As a society, we don’t talk much about emotions. Conversations tend to focus more on what we’re doing or what we’re thinking. In fact, most people find it easier to start sentences with, “I think…” instead of “I feel…” simply because it feels less awkward.
Most of us are never educated about feelings. Instead, we’re supposed to learn socially acceptable ways to deal with feelings by watching the people around us. Those of us who weren’t fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by emotionally superb role models likely missed out on an important emotional concept or two.
There are certainly cultural differences when it comes to emotions. Social norms differ over what is considered acceptable in terms of talking about feelings and dealing with them. In fact, most languages have words for certain emotions that don’t have equivalent translations. (Popular Science recently shared 21 emotions for which there are no English equivalents).
It’s no wonder there is a lot of confusion about emotions. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about emotions:
1. I should feel differently. So often people will say things like, “I know I shouldn’t be so upset over something so little,” or, “I really should be happier than I am.” There aren’t any rules about emotions and your emotional reaction isn’t wrong. Rather than waste energy beating yourself up over how you feel, accept that you feel that particular emotion right now and that you have choices in how you react to that emotion.
2. I can’t control how I feel. Even though your emotions aren’t wrong, that doesn’t mean you have to stay stuck in a particular mood. You can certainly choose to make changes that will influence the way you feel. If you want to change the way you feel, choose to change the way you think and behave .
3. Venting will make me feel better. A widely held misconception is that if you’re not talking to everyone about your feelings, you must be “suppressing your emotions” or “stuffing your feelings.” But research shows that the opposite is quite true, at least when it comes to anger. Punching a pillow or calling everyone you know to tell them how bad your day was will only increase your arousal and won’t make you feel better.
4. Trying to control my emotions is synonymous with behaving like a robot. Sometimes people think that regulating their emotions means trying to act as if they don’t have feelings. But, that’s not the case. A realistic view of emotions shows that we’re capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions but we don’t have to be controlled by those emotions. After a hard day, choosing to do something to help you feel better – as opposed to staying in a bad mood – is a healthy skill.
5. Other people have the power to make me feel certain emotions. So often, people will say things like, “My boss makes me so mad,” or, “My co-worker makes me feel so bad about myself.” But in reality, no one can make you feel anything. Other people may influence how you feel, but you are the only one in charge of your emotions.
6. I can’t handle uncomfortable emotions. When people doubt their ability to tolerate certain emotions, it leads to avoidance. Someone who experiences frequent bouts of anxiety may pass up opportunities to be promoted. A person who feels uncomfortable with confrontation may avoid meeting with a co-worker to problem-solve a situation. Learning to deal with uncomfortable emotions directly builds confidence. When you don’t allow your emotions to rule your behavior, you’ll learn you can handle a lot more than you imagined.
7. Negative emotions are bad. It’s easy to categorize emotions as being good or bad, but feelings in themselves aren’t positive or negative. It’s what we choose to do with those emotions that can make the difference. Anger, for example, often gets a bad rap. While some people make horrible choices when they’re mad, other people choose to use anger in a proactive manner. Many of the world’s positive changes wouldn’t have ever occurred if activists hadn’t gotten angry about injustices they witnessed.
8. Showing emotion is a sign of weakness. While it’s a healthy social skill to be able to behave professionally even when you’re not feeling at the top of your game, letting your guard down at socially appropriate times isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, being aware of your emotions and making a conscious decision to share those emotions with others – when it’s socially appropriate to do so- can be a sign of strength.
Developing an awareness and understanding of your emotions can be complicated when you’re not used to thinking about how you feel. Just like most skills in life, with practice you’re ability to recognize, tolerate and regulate your emotions will improve. Increased emotional self-awareness is key to achieving success in your personal and professional life .
This article originally appeared on Forbes.
- Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and author of the forthcoming book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.