Do you tend to feel things more deeply than do other people? Or are you more on the intellectual end of the spectrum, more in touch with your thoughts than your emotions? What are your beliefs about feelings? Do you fall prey to any of the following myths?
- Myth: Emotions are irrational/silly/a sign of weakness. Truth: Emotions allow us to express to ourselves and to those around us what we are experiencing. Also, emotions provide important clues to what we might need to do next. While it’s optimal to meld emotions with reason, do listen the next time you feel a depletion of energy, a sinking feeling, or a burst of anxiety when in a particular situation or have spent time with a specific person.
- Myth: Trying to manage my emotions will make me feel like a robot. Truth: There’s a difference between suppressing feelings and regulating them. The goal is to have a healthy and full range of emotions without allowing our emotions to function as the sole barometer of what is true or to lead us into destructive behavior.
- Myth: I should feel differently. I’m wrong to feel the way I do. Truth: You have a right to your emotions. True, sometimes your feelings may be based on a misinterpretation of your current situation, but you are always entitled to your feelings. For instance, if you are woken up in the middle of the night by a loud noise, you believe that an intruder has broken into your home, and your heart starts beating quickly, this is understandable. If when investigating the matter you realize that the noise was due to a harmless thunderclap outside, this doesn’t mean that you were wrong to initially feel anxious.
- Myth: Venting will make me feel better. Truth: Yelling, punching a wall, or keying someone’s car will just intensify your anger. Going on at length about how terrified you are about an upcoming plane ride or surgery is likely to magnify your anxiety. There is a difference between talking with someone about your feelings, which can be helpful, and going on for an extensive length of time, with the intensity of your emotions escalating to a 10, which can just fuel the fire.
- Myth: Other people make me feel certain ways. Truth: You are the guardian of your emotions. While other people’s behavior may be annoying, threatening, or draining, you are responsible for how you react. If you find yourself consistently feeling a certain way after interactions with a particular person, you might talk with them about your relationship or choose to spend less time with them. Do be open to examining your own part in the nature of the relationship, rather than assuming that the other person is entirely to blame.
- Myth: My emotions just happen to me – I can’t control them. Truth: While it wouldn’t be advisable or possible to put yourself in an emotional straitjacket, you definitely can learn to modulate the intensity of your reactions and to see the world, other people, and yourself in less threatening and more positive ways. Choose to change the way you think and behave. Consider how your best possible self would behave. Hint: “Best possible” does not mean perfect.
- Myth: This is just the way I am. Truth: While there is almost certainly a genetic component to being emotionally sensitive (which, by the way, is not necessarily a bad thing), there’s a lot you can do to manage your feelings while still having a healthy range of emotions. When left to their own devices, some people just instinctively react more extremely than do other people. Similar to how some people’s immune systems may be overly sensitive. Why are some people allergic to peanuts, and other people aren’t? Let go of self-judgment, accept your nature, and then work to refine your reactions, so you are most effective. While there is almost certainly a genetic component to being emotionally sensitive (which, by the way, is not necessarily a bad thing), there’s a lot you can do to manage your feelings while still having a full and healthy range of emotions.
- Myth: I can’t handle uncomfortable feelings. Truth: This belief is likely to lead to your avoiding situations that you associate with feeling a certain way, which usually results in your feeling less able to cope with this situation and possibly other situations in general. The way to build the belief that you can tolerate discomfort is to let yourself experience it (if need be) and learn that you can weather the emotional storm. Doing so would be an example of what is called “building mastery” in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and is a powerful antidote to despair.
- Myth: If I feel that something is true, then it is absolutely true. Truth: This is emotional reasoning, one of the most common cognitive distortions. For instance, let’s say that you tossed and turned all night and are thus sleep-deprived. As a result, the amount of work waiting for you at the office seems insurmountable, although in general you perform well at your job, and you feel that your professional skills are inadequate. It’s likely that your fatigue is contributing to your feelings and consequent belief – so remember how your beliefs and actions can be skewed by your being Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (in other words, HALT).
- Myth: I will never stop feeling the way I currently do. Truth: It can sometimes seem as if our present emotional state will go on forever. The absence of a sense of hope that things will ever change can feel devastating. If you feel this way most of the time for two weeks or longer, you may want to consult a mental health professional regarding the possibility of your being in a depressive episode. However, sometimes life is just rough. Do believe (even if you don’t “feel like it”) that your feelings are likely to shift, either through your taking action to address uncomfortable circumstances, accept unavoidable disappointments or tragedies in your life, connect in meaningful ways with family and friends, or just the passage of time.
Be your own best advocate and do what you can to be proactively self-compassionate, mindful, and non-judgmental about your feelings. Ask yourself:
- Do my emotions fit the facts of the situation?
- Would acting on my feelings right now be in my best interest?
- Would acting on my feelings right now create an additional problem?
When experiencing painful, unexpected, or intense emotions, accept that you feel a certain way instead of beating yourself up, and recognize that you have the ability to choose how to respond to that feeling.