Even though emotions influence how you perceive events and how you make decisions, most people spend very little time talking about their feelings.
To avoid the awkwardness of saying, "I feel sad," many people are more likely to say things like, "I had a lump in my throat," or "I have butterflies in my stomach," to describe their emotional state.
Unfortunately, many children aren't getting educated about feelings either. They're expected to learn socially acceptable ways to deal with their emotions through observation. But the truth is, many adults aren't role modeling healthy coping skills.
Our willingness to talk about and share feelings is highly dependent upon our culture. Your age, religion, ethnic background, and even the language you speak influence how you interpret emotions.
In fact, scientists from around the world can't even agree on how many emotions exist. Popular Science recently shared 21 emotions from around the world that have no English equivalents.
It's no surprise that there's so much confusion about emotions and how we should or shouldn't express our feelings. As a psychotherapist, I've seen many relationship issues, mental health problems, physical health problems, and professional issues stem from confusion about emotions.
Here are some of the biggest myths about emotions debunked:
1. "I can't control my emotions."
When it comes to your emotions, you don't have to be passive. Yet many people think they're stuck in whatever emotional state they happen to be in at this moment with no control over anything.
If you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, you can take steps to feel better. If you're angry, you can calm your mind and your body. If you want to change the way you feel, change the way you think and the way you behave.
2. "I should feel differently."
Even though you do have some control over your emotions, your feelings aren't wrong. But people often say things like, "I know I shouldn't be so upset over something so little," or, "I really should be happier than I am."
Rather than waste energy beating yourself up over how you feel, accept that you feel that particular emotion right now, and recognize that you have choices in how you react to it.
3. "Venting will help me feel better."
Venting about your bad day or your mean boss won't make you feel better. In fact, research shows the opposite is true: Talking about all the things that contribute to your emotional state adds fuel to the fire. So don't call your friends to complain, and stop telling kids to get their feelings out by punching pillows. Acknowledge your emotions, label your feelings, and move on if you want to feel better.
4. "Controlling my emotions means behaving like a robot."
Regulating your emotions isn't the same as suppressing them. You're capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions, but you don't have to be controlled by them. Emotion regulation is a skill that can help you build mental strength. The more you learn about how to cope with your feelings in a healthy way, the better equipped you'll be to heal from emotional pain, turn your feelings into productive action, and make the best choices for yourself.
5. "Other people have the power to make me feel certain emotions."
Your boss can't make you mad, and your mother-in-law can't make you feel insecure. No one can make you feel anything.
Clearly, others can influence your feelings. But they can't control them. It's up to you to be in charge of the way you think, feel, and behave.
6. "I can't handle uncomfortable emotions."
Doubting your ability to deal with uncomfortable emotions, like anxiety or sadness, can lead to avoidance. And the more you avoid discomfort, the less confidence you'll have in your ability to deal with hardship.
Although some emotions are uncomfortable, they're tolerable. Allowing yourself to experience those emotions can be part of healing and they can be the key to creating the best life for yourself. So give a speech even though you're nervous, speak up when you're afraid, and say good-bye to someone even when you feel sad.
7. "Showing emotion is a sign of weakness."
While it's healthy to be able to behave professionally even when you're not feeling at the top of your game, letting your guard down isn't a sign of weakness. In fact, being aware of your emotions and making a conscious decision to share those emotions with others — when it's socially appropriate — can be a sign of strength.
Expressing emotion also signifies a certain level of trust in a relationship. Telling someone you feel angry or sad shows that you are willing to be vulnerable.
Develop Emotional Awareness
Once you understand the truth about emotions, you can begin practicing the skills that will help you recognize, tolerate, and regulate them. Increased emotional self-awareness is key to becoming mentally stronger and achieving success in your personal and professional life.