10 Common Myths About Emotions You should know

How good are you at understanding your own emotions?
The philosopher Nietzsche once said that we are often most clueless about what is closest to us. Nothing is closer to us than our own emotions. Nevertheless, we do not understand our emotions. The followings are a list of some misunderstanding about emotions.

1. I can’t help how I feel

Emotions are forms of judgment. A person’s emotional experience typically results from a subjective interpretation (appraisal) of an event rather than the event itself, even though the appraisal (beliefs) involved may not be accurate. Different individuals can interpret the same event differently. For example, grief about someone’s death represents a judgment about that person’s importance to the person. For a joke to be funny, it has to be perceived as such by someone. When there is no appraisal, there is no emotion. The appraisal is like discovering the black box of a plane crash that recorded flight data just before the crash. Without a “psychological autopsy” into someone’s interpretation we are in the dark. Cognitive therapy is based on the idea that much of the emotional pain is caused by distorted (irrational) thinking

2. Emotions are incapable of being expressed in words

 It is true that our language is not developed for “inner experience.” But it does not follow that emotions are indescribable. As noted above, emotions are judgment. That is, they are describable and analyzable in considerable details. Parents and teachers frequently ask young children to “use their words” when they are upset and emotional. Research shows that describing anger and fear would be helpful to self-control.  The simple act of putting feelings into words activates the brain’ s control system (inhibition) and consequently diminishes emotional reactions.

3. Emotions are feelings

Neuroscientist Damasio writes that feelings are a bodily experience provoked by an emotional response. Feelings require some element of awareness. In other words, they register in consciousness and they are not merely intellectual (like thinking). If we were to think of an emotion as a simple bodily feeling, there would be no obvious role for reflection. We can tolerate the feeling like an itch or a headache, or diminish it with booze. What we feel is just a small piece of the picture.

4. The hydraulic metaphor

As the name suggests, if emotions are denied expression, they will leak somewhere else. And we need to express our emotions to feel better. For example, we often talk about anger in terms of “heating up,” “simmering,” and “boiling over.” The metaphor represents passivity, against the view that emotions can be cultivated, and educated. Research in emotion regulation has shown that there are a variety of ways that inappropriate emotional reactions and experiences can be disrupted by making use of our human ability: reinterpretation and distraction. For example, we often use humor to block anger or fear to resolve tension.

5.  I know exactly what you did to upset me

People are often mistaken about their own emotions. They misread and misname their emotions. And, of course, they misread other people’s emotions, particularly when their perception is colored by their own personal preferences or prejudices. For example, consider the emotionally complex situation of divorce. Experts note that husbands’ reactions are often dominated by anger, an emotion that allows them to maintain confident and dominant position. A therapeutic goal in these situations is to help them recognize that some of their negative affect may come from sadness, hurt feelings, and fear, emotions that are more painful and scary and that husbands may be especially motivated to avoid. Misattributions usually disappear when people are made aware of the true source of their affective states.

6. Emotions are stupid

Emotion and reason are not competing forces but complementary processes that interact and influence each other. Accumulated evidence shows that emotion is part of the mechanism of reasoning. The lack of it is very detrimental to decision-making. For instance, children with Autism lack emotional capacity to grasp other human beings’ feelings or motivations. People rely to some extent on their feelings and hunches in order to make successful decisions. Emotional reactions provides a critical summary of our past experiences with a situation or event, and this summary is experienced as a “gut” feelings that can make decision-making process more efficient. It is not enough to know what should be done; it is also necessary to feel it.



“To enter into a state of pure connection with your child, you can achieve this by setting aside any sense of superiority.” - Shefali Tsabary, The Conscious Parent
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