Emotions are gifts from God that are meant to help us. Unfortunately, we sometimes make the wrong choices when feeling emotions and we can harm ourselves or others. Let’s take a look at one of the most common ways we get tripped up by our emotions.
Suppose that you pass a good friend in the drugstore and he or she storms past you and “ignores” you. What would you think? What emotions might you feel? Allow me to go further with this scenario. The next day you call and leave a message. It’s now been a week and your friend has not returned your call. What would you think now?
Would you wonder if your friend was angry with you? Or, would you think something else?
Would you experience emotions such as anger, fear, and /or sadness? You leave one more message on his or her voicemail and another week goes by and you still haven’t heard from your friend. Now, what would you think?
Would you wonder if he or she is the good friend you thought? Would you decide to let go of this friendship? Would you be furious, saddened and/or feel abandoned?
Chances are, these intense emotions might have strong reactions in your body. For example, if you’re angry, your face might feel hot or “red” or maybe your heart races a little or maybe there is a tingling in the back of your neck. If you’re sad or feel abandoned, you might experience a “knot” in your stomach.
These bodily reactions are normal and also meant to help us. However, we can sometimes use our emotions as barometers to the world around us. If I feel intense sadness because I think I am abandoned then I might think this sadness is evidence that I am right and my friend abandoned me. If I feel furious because I think my friend is not the friend I thought then I might think this intense anger is evidence that my friend dislikes me.
However, emotions although they are gifts from God, can be “liars” sometimes. Just because I feel something does not necessarily mean that the thought behind it is true. This is difficult, because the bodily reactions to my emotions can make my experience so real that I may absolutely believe my thought is true without any other proof.
Let’s go back to the above scenario. Now let’s suppose that the reason why your friend stormed past you and ignored you (so to speak), is because he or she didn’t see you and was in a state of panic. Your friend had just received a cell phone call that a very close family member was in an accident and was in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital. Your friend has been living at the hospital for the past two weeks and has not had any time to check messages.
If you knew this ahead of time, would you experience different thoughts and emotions? Absolutely! But we can’t always get the facts right away. If we use our emotions as evidence to our thoughts, then all we really have are assumptions and this can get us into major trouble.
What can we do to stop this?
When you start to notice intense emotions - stop and allow yourself to feel and identify the emotion(s).
Then, ask yourself what is the thought(s) that go with this.
Finally, ask yourself what proof do you have that this is true.
If there is no evidence then take a deep breath in and make the choice to not believe this, until you have facts.
One very effective way to do this is through journaling. It’s a wonderful way to allow yourself to look at yourself, your emotions and the truth. This isn’t always easy, especially when one is experiencing big emotions, but with practice this can help you not jump to conclusions which can help you live a more peaceful and happy life.
David Prosen, LMHC, is a licensed counselor and works with individuals, couples and families providing counseling on a variety of issues. For information about his counseling services, click onto his Profile: catholictherapists.com/davidprosen/