Your Emotions Are Not Your Boss, So Don’t Let Them Boss You Around

I am an emotional girl, but that doesn’t mean that I am constantly either crying in despair or doing gymnastics out of joy.  What it means is that when I experience an emotion, I experience it fully (sometimes I would call it “severely”) and that that emotion will usually “make my decisions for me”.  Some examples:

I stay locked up in my room because somebody was rude to me and I feel hurt.

I eat a whole pizza because I have two giant tests tomorrow and I feel stressed.

I awkwardly avoid interacting with a person because I am jealous of them and I feel threatened.

These are all unproductive, and sometimes, harmful, choices that I might make because my emotions are at the the helm.  I am trying to learn to change this and I’ve had a few revelations throughout the last few years that have helped me.  Hopefully they will help you also.

1.  Emotions serve a purpose.  Emotions help us understand the gravity of a situation, and they are meant to prompt us to action.  If somebody says something hurtful and we feel sad about it, that sadness is meant to make us aware of weak social ties that need strengthening.  If we feel a rush of adrenaline when somebody cuts us off in traffic, that rush is meant to heighten our awareness of potential danger and react accordingly.  But usually we engage in petty disputes instead of strengthen social ties, and mutter swear words at a stranger who will never hear them instead of being more aware of our surroundings as we drive.  Even though we do not always (usually?) respond to our emotions in the best way, the emotions themselves are not bad.  Therefor, my goal is not try to help you become less emotional, my goal is to help you respond to your emotions more productively.

2.The purpose of our emotions is not to make decisions for us.  Our emotions are meant to inform our reasoning process, but they are not meant to be reasons themselves.  Usually, doing something just because you are experiencing an emotion is going to be a bad decision.  Better decisions are made with our critical thinking capabilities, taking our emotion into account.  Learning to think critically and act accordingly in times of extreme emotion takes practice, but doing so can make for a much more peaceful and functional way of living.

3. Don’t define yourself by your emotions.  This simple strategy has helped me more than any other in trying not to let me emotions run my life.  Instead of thinking of yourself as being a given emotion, think of yourself as experiencing a particular emotion.  So, instead of saying to yourself, “I am really sad right now”, try saying, “I am experiencing the emotion of sadness rather severely right now.”  Try to do this especially if you are writing down how you feel or trying to express your feelings to another person.  Doing so will help you feel more in control of your situation, and has a way of putting emotions “in their place”.

4. Understand that your emotions do not have a good understanding of reality.  We have all “overreacted” in some manner in our lives.  A person who is not being guided by their emotions does not overreact.  Someone who is thinking critically and analytically about a situation is usually pretty boss at keeping things in perspective.  Overreacting happens when we respond emotionally to a situation and those emotions tell us that what is happening is more significant than it actually is.  Our emotions are often not good at regulating themselves in order for us to feel them in the “right” amount that would prompt us to respond appropriately.  This is why it is good to “count to ten” or to talk about it in the morning- it gives our emotions, which do not really understand the situation, the chance to diminish so that our analytic thinking can run the show.

I hope that I don’t sound like someone who is “emotion-shaming” or thinks it is good to be unemotional.  I think it’s fine and good to experience emotion.  What is even better though, is to learn how to utilize those emotions for our benefit instead of to our detriment.  Doing so creates empowered people and accomplished lives.

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