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It’s funny how often we misunderstand our emotions, even though we’re, for the most part, so absorbed in them. Following are five common misunderstandings or myths about emotions and the truths you should believe instead.
Myth #1: There Are Good And Bad Emotions
You can be devastated about your breakup and have a good reaction despite the devastation (i.e., you see a therapist). Or you can be devastated about your breakup and have a bad reaction (i.e., slashing the leather seats in your ex’s car).
On the flip side, you could be so happy for some reason that the next time your ex calls you, wanting you back, you could slip up and tell them how much better off you are since the breakup and, as a result, make your ex fall into depression, which eventually makes them kill themselves.
As you can see, the key here aren’t the emotions themselves, whether they’re good or bad. In fact, “positive” emotions can be just as destructive and dysfunctional as “negative” ones. The key is to have good, or to be more specific, healthy reactions to our emotions.
Myth #2: You Can Control Your Emotions
Our emotions are our most fundamental instincts. They exist at the primal, animalistic level of our consciousness. So you can’t prevent yourself from feeling them, let alone control them.
But what you can do is become aware of your emotions, acknowledge them as indicators of what’s going on and don’t judge yourself for feeling them, and channel them into 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 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 only managing certain emotions and 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 the grip of the feeling 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’m also quick to steer it toward positive actions, like apologizing or making amends in some way that alleviates it.
On the other hand, I’m bad at dealing with pride. For example, on days when lots of people buy my products, I’m for some reason embarrassed to tell others. I usually don’t feel I deserve the success I get, that I got lucky, 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 with the fact that I’ll always be good at managing only some emotions while being 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 extremeness. I’d say listen to your emotions, but don’t take them too seriously.
Myth #5: Emotions are some nebulous spiritual mechanisms
Here I’ll make a similar argument as in the last myth: emotions aren’t some nebulous spiritual mechanisms; they’re our biological feedback mechanisms that we evolved to help us survive. They’re our brain’s way of telling us something good or bad is happening in our life.
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 life.
This basic biological system works sufficiently until we start ascribing meaning to our emotions. The more intense the emotion, the more meaningful the moment in which we felt it feels like. And the more meaningful a moment feels, the more beliefs we’ll develop around the emotions we felt in that moment.
For example, you may believe that your whole life will fall apart because you had such a painful breakup. Or that there’s a cosmic conspiracy acting against you, preventing you from ever being happy again. Or, hell, that you deserve to suffer since you got into a breakup in the first place.
Relax. Truth is, you just had a painful breakup, and you’re upset about it. Case closed.
These false beliefs that you tie around your emotions are often what trips you up and causes you to do stupid shit, like trying to “fill in the void” by finding another partner or desperately chasing your ex, trying to win them back.
Don’t fall into this cycle. Always remember that emotions are simply biological feedback mechanisms that help you survive. 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.
This article is based on a popular lesson in my Radical Recovery Course. If you enjoy reading it, consider purchasing the course.
If you need more more help healing from your breakup, check out my Radical Recovery Course. With over 5h of video, 200 pages of writing, and personalized 1-on-1 coaching, I'll walk you through every step of the recovery process from start to finish.
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