Debunking 3 Emotional Myths (and getting your power back)
I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, enjoy them, and dominate them.
Have you ever been so attached to a specific emotion, it felt like an extension of you? A third arm or something? I definitely have. There was a time that I battled such crippling anxiety, I couldn’t separate me from my anxiety: we were one big tangled mess of fear. It was not a good look.
Today, I’d like to debunk a few emotional myths, how they work, and where they come from. Based on the conversations I have in and outside of therapy, I’ve pretty much gathered that we are one anxiety ridden culture, constantly living in our heads and feeling powerless over the unknown. Unlocking these truths has been literally a life-saver for me, so much so, I desperately want to help others embrace their freedom and live in a much bigger way.
Myth #1: I am powerless over my emotions
I know it feels this way. Oh how I know this. However, this is absolutely NOT true. You are in complete control of what emotions you feel based on the thoughts that permeate your brain. Despite feeling chaotic, our emotions are pretty formulaic. Here’s the breakdown:
- You experience something that activates you
- You make up a story in your head about what just happened
- You feel a resulting emotion that supports the story you just made up.
It’s so unsexy and simple, just like unveiling that sad, tiny man behind the Wizard of Oz, right? If you look at that breakdown, you’ll notice the one piece that is clutch and absolutely within our control is this second layer: the story we make up in our heads.
If someone cuts me off in traffic, abruptly launching in front of me to take an exit and almost causing a head-on collision, I’m typically pretty pissed to say the least. Why? Because I’ve made up a story that they are selfish, impulsive, and have little regard for the human race let alone me.
Now shift that story: they just found out their eight-year-old son was life-flighted to Vanderbilt due to a horrible accident. Everything changes including my emotional response. If that was my story, I’d feel so much compassion and empathy, I’d pull over letting him pass and offer up a prayer. Anger wouldn’t be a remote option. We need a compelling, life-giving narrative. This is why I love Narrative Therapy so much!
Myth #2: People cause me to feel a certain way
Wrong. This one’s a biggie perhaps because the victim card is way more fun to play than is taking personal responsibility! No one can make you feel a certain way and this is such good news. Again, our narrative is everything. Sure people can try to make you feel a certain way and that’s fine. But because we can’t control the actions of others (sigh), we must shift the focus back to us, that which we have total control over.
This is where personal boundaries come in: knowing what’s okay and what’s not okay. Keep that radar intact as you move through interactions with people that constantly result in negative emotions. You may need to tweak those boundaries and graduate from an open door policy to a fence with a lock. You’ve got the key.
Myth #3: Emotions are tied to our circumstances
Lastly, but most definitely not least: we don’t have to wait until (X, Y, and Z) to be happy. If you need a reminder of this, go watch Roberto Benigni’s Oscar winning, Life is Beautiful. It’s an inspired and stunning film about joy amidst bleak odds. It will move you to tears and inspire you to hope, no matter what. Emotions are the result of the constant inner dialog playing over and over. If we want to experience more peace and joy, the choice and opportunity is all ours as we focus on thoughts that promote these emotions. This is the great money shot because now we’ve won this often daunting and exhausting battle with our emotions. We get to choose.
And now the fun begins, or continues based on where you are in your process. What are the emotional patterns you observe in your day to day? Are you happy with them or do you feel totally stuck and powerless? Slow down enough to identify the stories you’re making up in your head. Write them down. Do they need to shift? Well, my friend, the honor is all ours. Let’s go to town with this.
Love & Gratitude, Katie