The past few days have been an emotional roller-coaster for me. I know what the trigger was but I resolved that issue and still yet I’m feeling a landslide of emotions. This causes me to wonder why I feel the way I do. Are my feelings really as arbitrary as they are made out to be? Can I trust my emotions or is logic more reliable? Can the use of logic really stop these emotions?
What are emotions? Why do we feel them? Why do some people tend to experience emotions more than others?
Dr. Danny Gagnon wrote an article that addressed some of my questions about emotions. Here is a little summary about his article:
Emotions are subjective internal experiences that include both physical sensations as well as the label we give to the emotion. For example, the racing heart and butterflies we feel (physical sensations) when experiencing what we call anxiety (label). We often label emotions as good or bad. Anxiety and depression are often rated as “bad emotions”, while love and excitement are “good emotions”. All too often, by labeling emotions in a negative way, we end up feeling even more negative emotions because we feel that we shouldn’t feel the way we do. For example, if someone with a satisfying job and life feels depressed and they feel as though they have no reason to feel that way, they may then feel guilty for feeling depressed. Many therapists recommend not labeling emotions as good or bad but instead as pleasant or unpleasant.
Dr. Gagnon, also addressed some myths about emotions that I think are very important to address:
Myth #1: There is a right way to feel in every situation
There is no such thing as a right or wrong emotion. Our emotions are based on our own individual perceptions and they provide information about how we see specific situations. Even if two people feel the same emotion, it is possible that the severity of the emotion will vary.
Myth #2: When I let others know I am feeling bad it shows I am weak or flawed.
Feelings are not a weakness, they are normal and everyone feels them (besides those with certain pathological disorders). Expressing unpleasant emotions simply means that something is bothering us.
Myth #3: All negative emotions will keep on increasing in intensity if I do not act now.
Emotions do not increase forever in intensity. They reach a peak and then they will subside.
Myth #4: Negative emotions are bad and destructive.
It is not the emotion that is bad or destructive but the behavior that results.
Myth #5: All emotions happen spontaneously for no reason.
All emotions happen for a reason and are the result of our perception of an event.
Myth #6: I cannot tolerate any painful emotion.
With practice, we can all learn to tolerate unpleasant emotions. If we don’t learn to tolerate emotions, impulsive behaviors such as drugs, self-harm, and regrettable sexual encounters, will lead to further problems and additional painful emotions.
Myth #7: Some emotions are completely stupid and useless.
All emotions provide information to us so they are very useful. They help identify what we like or do not like, they help us communicate with others, and they help prepare us for action.
Myth #8: If others do not agree with how I feel then I must be wrong.
There is no right or wrong emotion so emotions cannot be judged. If you feel a certain way, then it is what you are feeling regardless of what others say. Also, remember that each person can experience a different emotion after the same event.
Myth # 9: Other people are the best at knowing how I am feeling.
People can only see behaviors or what you do, but not what you are feeling. Thus, each person is the best judge of how they feel.
Myth #10: All painful emotions should be ignored because they are unimportant.
Painful emotions are especially important because they leave significant emotional scars that need to be healed. Ignoring them will not make them go away.
Myth #11: Feeling negative or painful emotions means I am bad.
Feelings are not like a personality trait or a behavior, so negative emotions do not describe us as people. In addition, everyone feels negative emotions, like anxiety or depression on occasion, and everyone cannot be ‘bad’.
This article has helped me understand how I’m feeling a little bit better. The way I feel is not good or bad or right or wrong. Emotions just are. Any one emotion won’t last forever. It is important to feel my emotions.
Logic is something prized in our society. The emotional person is often viewed as a weak. I think that it’s the exact opposite: A person who feels and shows their emotions is stronger than the person who avoids them. It’s incredibly difficult to be in such intense emotional pain, just accept it as it is, and to cope without escaping. It’s much easier to find ways to avoid feeling our emotions or to “stuff” them. There are times when our mind protects us from feeling the full extent of our emotions. I don’t think this is a form of weakness, but rather a natural defense mechanism.
We can’t reason away emotions. Providing emotional validation is an incredibly important skill in all interpersonal relationships. All too often, I hear people say “cheer up”, “it’s not as bad as you might think”, “don’t be so dramatic”, etc. when someone is venting. Each of these phrases is an attempt at convincing a person not to feel the way they do. They’re invalidating. Understandably, many people feel that when they use these phrases, they are being helpful or trying to make the other person feel better. Usually, all it does it make the person feel that their feelings are wrong or that they shouldn’t feel the way they do. Problem solving is another form of invalidation. One person thinks that the best way to help the other is to fix their problem for them. Sometimes problem solving is helpful, but often, when someone wants to talk about their feelings, they don’t want someone telling them what to do to stop feeling that way. A little reassurance and use of active listening skills goes a long way. It has also been suggested that invalidation may be one of the primary reasons that people self-injure themselves.
It is helpful to talk to people about our emotions but it’s absolutely essential for us to develop healthy coping skills. If you find it too difficult to cope, find out if there is a crisis line in your area or make an appointment to see a counselor. Even if you don’t necessarily feel suicidal or that you are going to hurt yourself, crisis lines operators are very good listeners and can help you cope until you can see a counselor. Many areas have a 2-1-1 (literally dial 2-1-1) crisis call center for local citizens who are in crisis. Maintaining a healthy emotional life is very important for our overall health.
Please note: all links in this post are links I have personally chosen that apply to this topic as well as the individual topics the hyperlink is connected to. You will not be redirected to a Wikipedia or advertising site.
Photo credited to Google image search.