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This article is based on a popular lesson in my Radical Recovery Course. If you enjoy reading it, consider purchasing the course.
It’s funny how often we misunderstand our emotions, even though we’re, for the most part, so absorbed in them. Following are six common myths about them and the science-backed truths you should believe instead.
Myth #1: There Are Good And Bad Emotions
The truth is that good emotions can be just as destructive and dysfunctional as the bad. The key is to simply have healthy reactions to your emotions instead of unhealthy ones.
You can be devastated about your breakup and still have a good reaction despite the devastation. For example, you go see a therapist. Or you can be devastated but have a bad reaction, like kicking your dog in the stomach.
You could deal with your loneliness by getting shitfaced and fucking a cheap hooker and then waking up reeking of regret and guilt. Or you can call up a friend to keep you company and help you wait out your emotional uproar.
You could deal with your nostalgia and longing by respecting your ex’s decision to stay broken up. Or you can be an idiot and show up at their doorstep at 3 a.m., roses and chocolate in hand, begging for that sweet, second chance.
We can even extrapolate this theory to what are generally regarded as positive emotions. For instance, you could be so excited that your ex reached out that you drop everything you’re doing for them, cancel a bunch of important meetups and errands, and end up looking like the biggest pushover in the process.
Myth #2: You Can Control Your Emotions
Our emotions are our most fundamental instincts. They exist at the primal, animalistic level of our consciousness. And you can’t prevent yourself from feeling them.
The only thing you can do is become aware of them, acknowledge them, and then channel them in a productive direction — kicking ass at work, achieving something you’ve always wanted, getting into a healthy relationship, etc.
For example, the anger and embarrassment I felt after one of my more notable breakups motivated and led me to start researching relationships like a crazy person.
My entire goal was to minimize my chance of getting into another breakup as much as possible. And I was obsessed with achieving it. This is how I, for example, channeled my emotions.
Myth #3: You Can Get Good At Managing All Your Emotions
Like we’re naturally good at some things and not others, we’re also naturally good at managing certain emotions but not all of them.
For example, I’m good at managing my anxiety. I rarely get anxious, and even when I am, I can quickly lessen its grip and not let it hinder my performance too much.
Another emotion I’m pretty good at managing is guilt. While I do feel guilt quickly, I can also swiftly steer it toward positive actions, like apologizing or making amends in some way that alleviates it.
On the other hand, I suck at dealing with pride. On days when many people buy my products, for instance, I’m for some reason embarrassed about it. I usually don’t feel I deserve the success and that I just got lucky. That, and that it’s just a matter of time before I screw something up and people stop buying my shit altogether.
All of this is fine. I’m aware and okay that I’ll always be good at managing some emotions but bad (or horrible) at managing others. Try to cultivate the same mentality.
Myth #4: You Should Take Your Emotions Super Seriously
Sometimes listening to our emotions is valuable, and our intuition is correct some of the time. But for the most part, we have this gut reaction because of entirely irrational and irrelevant reasons.
The reality is that our emotions can lead us toward wise decisions, but they can also lead us toward unwise and fucked up ones. Or, put another way, just because something feels good doesn’t mean it is good, and just because something feels bad doesn’t mean it is bad.
Most advice around emotions either tells you how you need to completely indulge in them and take them way too seriously, or it teaches you to suppress them and try to be as rational as possible.
The correct advice, however, is found somewhere in between the two extremes. Listen to your emotions, but don’t take them too seriously.
Myth #5: Emotions Are These Major Spiritual Mechanisms
Emotions are simply biological feedback mechanisms that we evolved to help us survive. They are our brain’s way of telling us something good or bad is happening at the moment.
We evolved anger because it primes us to fight and protect our lives. We evolved fear and anxiety because they help us avoid potentially dangerous situations. We evolved sadness so that we know when something is missing in our lives.
This basic biological system works sufficiently until we start ascribing meaning to our emotions. The more intense our emotions, the more meaningful the moment in which we experience them feels. And the more meaningful a moment feels, the more beliefs we’ll develop around the emotions we felt in that moment.
So you may believe that your whole life will fall apart because of your breakup and your ex’s inclination to stay away from you. You may think that there’s a cosmic conspiracy acting against you, preventing you from ever being happy again. Fuck, you might even be convinced that you deserve to suffer.
But the truth is, you just had a painful breakup, you miss your ex, and you’re upset about it. Case closed. The false beliefs that you tie around your emotions are often what trips you up and cause you to do stupid shit, like trying to “fill in the void” by prematurely attaching to a new partner or desperately chasing after your ex.
Don’t fall into this cycle. Your emotions are simply biological feedback mechanisms. They’re not signs from the universe. They’re not signals from your past self. They’re not fate trying to teach you a lesson. Those are only things about your emotions that you’ve made up.
Myth #6: Emotions Are Permanent And Never Change
Regardless of the severity of your breakup, emotions are actually fleeting and in constant flux. Around the 1980s and ’90s, just when psychologists started researching topics like happiness, peace, and acceptance, a simple experiment was made that proved this. It went like this.
Large testing groups were given a pager, and whenever that pager went off, each person needed to stop whatever they were doing and write down answers to two questions:
- On a scale from 1 to 10, how happy are you at this moment?
- What is going on in your life right now?
The researchers collected thousands of responses from hundreds of people from all over the world. What they discovered shocked me: basically everyone wrote down “7” all the time.
Even when catastrophic events unfolded — a death in a family, a failed exam, a health-related complication, a breakup — happiness levels would plummet to the two to five range. Still, after a short period, they would return to seven.
The same holds for extremely positive events — like getting an award, making a shit-ton of money, going on a dream vacation, or marrying a fantastic person — happiness levels would shoot up for a short period but then, yet again, fall back down and settle at a seven.
My point is that no matter how horrible you feel right now, it’s only a matter of time before you feel good again — it’s only a matter of time before you reach that magical seven.
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