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Basic Emotions Reference

Exploring emotions is an important part of therapy. However, many people have a hard time identifying and naming their feelings. Complex emotions are often hidden behind catch-all terms such as “I feel good” or “I feel bad.”

The Basic Emotions handout lists four basic emotions that are commonly discussed in therapy—happiness, sadness, fear, and anger—alongside their related complex emotions. This simple worksheet may be helpful in many different scenarios:

  • When a client struggles to associate a feeling with an experience, this handout provides a simple list of emotion words.
  • When a client uses a broad emotion word as a catch-all, this handout gives language for more specific emotions.
  • When a client completes therapy homework, such as a mood or thought log, this worksheet provides a helpful reference.

For a longer list of emotions, check out the List of Emotions worksheet.

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1. Ekman, P. (1992). Are there basic emotions? Psychological Review, 99(3), 550–553.

2. Gu, S., Wang, F., Patel, N. P., Bourgeois, J. A., & Huang, J. H. (2019). A model for basic emotions using observations of behavior in Drosophila. Frontiers in psychology, 781.

3. Tracy, J. L., & Randles, D. (2011). Four models of basic emotions: a review of Ekman and Cordaro, Izard, Levenson, and Panksepp and Watt. Emotion review, 3(4), 397-405.

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