Myth #1 - Feelings are a problem
Sometimes it seems like feelings are just too difficult to manage and it would be so much easier to just deal with logic. But the problem is that humans are inherently emotional and so feelings are unavoidable.
Rather than considering feelings to be a problem as many people do, we can choose to develop the skills to learn more about our own feelings, and to understand what is happening when we interact with others. Becoming curious about feelings opens up a whole new skillset that may allow you to become the kind of person who sees what others do not. It’s like having a superpower.
Myth #2 - Feelings are irrational and unpredictable
Part of the reason that we often find feelings difficult to manage is because we don’t understand what is happening, and that can feel scary and uncertain. Especially when feelings are particularly intense.
There are typically three components to emotions:
The physiological component refers to what’s happening in our bodies. These are typically reflexive and even involuntary, like when you get a little sweaty and your heart is suddenly racing in response to a scary situation.
The experiential component is what we typically identify as feelings. Like when you get teary at a wedding or graduation.
The behavioural component is what we do in response to the feelings, also known as how we act on our feelings.
Humans are inherently emotional and so feelings are unavoidable
The behavioural component is typically the most unpredictable and can seem unpredictable, and that’s often because we don’t have the full context of what is causing someone to do what they’re doing. Such responses are usually strongly influenced by our personal experiences, as well as our families and cultures of origin. So shouting and honking the horn may be normal when driving in some countries, but not so in others.
Myth #3 - Feelings are either good or bad
This binary approach to labeling feelings implies that feelings are either right or wrong. And naturally leads us to believe that we should only have good or positive feelings, and that it’s bad to have negative feelings. The problem with this overly simplistic view is that it doesn’t allow for the nuance that is inherent to all human experiences. Feelings are always valid reactions for each of us and exist on a spectrum.
Feelings exist on a spectrum with easier feelings like joy and excitement on one end, and more difficult ones like sadness or fear on the other. It’s only in recent times that we have developed the expectation that we should be happy all the time. In fact, our parents and grandparents lived most of their lives with completely opposite views - they fully expected their lives to be full of suffering, with only fleeting moments of joy or contentment.
Our parents and grandparents fully expected their lives to be full of suffering
When we allow all of our feelings to be valid, we get to cut out a layer of emotional pain for ourselves by eliminating the need to judge or shame ourselves for having the “wrong” feelings. As we learned in the 2015 Pixar animated movie Inside Out, we sometimes need to feel sadness in order to experience what it is like to have our loved ones gather around to comfort us.
Myth #4 - Feelings can be hurt
We learn as children our feelings can be hurt. But this childish language represents an oversimplification of what is happening. What we really mean to say is that we can experience hurt, sad, disappointed or even angry when we experience conflict or if we are rejected.
So when Katie isn’t invited to Jenny’s dinner party, she may feel hurt. In other words, Jenny’s actions may have caused Katie to think that Jenny doesn’t like her and therefore she felt rejected and hurt. But Jenny may have had many other reasons for not including Katie, like maybe she was hosting couples only or trying a different menu that she knew wouldn’t suit Katie. In this example, it’s Katie’s thoughts or interpretations that are causing her to feel hurt. She could choose to trust that Jenny has good reasons for not inviting her, or she could talk directly to Jenny to learn more about the situation.
Emotional hygiene helps us to build mental strength and emotional resilience
We are often in the habit of believing that we can make other people think and feel things, when the truth is that others may not actually notice or care. Like when I first started posting on social media, I didn’t want people to think that I was an egotistical know-it-all. It took me a while to recognize that I was stuck in a habitual thought-feeling loop that put my anxiety front and center. Which meant that I was indeed allowing my ego to drive my actions - in this case it was holding me back from sharing information that might be helpful to others. I had to come up with the courage to allow people to reject me or to be wrong about me, in order to have the kind of impact that I wanted to have.
Myth #5 - Feelings are a sign of weakness
Being stoic or unemotional is often considered to be a sign of strength and discipline. And there is a certain truth to that, in the sense that calmness reflects a level of professionalism. For example, a surgeon would need to remain in control of her feelings during an operation so that she can finish the job with precision and efficiency. But there is an argument to be made that that same surgeon may actually be helping her patient if she can also express compassion when discussing options for cancer treatment after the surgery.
The reality is that feelings are just a part of our human experience, and sometimes we may prefer to keep them to ourselves. But when we get in the habit of always avoiding or negating difficult feelings, we are ignoring emotional signals that something’s not right. And just as with physical pain signals, they can get worse over time. Especially when we inadvertently keep injuring an area that is hurt, preventing it from healing properly.
Emotional hygiene is the practice of processing feelings, helping us to build mental strength and emotional resilience. There are many different approaches to practicing emotional hygiene - common ways include physical exercise or spending time in nature. It helps some of us to acknowledge and witness our experience through writing, music or art. Others may prefer spending time with loved ones or pets. And yet others work through emotions by engaging in mindfulness or spiritual practices.
Dr Em’s Journal Prompts
Which of these feelings myths resonates most strongly with you? Why do you believe it? When do you think you learned it?
Myths are beliefs that have an element of truth of familiarity that make them hard to let go of. What habits of thinking or feeling do you have related to these myths? Which do you choose to keep or let go of?
What are you curious to learn more about in relation to the material in this post? How will you go about seeking more information about this?