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Dyad & Compound Emotions

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Humans are very complex emotional beings. We are capable of far more than only the core/basic emotions. We can combine emotions that create entirely new internal experiences. We can process those emotions with a wide variety of thoughts, which feedback into the emotional experience, and can even alter it. And believe it or not, our emotions are stored in more places than just our brain! When we are stressed out, our back, neck, and shoulder muscles become tense. And because we associate this muscular tension with stress, we can relieve those areas of muscle tension and actually reduce the emotional (and cognitive) experience of stress! We also have a tremendous number of neurons and neurotransmitters in our intestines. That’s right. In our intestines. Ever heard the phrase, “I felt it in my gut?” Well, there ya go. Scientifically validated proof; it’s not just psychobabble.

In that vein, let’s explore dyad/compound emotions. Keep in mind the complexity involved with emotional experiences being both in the brain and the body. Ask yourself questions like, “Why would I clench my jaw and fists when I’m enraged? Why does my belly tremble when I’m terrified? Why does love warm my heart?

Plutchik’s Emotion Wheel

A review of the Core Emotions post shows:

  • Basic/Core Emotions (Joy, Trust, Fear, etc.)
  • Mild versions of the basic/core emotions (lightest color ring: Serenity, Acceptance, Apprehension, etc.)
  • Intense versions of the basic/core emotions (darkest color ring: Ecstasy, Admiration, Terror, etc.)
  • Eight of the 24 Dyad emotions (Love, Submission, Awe, etc.). The rest are discussed in the next section

Plutchik's emotion wheel

Dyad emotions

Between the milder emotions of Plutchik’s Emotion Wheel above, you see 8 of the 24 dyads that he addresses; these are actually dyad emotions that arise from the combination of Core/basic emotions, not combinations of only the milder emotions (see the chart below). So, there are different intensities of the dyad emotions, and these are named by Jessica Hagy.

The other dyads, listed below, are other combinations of the basic emotions. For example, when we combine Joy and Trust, we experience what Plutchik would call Love.

The 24 Plutchik dyads

A chart of dyad emotions according the Plutchik

16 Dyads according to Hagy

Jessica Hagy took these 24 dyads to another level by defining the emotional dyads that lie between adjacent Mild emotions (lightest color shade), and between adjacent Intense emotions (darkest color shade). In other words, the dyads she defined all fall between pedals of the wheel that are right beside each other. You’ll notice that these are in order of the mild version, then the intense version of each of the basics (so, outside of the wheel, then inside the wheel of each core/basic emotion).

Chart of Hagy's dyads of emotions

Take a minute to really look at these charts. Notice the combinations, and then find them on the Emotion Wheel. You’ll see how things are laid out, and this will give you a visual idea of how we combine basic/core emotions to form more complex experiences. You may even begin to find new combinations of 3 or more emotions that give you a deeper understanding of your own unique internal world.

How to use this new understanding

Now that you have a different view of emotions, we can begin to talk about how to leverage this in a way that helps your life become more enjoyable!

Let’s use one of the more common dyad emotions, Anxiety, to understand how the components interact:

The Anxiety dyad

Anxiety is a combination of anticipation and fear. In other words, anxiety is the anticipation of fear. Understanding that in most circumstances, there is no actual threat to our lives helps us to leverage the energy that anxiety provides. Practicing mindfulness gives us an effective method for leveraging this energy. Understanding the components of anticipation and fear helps to demystify things a bit, which will improve your mindfulness practice.


As a future based experience, anticipation involves a degree of not knowing what is going to happen. In the positive experience, we may anticipate an exhilarating roller coaster ride; but in the negative experience, we anticipate some sort of pain (emotional, physical, or both). So we are sitting on the edge of our seat.

Now that we know we are on the edge of our seat, we can decide what to do. Since we are talking about anxiety (a future based fear), we know that we are dealing with concern about a potential threat, so there are a few things we can do to manage the anticipation. First, stay in the here-and-now. Pay attention to what is happening right now. Is there a threat in this moment?


Fear is a survival mechanism. Without it, we have no warning system for physical and/or emotional threats. When there is a threat, we need the motivation to do something different to return to safety. Fear provides this motivation by creating a distinct discomfort; remember, discomfort is change’s best friend. Said another way, comfort is the enemy of change.

And the culmination into Anxiety

But if we wait until a threat is upon us, it may be too late. Consider why you don’t drive 75mph in the wrong direction down I-35 or MoPac (or anywhere for that matter). If you wait until you are inches from a head-on collision, then the fear was too late to help you survive. So, evolution has given us anticipation. Sometimes we have an actual experience of being hurt by what we fear; other times, our logical mind understands the threat, and the need for fear, without actually experiencing the threat. I don’t need to jump out of a plane without a parachute to feel anxious about doing something like that (don’t do that!).

To begin practicing mindfulness of anxiety and its components, start with just noticing when you feel anxious. On a scale from 1-10, how intense is it? Where in your body do you feel it? Then ask yourself, “What is the threat? Is it a physical threat where I could get hurt or killed? Or is it more emotional/intellectual?” Begin to ask yourself if you are anticipating something that may not happen, or that is unlikely to happen. Very often, this helps you decrease the intensity to a more manageable level.

Learn more about the fear of fear in the Anticipatory Anxiety post.

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