People often develop false beliefs about emotions. In today's society there are many subtle and explicit messages about what our relationship with emotions should be. "You are weak if you show that you are hurting", "Men should not express how they feel", or "Emotions are simply not important" are some of these messages.
Have you ever noticed that you hold a certain belief about emotions that you intuitively feel is not right? In this exercise we are going to try to debunk some of the most common myths about emotions.
Step One: Myths About Emotions
In the first step, we are going to present some of the most common myths about emotions. As you are reading them try to observe whether some of them sound too familiar to you - maybe you've been acting in accordance to them. For every myth, there is a statement that refutes the myth.
1. Myth: "I should never let others know how I feel because they will think I am weak."
Opposing view: Just because I express how I feel in a certain situation, it doesn't mean that I am weak. Emotions are part of how we react to the events around us and inside us and it is totally normal to let others know how I feel. Also, there is a right way to do it.
2. Myth: "Emotions are stupid and useless."
Opposing view: Emotions are the fastest way to discover what our attitude is towards a certain situation. We are programmed to feel emotions and they are there for a reason. They can be very helpful in certain situations. If I happen to feel overwhelming emotions about something, I can learn skills to cope with them in the most optimal way possible
3. Myth: "If I feel something, then it must be true."
Opposing view: Sometimes our emotions keep on lingering and growing inside is, even after the time where they served their purpose. Even though sometimes the way we feel can show us the right decision we should make (when we are acting from our Wise mind as well), they are not always true. For example, feeling worthless, or like everybody is against us doesn't mean it's true.
4. Myth: "If I feel like doing something, then that must be the right decision for me."
Opposing view: Sometimes we experience overwhelming emotions that can result in us acting in ways that are not optimal for us. This doesn't mean that having these emotions is wrong, but that we can learn ways to cope that can improve our overall experience.
5. Myth: "I shouldn't try to change the way I feel because that is inauthentic."
Opposing view: Although we shouldn't try to willfully oppose the negative emotions we feel, accepting them can bring a natural change and can transform the primary emotion into something else. Working on our overwhelming or persistently negative emotions can improve the quality of our behaviors and life in general.
6. Myth: "I should feel like everybody else is feeling in the same situation."
Opposing view: We can never really know how everybody feels in a certain situation because they may not always show it. It is normal for different people to have different emotional reactions. It is not helpful to forcefully try to feel how we imagine others feel in the same situation, or to criticize ourselves when we don't meet this imaginary standard.
7. Myth: "Life is boring without drama and extreme emotions."
Opposing view: Being open to all the different emotions we might be feeling can enrich our inner psychological life. But, acting on acute impulses that result from intense emotions can lead to destructive behavioral consequences that are not good for us in the long run. There are other healthier ways to enrich our life experience beside trying to get into drama.
8. Myth: "When I am impulsive and when I act on my intense emotions, I get more things done."
Opposing view: Being respectfully assertive with other people and trying to be as proactive as we can is a great way to get things done. On the other hand, acting on our raw impulses can lead to damaged relationships and other forms of turmoil that can be harmful for leading a balanced life.
Step Two: Identifying the Level of Belief in the Myths
Now that you got familiarized with some of the most common myths about emotions, think about which one of these you think is most common in the way you perceive yourself, other people and the environment. Take the worksheet, and on a scale of 1-10, write down how prevalent these are in your belief system.
Step Three: How They Affect You
Pick the top three myths that you think are occurring most frequently in the way you think. Try to think about how they affect you. In what way do you behave because of them? Try to imagine in what ways your life would be different if you acted according to the opposing and more realistic views.
Myth: "If I feel like doing something, then that must be the right decision for me."
Situation in which I act according to this belief: I often pick fights with people because I easily get angry. Usually I feel like it is right for me to just express the anger, and at the moment of the conversation with the person, I have no doubts that I should have a heated argument.
How it affects me: People get mad at me, and depending on how impulsive I was, they sometimes stay angry with me for a long time. This creates a feeling of emptiness in me.
What would be different if I acted according to the opposing view: If I reminded myself that even though I may feel like fighting because I feel that way that is not the best decision for me, I would probably have more stable relationships with less fights. When I feel very angry, I rarely try to convey my points without being impatient and argumentative. Maybe I should really try this opposing approach.
Take stock of your attitudes to emotions and examine how misconceptions might be influencing your thoughts.
How can I recognize if a belief I have about emotions is right?
You can always try to check your belief from the Wise mind point of view. See how you feel about it but also check the objective facts about what you believe. Usually, if what you believe in is one of these myths, intuitively it won't feel that right to you. Fostering a healthy relationship with your emotions can be the starting point from which you can check whether something is a distorted belief or not.
Even if I debunk certain myth about emotions that I believe in, I'm not sure that I will immediately act according to the opposing view.
It is a great first step to try to think about this concept. By starting to think differently about the relationship you have with your emotions you will activate different neural pathways that will increase the chance for you to act differently next time you find yourself in the respective situation. As with all the other skills we practiced, this too takes time. Think about the different results that you can have if you try an alternative behavior pattern.
What if everybody around me is acting according to certain emotion myths that I am working on?
Start with yourself. There is always plenty that you can do and change if you regularly work on the beliefs that are inhibiting you in some way. When it comes to the people around you, we will work on a whole module about improving the ways of interpersonal effectiveness. There will be plenty of skills that you will learn and that can help you with this issue.