Emotions are quite variable and often unreliable. Sometimes they’re intense and last a while. We often attribute our emotions to what is happening around us. This causes us to not be able to manage emotions. Someone made us angry by cutting us off in traffic. The cashier at the department store frustrated us because she was taking too long. Our spouse made us sad by what he or she said. We link emotions to events. They seem to run in sync with each other.
This connection between events, circumstances, situations and our emotions makes sense. It seems logical. However, there’s an important link between things that happen and our emotions. That link is thought. We interpret events a certain way and then experience emotions as a result. Something happens, we interpret meaning, and we feel something. This is good news…
Because emotions originate in our thoughts, we can do something about them. Learning how to make changes in our thoughts will help us to manage emotions rather than be managed by them. We are not destined to be depressed. We are not doomed to be anxious. We are not locked in to being angry. Instead, we can actually explain our emotions. Here are some examples:
- I am feeling sadness because I believe that life will never get better for me.
- I am feeling anxious because I am afraid others are going to laugh at me.
- I am feeling angry because I because my safety was put at risk by that other person on the road.
- I am feeling frustrated because I deserve faster service than I am getting.
Examining our thoughts allows for us to identify the source of emotions. It also allows for us to manage emotions. Once we identify the thoughts causing the particular emotion, we can find the irrational parts, challenge them, and replaced them with more rational alternatives. Let’s use the first example in the list above.
Identify the Irrational Part
In the first example, “I believe that life will never get better for me,” we can easily see that “never” is certainly irrational. Absolutes are rarely accurate. There are hardly any times never or always applies to real life.
There may be a second irrational part of this particular belief. The statement, “…life will never get better…” adds in an assumption that life is bad at the present time. To determine whether this is irrational, there needs to be some definition. What is a “bad” life? What is a “good” life? It may be true that things aren’t ideal at this time – most lives aren’t ideal. Is life “bad” right now? This is not to say that life, at any moment, may be “bad, “depending on how it is defined. However, it needs to be examined and defined.
The word “never” has to be challenged. What is the evidence this is true? I might say that nothing has gotten better in my life for the past year, 5 years, or even longer. That is unlikely, but let’s say for a minute that it is true. I must ask myself, “What would make life better?” My answer would be to do some things differently than I have been doing them.
If I need more money, I may need to get a second or just a different job. I may need to learn a new skill. Perhaps I want my relationship with my wife to improve. I will need to learn to communicate better, spend more time with her, and probably a host of other things she could identify better than me. This indicates that I might even need to just ask her.
Replace the Belief with Truth
What truth did we come away with in regard to the thought, “Life will never get better for me?” We discovered that if I keep doing the exact same things I am doing now, I may very well have about the same life in the future as I have now. However, we also discovered there are some specific things I can do to impact things that I am not happy with now. The alternative belief may be, “Life can get better for me, but I have to make some changes in order for that to happen.”
We might write this whole process out something like this:
I am feeling depressed because I believe life will never get any better for me. I know this isn’t exactly true because not everything is bad right now. I also know that if I make some changes in what I am actually doing, life can get better for me. Even though things are not ideal at this particular time, I am going to make a decision to do a few things differently than I have up to this point.
This way of thinking is rational and takes the focus off of situations and circumstances. It helps me manage emotions by putting control back to me rather than my circumstances.
What tendencies do you have in your thinking that cause you to experience unpleasant emotions? Leave your comments below. We would love to hear from you!