“All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Emotions are a rich source of personal information that offer the potential for tremendous growth… and great suffering. The way in which you tend to deal with feelings generally stems from your core beliefs about them. In other words, what does it mean to feel sadness or express anger? What “kind of person” shows their emotions to others? Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we all hold basic core beliefs about what emotions mean, what it means to express emotions, and what would happen if we allowed ourselves to feel particular emotions.
When core beliefs about emotions are maladaptive, it often feels difficult to identify, manage, or express emotions in a tolerable and effective manner. Many people spend an incredible amount of time and energy finding “solutions” to uncomfortable emotions that ultimately make matters worse. Self-medicating unpleasant feelings through overeating, overexercising, or abusing drugs/alcohol are all examples of experiential avoidance. These futile attempts to avoid or suppress unwanted emotions can wreak havoc on your personal well-being, relationships, and goals.
Identify False Beliefs about Emotions
Take a moment to read through the following common false beliefs about emotions, adapted from The Mindfulness Workbook for Addiction. Notice any themes that emerge from the statements that especially ring true to you.
- If I allow myself to feel this emotion, I’ll completely lose control.
- A strong person is fearless.
- Emotions like anger, fear, and hurt are dangerous and destructive.
- If I grieve, I will be sad forever.
- Anxiety is not a normal response; I have to get rid of it.
- Good people don’t get angry.
- If I take the time to feel this emotion, it will mean putting my life on hold.
- Having emotions makes me a “drama queen.”
- If I tell other people how I really feel, they will think I’m weak.
Physical Sensations & Emotions
If you’re not sure how you feel about these common false beliefs about emotions, simply observe and reflect on any physical reactions that arose. Your bodily sensations, such as muscle tension or tightness in the chest, are a window into your emotional world. When beliefs about emotions seem difficult to identify, remember to use your physiological responses as a source of information.
Thoughts & Emotions
Thoughts provide yet another wellspring of information about emotions. Automatic thoughts pop up so fast that it can be tricky to even notice them. Thoughts such as “I can’t” or “no way” are often dismissed as quickly as they arise in consciousness… perhaps they seem unimportant in some way. In fact, these types of cognitions are often telling you something important about your basic response to a given situation. If you learn to become mindful of these thoughts, rather than avoid them, you are allowing the opportunity for personal growth.
If your current strategies for managing and expressing emotions are no longer working, it’s time to pause and take the time to identify your false beliefs about emotions. When you begin to identify what core beliefs are interfering with how you relate to emotions, you will increase awareness of how those false beliefs are holding you back in other areas of life. The process of identifying your basic false beliefs about emotions is a pivotal step toward taking charge of your emotional life and restoring a sense of internal balance.
Consider the possibility that gaining greater self-knowledge, enriching your relationships with others, and deepening your emotional experiences can come from challenging your basic assumptions about what emotions really mean to you. The benefits of increasing emotional intelligence in this way has the potential to profoundly awaken your emotional senses and strengthen mindfulness in daily life.
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I look forward to exploring the impact of common myths about emotions in my next post, “Untangle False Beliefs about Emotions – Part Two.”
Williams, R.E., & Kraft, J.S. (2012). The mindfulness workbook for addiction. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Featured image: Worried by Pedro Ribeiro Simões / CC BY 2.0