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Emotion, Feeling & Sensation / SNB110

Updated: Dec 21, 2022


  • In this episode, I…

    • Discuss what emotion, feeling and sensation are in relation to the Polyvagal Theory.

  • My name is Justin Sunseri.

  • I’m a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist obsessed with the polyvagal theory.

  • Welcome to Stuck Not Broken.


But before I get into things -put yourself first. I keep every episode as safe as I can, but just by the nature of the topics, you may experience some stuff come up. Take a break if you need to.

This podcast is not therapy, nor intended to be a replacement for therapy.


  • Often used interchangeably

  • How i am defining these

    • Like a scaffolding, one built on top of the other

    • Emotion is the outward expression of feeling - emoting

      • Smiling, hugging, pulling back with eyes wide, eyebrows downward and nose crinkled upward

    • Feelings are the conscious awareness and experience of bodily sensations

      • Not necessarily a mindful awareness

      • More like just aware and naming the feelings

        • Sadness, anger, dread, anxiety...

    • Sensations are the physiological shifts happening in the body itself

      • Thoughts, images are cognitions from the mind which stem from these pieces

      • Temperature, texture, color, time of bodily sensations, muscle tension or relaxation, spontaneous postures

  • Emotions built on feelings, feelings built on sensations


  • Emotions are the result of feelings

    • Feelings are the result of autonomic sensations

      • Autonomic shifts are the result of neuroceptions

        • Neuroceptions are the result of encoded DNA responses to certain stimuli

          • DNA encoding is the result of evolutionary natural selection

          • Natural selection is the success of traits that are adaptive to the local environment that result in the trait being passed on through reproduction

  • Okay too far with the breakdown

  • Emotions are the expression of feelings, feelings are the experience of indirectly felt sensations

    • When sensations are not experienced directly, they turn into feelings

    • This comes from lingering autonomic ladder shifts that are not felt

    • Living in a shutdown state daily will feel like sadness, hopelessness

      • But under that is emptiness, shame, being in a void, heaviness, darkness, disconnection, numbness, cold, neverending, drained, tired - Often in the stomach or whole body

      • Closer to the experience in the body

      • Behaviorally show up as lethargy, isolating, over-sleeping


  • Emotions from feelings, feelings from sensations, sensations from neuroceptions

    • The neurocepting of safety, danger or life threat is the catalyst for all of this

  • Faulty neuroception can lead to feelings and behaviors that are not appropriate for the situation

    • Faulty neuroception comes from existing in a stuck defensive state

    • Stuck in a fight sympathetic state and then going to work will set you up for interactions that will be reinforced through that state and confirm the fight energy

      • This is lingering unfelt sensations, leading to feelings of anger and aggression and irritability, leading to behaviors that correspond

  • Neuroceptions of:

    • Safety - ventral vagal

      • Behaviors of: being close to others, hugs, playfulness, eye crinkles, prosody

      • Feelings of: connection, joy, calm, relaxation, awe

      • Sensations of: clarity, lightness, expansiveness

    • Flight - sympathetic

      • Behaviors of: distractible, keeping busy, leg shaking, picking at self

      • Feelings of: anxiety, worry, nervousness

      • Sensations of: higher heart rate, tense muscles, chest pressure

    • Fight - sympathetic

      • Behaviors of: clenched fists, teeth grinding, hitting, yelling

      • Feelings of: anger, irritation, aggression, pressure

      • Sensations of: higher heart rate, tense muscles esp in arms and upper body, pressure on chest, power/not anger

    • Shutdown

      • Discussed before


  • Clarity in discussing with a therapist what is happening within you

  • Clarity in understanding what is happening within you

  • Clarity in differentiating these pieces in real time

  • Being able to ‘dig deeper’ to the root of the present moment experience

    • We get stuck and overwhelmed with thoughts

    • But parallel to that is the emotion and bodily sensations

  • Feelings are still feelings and validation is helpful

    • No right or wrong

    • Validation, not indulgence

      • You do feel the feelings, they are real

        • But may come from faulty neuroceptions or from a stuck state that is incorrectly reading the situation

        • But the feelings are still real

        • So validate, maybe normalize the stuck state

          • Then dig deeper if you can and experience the state itself


  • I hope you’ve learned something new to help you climb your polyvagal ladder.

  • Bye!

Intro/Outro music & Transition Sounds by Benjo Beats -

National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1 (800) 273-8255

National Domestic Violence Hotline -1 (800) 799-7233

LGBT Trevor Project Lifeline - 1 (866) 488-7386

National Sexual Assault Hotline - 1 (800) 656-4673

Crisis Text Line - Text “HOME” to 741741

Call 911 for emergency

This podcast is not therapy, not intended to be therapy or be a replacement for therapy. Nothing in this creates or indicates a therapeutic relationship. Please consult with your therapist or seek for one in your area if you are experiencing mental health sx. Nothing in this podcast should be construed to be specific life advice; it is for educational and entertainment purposes only.


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