Myths About Emotions: What do You Believe?

myths about emotionsEmotions 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.

3 Replies to “Myths About Emotions: What do You Believe?”

  1. One of the myths that I struggled with for a long time was the idea that painful emotions were “bad.” It was particularly challenging to find a sense of ownership of anger or frustration. I had convinced myself that those emotions were an attempt to “act on” others, rather than valid responses to situations. That felt manipulative. Once I was able to understand that each of my emotions has a valid purpose, and to honor those emotions with compassion, I was able to engage with them in healthy ways.

  2. I believe we grow up telling our selves stories that have themes and plots we accept and until we challenge them. They create emotions that do not serve us well.

    A big one, I grew up was watching my father work 7 grueling days a week to build a business. When I became a working adult and started enjoying my business, I would always feel anxious that I wasn’t working hard enough or suffering enough to call it work. I found myself saying:” There must be something wrong with me.” The more I focused on that story, the more anxious I became.

    It wasn’t until I objectively observed my story and realized I had never challenged the myth about: What work was supposed to be and who made the rules anyway?

    Once I paused to pay attention to my old story by noticing the disharmony I always felt in my body, around work and enjoyment, I asked some important questions I still use to challenge myths that create my destructive and immobilizing emotions.

    The big questions for me are: How is what I am paying attention to serving me, right now? Where’s the proof that this story is true? What story will serve me well?

    When I catch the unchallenged theme to my inner story, I notice it, I identify it, I question it and I change it. At first the change can be scary because I have grown accustomed to a story I believe to be true. However, once I remind myself: “I am the only one that can edit the invalid story; I change it to better serve who I am and create a theme in alignment with what I want to do.

  3. One myth of many layers is that emotions were to be avoided, and not shown. I became very good and even managed to hide many from myself.

    I am 50 years old and just learned last summer that emotions have a purpose! Wow so much to learn, thanks for the Blog. Every bit of knowledge helps me manage my depression.

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