False beliefs about emotions can often operate outside conscious awareness and strongly determine the way people cope. The ability to cope with your emotions can have an impact on all areas of your life.
Is showing certain emotions acceptable?
We can come to believe that experiencing or expressing negative emotions is ‘wrong’ or ‘unacceptable’ and this can lead to the avoidance of emotions, which prevents the individual from developing self-awareness and self-understanding which are precursors to strong Emotional Intelligence
Growing up in an environment where the expression of difficulties or negative feelings was met with punishment, or a lack of sympathy has been suggested as a potential cause for the development of beliefs about the unacceptability of emotions. The Questions below will help you to start examining this issue but working with a Life Coach can be specifically powerful here, as we can link these thoughts and actions to their root cause and dispel the often-incorrect reasoning behind them putting more positive thought processes and behaviours in place.
Malleability of emotions
People can also hold beliefs about the malleability of emotion. For instance, you may believe that no matter how hard you try, you cannot really change emotions. This belief that emotions are outside personal control is likely to result in fewer efforts at regulating the emotion. It is also incorrect!
Because individuals may not engage in active attempts to regulate emotions and therefore don’t experience those emotions that can be regulated, the belief will remain unchallenged. My clients have quite rapid breakthroughs within this area once I start to challenge them!
Try this exercise
The exercise below will address your basic, and often unconscious assumptions about your emotions:
In this exercise, we will examine your basic assumptions about emotions; that is, what emotions mean to you, what it means to express them, and what would happen if you allowed yourself to feel particular emotions.
The purpose of this is to uncover any false or misleading beliefs that you have which may be having a negative impact on your wellbeing.
Step 1: Choose a difficult emotion
For the purpose of this exercise, choose one particular difficult emotion to work with. Write this down. Perhaps choose an emotional state you are struggling with at the moment; for instance, you might be feeling anxious about an upcoming event, or regretful about a recent transgression.
Step 2: Uncover false core beliefs about emotions
Read through the below list of common false beliefs about emotions, and see which resonates most with you. Write down those statements that ring true for you. Pay particular attention to those that sound familiar, as these may be thoughts that exist outside your awareness. Please add any personal beliefs that are not listed at the end.
■ If I lose control of my emotions in front of others, they will think less of me.
■ I should be able to control my emotions.
■ If I let myself feel this emotion, I will become overwhelmed by it.
■ If I tell others how I feel, they will use it against me.
■ If I tell others how I feel, they will think I am weak.
■ Other people don’t feel this way. There must be something wrong with me.
■ Only an immature person would get so emotional.
■ I should be able to cope with difficulties on my own without turning to others for support.
■ To be acceptable to others, I must keep any difficulties or negative feelings to myself.
■ This emotional state is not a normal response; I have to get rid of it.
■ A happy person would not feel this way.
■ That person responded differently than I did, therefore my emotional reaction is wrong.
■ If I let myself feel this pain, it will kill me.
■ Letting myself feel bad would mean falling to pieces, being a total mess, or wallowing in self-pity.
■ If I show signs of weakness then others will reject me.
■ Being an adult means not getting carried away by emotion; I’m supposed to be rational!
■ Showing my emotions to others makes me look like a “drama queen.”
■ I’m stupid for feeling this way. I should just suck it up!
■ I should not let myself give in to these feelings.
Step 3: Explore the consequences of holding these beliefs
Now let’s look at what happens as a consequence of holding these beliefs about emotions. What impact do these beliefs have on how you feel, behave, and talk to yourself when faced with this emotion?
Here is an example that resonated with me before addressing this issue:
- If I let myself feel this emotion, I will become overwhelmed by it
- If I tell others how I feel, they will use it against me
- Other people don’t feel this way so there must be something wrong with me
- So I don’t become overwhelmed, I try to not feel or show this emotion but this increases stress levels
- What if my boss/team thinks anxiety is a weakness and it affects my career/authority? In actual fact denying emotions can hamper connections and relationships. Companies value high levels of emotional intelligence in their staff.
- I withdraw and isolate myself so others don’t find out how I feel, but this means that it prevents others from offering support