Five Common Myths about Emotional Health
Often disregarded because they’re assumed to be irrational and thus not worthy of attention, many of us may find ourselves withholding and even denying our emotional selves. There are many reasons why this happens, but at least some of it can be attributed to either a reluctance or a fear of truly getting to know who we are emotionally. The famous philosopher Frederick Nietzsche believed that people were often clueless about things that were closest to us.
There are several common misunderstandings that we tend to have about emotions:
1. Emotions Can’t Be Expressed Verbally
Many of us may struggle when it comes to being able to express our feelings through language. It’s true that many languages are not necessarily built for acutely describing our “inner experiences”, including the nuances of our emotional states. However, this doesn’t render our emotions completely indescribable with words. Emotions are connected to our sense of judgment, therefore they can be both described and analyzed in detail. Learning how to express ourselves verbally is not only good for learning how to communicate to others how we feel, but is also incredibly important to establishing a sense of self-control. By learning how to process feeling into language, we are transposing our more irrational senses into a rational, understandable format, allowing us to diminish overreactions and process our feelings more constructively rather than destructively, as the case may be.
2. Emotions Are Just Feelings
Although I used the words emotion and feeling seemingly interchangeably above, as many of us do, emotions are much more than feelings. The relationship between the two denotes a link between our psychological and physical responses, which is why many of us tend to think that emotions and feelings are one and the same. However, this is not the case. To feel, which is a bodily sensation, we must first have some element of awareness of our conscious state. What does this mean? Think of what it means to feel sad. For many of us, we experience the emotion of sadness, which is psychological and triggers the subsequent feeling of being sad. This may include bodily responses such as potentially feeling as though our heart hurts or perhaps as though we’re heavy with the weight of our emotion. Thus, while feeling and emotion do indeed have a connection, one does not necessarily define the other.
3. We Can’t Control How We Feel
As mentioned before, emotions are essentially judgments. They are psychological responses to a given thought, situation, or stimuli, which then trigger the physical response we come to call “feeling”. Dr. Shahram Heshmat, an associate professor emeritus of the University of Illinois in Springfield, describes the experience thusly: “A person’s emotional experience typically results from a subjective interpretation (appraisal) of an event rather than the event itself, even though the appraisal (beliefs) involved may not be accurate. Different individuals can interpret the same event differently.” Think about jokes, for example. In order for an individual to find a certain joke funny, the subject of the joke, the delivery, and all other variables must be such that the individual perceives it to be so. Everyone has a different sense of humor, therefore we each find different things funny. Thus, even emotions have a sense of rationality. The basis of cognitive therapy is that much of the emotional pain we experience is simply caused by distorted or “irrational” thinking. But this doesn’t render our psychological judgments inherently irrational as a whole.
4. Emotions are Stupid
Because of the common misbelief that emotions are irrational and therefore not to be taken seriously, it follows that many of us may develop the belief that emotions are somehow “stupid”. Dr. Heshmat explains that “Emotion and reason are not competing forces but complementary processes that interact and influence each other.” As an aspect of judgment, emotion is part of our mechanisms for reasoning. Lacking emotion can be very detrimental to decision making. In this instance, consider those who are described as “emotionless”; has this ever been used in a positive context, particularly with acts of alleged reason? Emotional reactions act as summaries for our past experiences with certain situations. We “feel” this summary when we experience what is commonly referred to as “gut” feelings, or intuition. Sometimes in the absence of fully knowing what should be done, going by feeling or instinct can help fill in any blanks to make our decision-making process more efficient.
5. Emotions “Happen” To Us
The notion that emotions are things that simply happen to us implies that emotions are beyond our control. However, this isn’t really true. Emotions are seldom unprovoked or random, rather they are patterns of behavior that are chosen and practiced over time. We cultivate our emotions based on our life experiences by observing what impact our expressions have on ourselves and others. For example, if a person knows that their anger can be used to intimidate others, then perhaps they might learn to become angry at the slightest provocation. In this case, anger becomes cultivated based on an experience. There are many examples like this, but in essence, our emotional selves are developed based on experience, not random happenstance.
Try to Remain Aware of Emotional Misconceptions
Dispelling these myths surrounding emotions can not only lead to a better understanding of our emotional selves but can enable us to develop a better overall sense of mental and physical wellbeing. So don’t be afraid of emotions, they are a natural and healthy part of human expression and experience.