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  • Writer's pictureLaura Burke - Coach

So emotional

The dictionary definition of emotion includes “a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body.”

I don’t agree with the assertion that the reaction is conscious. Emotions are often involuntary, even subconscious reactions. This is why so many people believe that other people or things “make” them feel a certain way. The reality is that we feel the way we feel because of the meanings we attribute to other people or things, or to our own selves, our own actions. The speed with which our internal processing happens such that we ‘feel’ a certain way is amazing, and the fact that both physical and behavioral effects are common are evidence that emotions are real.

Looking for quotes on emotions, I saw so many that I feel contribute to misunderstanding... I thought it would be fun to debunk a few!

Don’t allow your emotions to overpower your intelligence

Our emotional system may be one of our greatest sources of intelligence, one of our greatest strengths. At the most basic and ancient level, the ‘fight or flight’ phenomena is credited for the survival of our species! Our emotions serve the critical purpose of providing messages to us. Important messages to prepare, to tell us that things are incongruent. Signals that we need to change something, whether that is how we are perceiving a situation, how we are reacting to something, or how we are choosing to respond. Sometimes our emotions are more intelligent than, well, our intelligence!

Your intellect may be confused but your emotions will never lie

While I’ve just said how intelligent our emotional system is – it is also a bit of a trickster. We are no longer cave men and women. Our inputs, environments, and social dynamics are complex. Our amygdala, which is largely responsible for (or at least associated with) emotional processes has not evolved in alignment with the evolution of our world.

We are likely to do more of things that we associate with feeling good and avoid things that we associate with feeling bad. But sometimes our self-saboteur will kick in. For example, we can feel fear over calling someone we like because we are afraid of rejection. That’s where your intellect can kick in and help you reason it out… what’s the worst that will happen if you call that person? What’s the upside if you call and find out they like you too!!??!

Figuring out when to listen to your emotions and when to call their bluff is an art, not a science; it takes practice, and we can get better at it, but it will always be a work in progress.

Don’t show your emotions – people will think you’re weak

The term “emotional intelligence” (EI) entered our vernacular in recent(ish) years. EI has as much to do with our interaction with others as with ourselves; it is about developing the ability to identify and regulate our own emotions, to recognize the emotions of other people and feel empathy toward them, and to use these abilities to communicate effectively and build healthy, productive relationships with others.

Having a great breadth of emotions makes life meaningful! Having a great breadth of emotions makes you human. Anyone who will tell you you’re weak for being scared, sad, exhilarated, or anything else is simply not worth your time. Period.

Show no emotions Feel no pain

It may seem like a good idea to avoid, ignore or deny emotions, particularly those that don’t feel good. Some people play the martyr card, muscle through, and make sure everyone knows how terrible they’ve got it. This doesn’t resolve or change the emotion. Choosing to bury emotions, not show them, or show them off, does not mean they just go away. In fact there is substantial research that shows that trying to ignore feelings only causes them to fester and strengthen. Just like a three year old calling “Mommy.”



“Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy!!!”

ever louder and faster, your emotions will intensify until you acknowledge them and respond.

Control your emotions or they will control you

I compare trying to “control your emotions” to trying to “manage time.” We cannot manage time – it marches on at its own pace regardless what any of us do. Well, maybe except for Dr. Strange. As already stated, emotions are important signals and indicators. Trying to control them is not the goal and may be impossible anyway. Learning to listen to them, and respond appropriately – that is the goal! Is it possible to improve our ability to hear emotions, to improve our ability to respond to our emotions. But suggesting you ‘control’ emotions assumes that you have control over any and all triggers you may encounter, have control over your autonomic nervous system, and want to be like a robot. OK, a bit of an exaggeration perhaps but you get the point. Emotions are important!

Learn from your emotions, and let them serve you

This last quote is mine and, I’d argue, the absolutely right approach. We do not need to “control” our emotions, but we can learn from them. This is one area where I encourage a bit of imbalance. For the emotions that feel good (and we can confidently say the good feelings are appropriate…) – amplify it! Stretch it out! But for the emotions that don’t feel good (and, again, we can confidently say the ‘not so good’ feelings are appropriate) – learn to get better at the magnitude and duration of the emotion. Embrace huge emotions when huge things happen, but try to recognize small things as small. Allow ample time to recover from the huge things, but maybe don’t stew over being cut off on the highway for the rest of the day. Or longer.

It is interesting that often when people describe emotions, there may be one or a small handful of ‘good’ emotions and a huge number of ‘bad’ ones. Either way, don’t forget to be grateful for having these feelings that are less than euphoric.

By Machine Elf 1735 - Own work, Public Domain

The Plutchik Wheel (above) is a bit more balanced, and a good reminder of the ranges of emotions so you don’t limit yourself to labeling things too simplistically. Use labels for emotions when it helps you identify and respond. But don’t get caught up in how someone else names or categorizes an emotion, or what they say an emotion ‘means.’ Learn for yourself. And enjoy the ride!

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