Don’t Blame Your Emotions!
Our emotions get such a bad rap. We judge them, blame them, deny them, and demand that we control their very existence. Well, we shouldn’t. We have long believed that emotions are under our control and have everything to do with choosing to focus on the negative or positive. “Look on the bright side,” “think positive,” are common statements heard by most people. We understandably react with annoyance, irritation, and alas, self-judgment. Why am I so weak? Why can’t I control my sadness, my anxiety, my fear?
Now we know differently. We now know that emotion is actually a necessary physiological state that has to do with our autonomic nervous system and not our failure to eliminate or prevent its arrival. In brief, our autonomic nervous system acts primarily unconsciously and regulates body functions such as our heart rate, our digestion, our breathing rate, our sweating, and blood pressure. Ever heard of the fight-or-flight response? Well, the autonomic nervous system is the primary mechanism in control of this reaction. This is what alerts us to danger and puts us in action mode to self-protect.
Does this mean we do not have a say in how we feel? Well, that is the logical next question. We now know that there is indeed a difference between our emotions and our feelings (thoughts). Since it has been identified that emotions are our body systems reaction to something, we also now know that our feelings are our internal interpretations of what we experience. The brain uses feedback from the body’s response to create a feeling (thought) based on our previous experiences, expectations, and other factors. In other words, emotions are physical states, whereas feelings are mental associations and reactions to our emotions. Emotions are of the body, and feelings are of the mind. For example:
Emotion: “I am anxious.”
Feeling: “I am afraid people will judge me when I do that speech.”
Emotion: “I am sad.”
Feeling: “I feel rejected by my friend because I wasn’t invited to that event”
Emotion: “I am angry.”
Feeling: “I know my boss did that on purpose to make things harder on me.”
When the mind (prefrontal cortex so to speak) jumps on board after an emotion has surfaced, we can actually prolong our emotional experience! Not what we want to do. If we ride the emotion itself, … 90 seconds…then it will pass or reduce on its own. We avoid attaching a “story” that may not be based on the true current events.
So, let’s stop judging our emotional reactions and just get curious. Let us acknowledge our emotions, work to identify what they are by naming them, and then dig deeper for the information that they are providing. Then we can start the courageous journey of challenging our feelings/thoughts that may be built of assumptions, false beliefs, or misinterpretations. We need our precious emotions to start the way!
Understanding the Brain, by Dr. Jeanette Norden