at times, or at least just can’t find the words. Many nonverbal kids are able to communicate just fine, but it’s the saying it aloud part that makes it difficult. They need a way to communicate and understand their own feelings in a way that makes sense to them.

For parents, I suggest using these often with your kids, and not just on their end. You should participate as well, as it teaches kids empathy and that other people have feelings as well. I suggest using it routinely, such as when they come home from school or when they’re getting in an argument with a sibling or friend. The emotions wheel is a parent’s best friend, especially if the child happens to be special needs or has general trouble communicating or expressing themselves. It’s important that children learn to explore their own identities, and should a parent continue this trend into the older years, one should consider updating the wheel to a more complex version with intensity and blended colors.


With Adults

This is mostly meant for just yourself, but if you find a way to use this with roommates or close friends, then that’s just perfect! As an adult, it’s safe to say that you know what the basic emotions are. However, the problem may lie in struggling to identify said emotions or understanding why you feel them in the first place.

With yourself, I would suggest using an emotions color wheel whenever you’re having a moment of intense emotion, or are on the other side of the spectrum where you feel so little that it’s bordering on apathetic. You should also just practice at the end of every night when summing up your day. In short, it’s to help you figure out how intense your emotions are and put them in context relative to other times in your life you’ve felt the same way. In a way, it assists you in understanding yourself and what makes you, well, you.

If I have one tip, it’s that you should strive to be on the outer ring of the wheel. While it’s okay to feel greatly sad, angry, or happy, having such intense emotions can be exhausting, and it helps to have a pretty stable mood without fluctuating in intensity.