Types of Emotions – How Your Emotions Arise and Evolve

Types of Emotions – How Your Emotions Arise and Evolve


How many types of emotions are there, and how are they related to one another? This article aims to help you understand the way your emotions arise.

At any given moment, you are likely to feel at least one emotion.

But where do they all come from?

To understand this, you need to learn more about the main types of emotions.

Primary vs. Secondary Emotions

Emotions can be divided into primary and secondary emotions.

Primary emotions arise during significant events. They’re often very strong and overwhelming, but they don’t last very long.

With time, primary emotions evolve into secondary ones. The more time has passed since the initial encounter, the less powerful the primary emotions. When this happens, they intertwine and morph into other, more complex emotions.

These are the emotions that most often confuse us. 

To help you learn how to tell apart primary and secondary emotions, let’s break down both types.

What Are the 8 Primary Emotions?

The most widely accepted theories in modern psychology recognize eight different primary emotions:

  1. Anger
  2. Fear
  3. Happiness
  4. Sadness
  5. Interest
  6. Surprise
  7. Disgust
  8. Shame

Each of these emotions is strong enough for you to recognize it as soon as it arises.

Emotions happen abruptly the moment an event triggers them. They’re a part of a primal instinct that lets you react quickly.

Primary emotions can be quite overwhelming, which can cloud your judgment if you don’t have control over them.

But what about secondary emotions? Do they hold the same power over us as primary emotions?

What Are Secondary Emotions?

Secondary emotions stem from one or more primary emotions. They can also come about as a result of how you feel about a primary emotion. For example, after you get angry about something, you might realize that this emotion was uncalled for, which can result in shame about the anger.

Secondary emotions tend to linger for much longer than primary emotions, and can sometimes overshadow their predecessors. This can be quite harmful, as it can make you avoid the root of your issues.

How to tell the difference?

Despite all the different theories about emotions, there are some methods of categorization we can agree on.

Dividing emotions into primary and secondary emotions is a tool that can help you understand the way you feel. Because sometimes, knowing the difference between the two types of emotions can be hard.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, answer the following questions:

  • Is your emotion a direct reaction to something that just happened? (yes = primary)
  • After the event has ended, did the emotion go away?(yes = primary)
  • Is your emotion getting stronger with time? (yes = secondary)
  • Is it ambiguous and hard to interpret? (yes = secondary)

Practice healthy emotional responses

You are what you consistently do. Your habits shape your character.

-Jon Butcher, trainer of Mindvalley’s Lifebook Quest

If you ever feel like you’re at the mercy of your emotions, there are strategies you can use to develop greater emotional regulation.

With practice, you can learn how to rewire your emotions so that you can respond in a way that is more manageable.

With a little hard work and dedication, you can grow to understand your emotions on a deeper and more profound level. 

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Written by
Irina Yugay