Mixed Feelings: Where Do They Come From?

Mixed emotions. The phrase strikes a chord, making us think or feel something. In a way, it’s a nugget of truth. As humans, we have mixed emotions all the time – love and hate, happiness and sadness, joy and sorrow, confidence and insecurity – all at once, sometimes.

It’s both fascinating and perplexing. It’s also exciting to know that we’re not the only ones experiencing these emotions, but you still might wonder: What is up with mixed feelings? Where do mixed emotions come from? Does that mean you’re crazy? Where does “mixed” even come from? Well, let’s find the answers to your questions.

What Are Emotions?

Emotions are feelings associated with our thoughts about evaluating the things (and the people) around us. They affect our decisions and attitudes and direct our attention to salient issues. All emotions, whether primary or secondary, rational or irrational, positive or negative, adaptive or maladaptive, can escalate into catastrophic consequences. Primary or basic emotions are preprogrammed and built into our genes. But why do we experience these emotions?

Primary emotions can be considered essential building blocks for more complex emotional states. For example, interest and joy lead to a sense of general excitement, which, when prolonged, results in an emotion similar to ecstasy. Surprise and fear combined with anger build up anxiety. Primary or basic emotions are innate and universal across human cultures.

At least eight primary or basic emotions – interest, joy, distress, anger, fear, anxiety, surprise, and disgust – are associated with a single facial expression. Said that they are “hard-wired” into us, but what about complex emotions?

Complex emotions are more elusive because they are considered learned, and each is unique to the individual and shaped by experiences. Complex emotions are expressed with combinations of primary emotions. It may be challenging to separate complex emotions from primary emotions, which may appear to blur the distinction between these two kinds of emotions.

They are a type of emotion that involves multiple emotions and cognitive discernment. Such complex emotions include pride, jealousy, and resentment. An example of a complex feeling is envy. This emotion is different from another specific type of emotion because it combines other emotions, such as anger and sadness. It may also be considered a mixture of emotions, such as anger and sadness.

So, What Do Mixed Emotions or Mixed Feelings Mean?

Have you ever been angry and sad at the same time? Welcome to a concept of psychology called “mixed emotions.” When we talk about emotions, we tend to think of them as either positive or negative. But the truth is most emotions contain both negative and positive elements. In mixed emotions, a person can feel sad and happy simultaneously. These feelings tend to be contradictory.

For example, when you get a promotion at work, you may feel happy and proud but also nervous about the new responsibilities that come with it. Or a mother who is learning that her son has been killed in war may be simultaneously angry that he is gone and happy that he died for his country and fellow soldiers.

One emotion can almost instantaneously elicit another emotion that amplifies, attenuates, inhibits or interacts with the original emotional experience.

A Few Types of Mixed Emotions

  • Happy-sad,
  • Fear-happiness,
  • Disgust-amusement,
  • Hope-fear, and more.

Robert Plutchik’s Explanation of Mixed Emotions

Psychologist Robert Plutchik explains that emotions are like colors, mixing different emotions to form another. When it comes to the color scheme, there are three primary colors: red, blue, and yellow. Secondary colors (purple, orange, and green) are obtained by mixing two primary colors. Combining these primary colors and secondary colors produce millions of different colors.

This same principle is true with emotions. Plutchik’s explanation is based on the idea of using combinations of full-time primary emotions, such as joy and anger. He proposes that these work in the same way as the pure spectral colors (like red or blue) that can be combined to create mixed colors (such as purple or orange) that represent our “mixed emotions.” 

Plutchik’s wheel consists of eight primary emotions: joy, interest, surprise, fear, disgust, contempt, sadness, and anger. Mixing them in different proportions allows us to obtain all the other emotions we experience. Many emotions can be obtained by combining these basic ones in different proportions.

For example, secondary emotions can be considered blends of primary ones. One interesting emotion is awe, which feels like joy mixed equally with surprise. Similarly, wonder mixed with sadness produces astonishment.

How Do Mixed Emotions Influence Behavior?

Emotions are a powerful force in motivating individuals to take action. However, most individuals don’t clearly understand which emotions influence behavior. Frequently, the most intense emotion will account for an individual’s behavior.

For instance, when a mother screams at her son after he breaks a window, anger is often the emotion that dominates. In therapy, the goal is often to help people see how sadness or hurt can fuel an intense emotional reaction such as anger.

Being willing to feel multiple emotions simultaneously is a good sign. If you can accept that you can feel numerous things at once, then there’s a greater chance that you will use all the available information and work hard to make the best possible decision.

How to Deal With Mixed Emotions?

We feel mixed emotions every day, knowing that having mixed emotions are since human beings are complex, multilayered beings. In human life, many emotional events happen from time to time. Sometimes, mixed emotions are caused by poor memory of a previous emotionally charged event. 

For example, you may find yourself thinking about how upset you were at someone for a transgression they had committed while also recalling the instance when that person did something great for you. This made your mood improve. In this case, you suddenly feel the presence of the previously forgotten emotion of gratitude toward this individual.

Different emotional experiences are natural and necessary to have a broader view of the world through more complex lenses. But openly embracing our various emotional reactions can be difficult. It might be due to what society thinks of us or other factors involved, but it’s difficult to ignore the negative and toxic emotions we may feel.

Understanding what mixed emotions are and how to deal with them can help you cope during the process. What makes emotions so challenging is that our emotional responses change all the time, and we can’t predict which emotions will be present and which won’t.

So let’s say you are feeling happy. You like your friend, and you enjoy being with her. But you are also feeling lonely, and you want to be alone. Both emotions are real, and you can’t just ignore one of them. If you go to see her, your happiness level will probably drop. If you are alone, your loneliness level will likely rise. Your friend is both the source of your happiness and your means of escaping it.

Emotions are complicated like that. But it’s a mistake to think that they are impossible to understand. The difficulty is just that we don’t know how to see them. Follow the steps below to acknowledge mixed feelings.

Step #1: Identify your emotions

The first step is to identify your emotions. The easiest way to do this is to determine what things provoke them. Maybe the things that make your friend angry also drive you mad, which triggers your anger. Perhaps your loneliness is caused by being in a new town.

Step #2: Identify sources of your emotions

Once you identify the sources of your emotions, you can study them. For example, let’s say that the things that make your friend angry also make you angry. In that case, maybe you can figure out why. Perhaps something about her friend’s behavior reminds you of something you did to someone and makes you feel angry.

Final Thoughts

With all the emotions we experience in life, we often wonder how to handle them and deal with them. So we try to avoid them by keeping to ourselves or bottling them up and using lots of tools and self-talk to help us face and manage our feelings. But this isn’t always possible; sometimes, we can’t avoid our feelings.

Life is full of mixed emotions. Those who cope with this reality are typically healthier than those who don’t know due to stress relief. So, though you might feel that something isn’t right, it doesn’t mean you have to change your life to cope with the situation. Instead, choose to focus on the positive instead of the negative.


  • Berrios, R., Totterdell, P., & Kellett, S. (2015). Eliciting mixed emotions: A meta-analysis comparing models, types, and measures. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.
  • Ersner-Hershfield, H., Mikels, J. A., Sullivan, S. J., & Carstensen, L. L. (2008). Poignancy: Mixed emotional experience in the face of meaningful endings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(1), 158–167.

Hi, I am Happy. I'm a professional writer and psychology enthusiast. I love to read and write about human behaviors, the mind, mental health-related topics, and more.