#Askingforafriend: What are some other unhelpful perspectives about emotions?
By Nicholas Rudgear
GCU Office of Student Care
I’ve been reflecting about emotions in general and their impact on my clients in my work as a clinical mental health counselor.
If you’ve been keeping up with #Askingforafriend, you’ve likely seen some of my other articles about “Emotions Aren’t the Problem.” What I realized in writing that article is that there are many other notions or myths about emotions that are unhelpful.
I’ve seen them in my clients, my friends, my family and even in my own life. Awareness is the first step toward change, so let’s identify some of the other myths about emotions.
There is a right or wrong way to feel. (Said differently: I should feel certain emotions and shouldn’t feel others.)
This perspective is often born out of comparison of our experiences and emotions to others’ experiences and emotions. Yet it is unhelpful and can cause unnecessary shame because everyone responds to each situation uniquely. Just because I have a certain emotional experience or reaction does not mean that you must have the same one. You are not wrong because you may have a different reaction. Furthermore, my reaction is not more valid than yours or less valid than yours. When we can engage with our emotions as they are, instead of telling ourselves we shouldn’t feel that way, we are much more equipped to move through the situation in a helpful and healthy manner.
Emotions can come out of nowhere or for no reason.
In fact, our emotions are highly connected with our thoughts, behaviors, past experiences, biological makeup, specific stimuli and overall environmental context. Because of this, our emotional experiences happen for a reason. Often, when we say or believe our emotions come out of nowhere, what that really means is we aren’t aware of the connections between our emotions and the other systems noted above. We need to slow down and investigate with kindness, curiosity and a non-judgmental stance to discover just where our emotions are coming from. They didn’t come from nowhere.
Emotions (and the expression of them) are a sign of weakness.
This is a common perspective, one based in dominant societal norms. Yet it is so damaging because it equates a necessary, valuable and normal part of our humanity (our emotions) to being flawed or undesirable. Unfortunately, it is one of the main drivers of mental health stigma and a primary reason why many don’t seek mental health services when they need it. When we can engage fully with our emotions as well as our reason and intellect, we are more informed, aware and integrated. And that is a picture of strength, not weakness.
In truth, there are many more unhelpful perspectives about emotions. But these three are perhaps the most damaging and commonplace. I encourage you to reflect on your beliefs and perspectives about your own experience of your emotions and see if you identify with any of these.