Emotional Wheel

Navigating Your Emotions: The Power of the Emotional Wheel for PTSD and C-PTSD

Discover the art of understanding and managing your emotions, heighten your self-awareness, improve emotional communication, and elevate your overall well-being through using of the PTSD UK Emotional Wheel.

**Due to high demand, this Emotional Wheel is now available in printed postcard format in our online PTSD UK Supporters Store!  **

Emotions are a fundamental aspect of the human experience, and they play a crucial role in how we perceive and respond to the world around us. At times, emotions can be overwhelmingly intense, while in other instances, they may remain subdued, concealed, and challenging to identify. For people dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), understanding and managing emotions can be particularly challenging. When you find yourself grappling with feelings of frustration and anger, singling out a single emotion can be a daunting task. However, having a range of emotions at your disposal can assist you in pinpointing precisely what lies beneath the surface. This is where the “Wheel of Feelings,” also known as the “Emotional Wheel,” steps in as a powerful tool for navigating the intricate landscape of emotions.

In this article, we will explore what the Emotional Wheel is, how it works, and why it can be a valuable resource for people dealing with mental health conditions, especially PTSD and C-PTSD.

What is the Emotional Wheel?

The Emotional Wheel is a visual representation of human emotions, often arranged in a circular or wheel-like format and encompasses terms from psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics. It categorises a wide range of emotions, allowing people to pinpoint and articulate what they are feeling more accurately. While there are variations of the Emotional Wheel, they typically include primary emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and calm, along with secondary emotions that branch out from these primary categories.

When you look at the Feelings Wheel, it might remind you of a colour wheel you’ve seen before. It’s made up of different circles within each other, and these circles help us understand our feelings better. The Feelings Wheel is divided into three layers: primary emotions, secondary emotions, and tertiary emotions, kind of like peeling an onion to get to the core.

Primary emotions: Imagine the innermost circle as the heart of your feelings. Here, you’ll find basic emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. These are the big, overarching emotions that give you a general idea of how you’re feeling.

Secondary emotions: Moving outward from the core, you encounter secondary emotions. These emotions are like the branches that grow from the primary ones. For example, under anger, you might find feelings like insecure, bliss, or exposed. Secondary emotions help you dig deeper and understand your emotions in more detail.

Tertiary emotions: Finally, we have the outermost layer of the Feelings Wheel, where you find tertiary emotions. These are the most specific and detailed emotions you can experience. Tertiary emotions capture the subtle differences that make each emotional experience unique. For instance, under sadness, you might discover emotions like hopeless, betrayed or rejected. It’s like zooming in to see the finer points of how you feel.

How Does the Emotional Wheel Work?

Imagine the Emotional Wheel as a compass for your feelings. It provides a comprehensive map of emotions, helping you identify, label, and understand your emotional experiences. Here’s how it works:

  1. Identifying Emotions: The Emotional Wheel offers a vocabulary to express emotions that may be difficult to describe. It helps people move beyond the basic emotions (happy, sad, mad) and pinpoint more nuanced feelings (such as content, disappointed, irritated).
  2. Connecting Emotions: The Wheel demonstrates how emotions are interconnected. For example, it shows how sadness can evolve into feelings of despair or melancholy, while happiness can lead to joy or contentment. This interconnectedness is crucial for recognising emotional patterns and triggers.
  3. Self-awareness: By regularly referring to the Emotional Wheel, people can develop greater self-awareness. This self-awareness is a powerful tool for those with PTSD and C-PTSD because it can help them identify triggers and responses associated with their trauma.
  4. Communication: For people with PTSD or C-PTSD, discussing their emotional experiences can be challenging. The Emotional Wheel offers a common language to communicate feelings with therapists, support networks, and loved ones, enhancing the effectiveness of therapy and support.

Why is the Emotional Wheel Useful for PTSD and C-PTSD?

  1. Enhanced Self-Regulation: One of the key challenges for individuals with PTSD and C-PTSD is emotional dysregulation. The Emotional Wheel empowers them to identify their emotions accurately, allowing for more effective regulation and management. This, in turn, can reduce the intensity of emotional triggers and responses.
  2. Trauma Processing: Understanding and categorising emotions is essential for processing trauma. The Emotional Wheel enables individuals to break down complex emotional experiences related to their trauma, making it easier to address and work through these issues in therapy.
  3. Emotional Resilience: PTSD and C-PTSD can leave individuals feeling overwhelmed by their emotions. The Emotional Wheel promotes emotional resilience by helping them recognize that emotions are natural, transient, and can be managed effectively with time and practice.
  4. Improved Relationships: Communication is a cornerstone of healthy relationships, but PTSD and C-PTSD often hinder effective emotional expression. The Emotional Wheel can bridge this gap, enabling individuals to convey their feelings more clearly to their loved ones, fostering understanding and support.
  5. Supporting the Healing Process: Healing from trauma is a deeply personal journey, and the Emotional Wheel is a versatile tool that can be integrated into various therapeutic approaches. Whether through cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), or mindfulness practices, the Emotional Wheel aligns with many therapeutic modalities.

Practical Tips for Using the Emotional Wheel

  1. Regularly Reflect: Take time each day to check in with your emotions. Use the Emotional Wheel as a reference to label and acknowledge what you’re feeling. You can save a copy to your phone, print it out, or purchase a luxury printed version from our Supporters Store here.
  2. Track Emotional Patterns: Over time, you may notice patterns in your emotions. Use the Wheel to explore the relationships between different feelings and identify potential triggers.
  3. Share with Your Therapist: Bring the Emotional Wheel to your therapy sessions. It can serve as a valuable tool for your therapist to better understand your emotional experiences and tailor treatment accordingly.
  4. Empower Loved Ones: Share the Emotional Wheel with your support network. This can facilitate open and empathetic conversations about your emotional well-being.


The Emotional Wheel is more than just a tool; it’s a compass for your emotional journey. For people grappling with the complex emotional terrain of PTSD and C-PTSD, this wheel can be a source of empowerment and self-discovery. By using the Emotional Wheel, people can gain a deeper understanding of their emotions, better regulate their responses, and ultimately, progress on their path to healing and recovery. Remember, your emotions are valid, and you have the power to navigate them with grace and resilience.


**Due to high demand, this Emotional Wheel is now available in printed postcard format in our online PTSD UK Supporters Store!  **

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