Emotions can be complex and in order to understand them, we develop beliefs about how they come about, why we have them and how we should respond to them.
We tell ourselves these stories, half-truths or fiction about our emotional experience, either because we have learned them from others and believe them to be true or because we hope they will help us make sense of our complicated emotional world.
What you believe and what you tell yourself about what you feel has a significant impact on the types and intensity of emotions you experience. Whether they are fact or fiction, there are certain myths that are more likely to leave you in anger, sadness or anxiety.
There is a right way to feel in every situation.
Letting others know that I am feeling bad is a weakness.
Negative feelings are bad and destructive.
Being emotional means being out of control.
Emotions can just happen for no reason.
If I feel a certain way, I must act on my feeling.
Let’s just take one of those myths as an example. Say you believe that “I must act in a way that is consistent with how I feel.” Much of the time that myth can help you to effectively way to navigate through life. But imagine that you’ve always been somewhat fearful of new situations. Your current job, relationship or daily routine is no longer working for you, but you’re fearful of going on interviews or dates or of making new friends.
If you believe that “I must act in a way that is consistent with how I feel.” You’re fear of these new, possibly enriching experiences will cause you to avoid them. Because you are fearful of them, they must be dangerous. It’s not that you’re wrong. New experiences do have an element of risk. But if you always act out of fear, you never learn that new experiences also bring opportunity, joy or excitement.
What if, instead of believing that you must act on your emotions you believed that you don’t need to act on all your emotions? What if you believed that you could observe your emotions and act on some, while allowing others to pass? How would that change your life?
Below are some thoughts about emotions that are more likely to decrease your emotional intensity. These thoughts can help you get out of a rut on negative feelings.
Emotions are not right or wrong, good or bad, smart or stupid. They just are.
My emotions come from the things in my life that happen to me.
Anger, sadness and fear are part of everyone’s life. It’s ok to feel these emotions.
All emotions, including painful and negative emotions, have a purpose.
Other people get some idea about how I’m feeling by my body language and my actions.
Have you developed myths about how to think, act and feel that have resulted in pain and anguish for you? Use the comments section below.
Photo by John Lambert Pearson, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
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Last reviewed: 13 Feb 2011