Skip to content →

Feelings vs. Emotions

A few years ago someone insisted to me in a conversation that “feelings” didn’t mean the same as “emotions”.

I thought about this for a while, and then decided that maybe there was indeed a difference: I convinced myself that feelings were something deep and emotions were a surface phenomenon, like ripples on a lake, the visible part of a feeling.

I tried to convince a bunch of acquaintances of this distinction in discussions but they remained stubbornly unimpresssed.

A few days ago I caught an old movie, “Voyage to Italy”, by Roberto Rossellini from the early 1950s with his then scandalous wife Ingrid Bergman costarring with Gerald Sanders, a couple in trouble, talking English and dubbed into Italian. It was pretty good — one of the reviews said it instantaneously made every movie before it look ten years older, and it’s true. It’s ostensibly part of the Italian neo-realistic wave, but it’s concerned with personal life and the bourgeoisie, the stuff of most novels, and not with a social agenda. Even though it has an unconvincing ending, you can see that it’s closer to Antonioni than what came before it from a psychological point of view, though it’s direct rather than elliptical.

The point of this is that somewhere in the middle of the movie Ingrid Bergman says of her husband to someone who remarks that he seems very private: “He doesn’t like betraying his feelings.” It struck me that the naturalness of that remark indicated an archetypal knowledge that feelings are betrayable, and hence perhaps indeed something deeper.

Published in blog