The Workings of Our Minds Series: Emotions

               Many sessions with clients are spent, either directly or indirectly, exploring the dynamics of the workings of the mind.  One of the foundational understandings in this area is that there are 3 inter-related domains of our being: behaviors, thoughts, and emotions.  This post will briefly dive into the third of these aspects: our emotions.

               One powerful realization is that while we do not have direct control over our emotions, we do have a significant degree of control over our thoughts and behavior.  And, as these 3 domains are inter-related, exercising this control over our thoughts and behaviors results in a degree of indirect control over our emotions.  The implications of this understanding are profound, especially if we find ourselves struggling with issues like depression or anxiety.  It points out that we cannot snap our fingers and make a decision to feel better, but there are things we can do (either behaviorally or thought oriented) that can move us in the direction of feeling better.

               The other aspect of our emotions that bears some attention is that our emotional landscape is nuanced and multifaceted.  Therefore, we will not always have easily understood reactions and/or feelings to the events in our lives.  To respect this reality, it is often more productive to use language that emphasizes “both/and” rather than “either/or” dynamics.  When contradictory emotions arise, it can be a confusing and disorienting experience.  But if we keep in mind the “both/and” principle, it can allow us to more easily acknowledge and navigate our nuanced reactions.

               There is a wonderful analogy that captures this: thinking of our emotions like the weather.  This analogy yields 3 powerful realizations:

  1. Multifaceted – as previously discussed, we can experience several emotions in different combinations, much as the weather can combine in an infinite number of combinations.  Think of the combinations of variables of: temperature (hot/warm/cool/cold), atmosphere (sunny/cloudy/gloomy), wind conditions (still/breeze/wind), precipitation (clear/drizzle/rain/storm).  So it is with our different emotions.
  2. We cannot control the weather, but we can prepare for it and react to it appropriately.  If it is rainy, we can grab an umbrella.  If it is cold, we can grab a jacket.  So it is with our emotions.  If you are sad, you can engage with things that will be uplifting.  If you are angry, you can employ things that can help you calm down and look at things from a different perspective.
  3. It won’t last forever.  I live in Arizona and the summers are long and hot.  When it is the middle of summer and it feels like it will never end, I remind myself of the beautiful weather that we have in the winter.  While it doesn’t make it any cooler outside, it does help to persevere.  Knowing that it will not be like this forever can make it more tolerable.  And so it is with our emotions and moods.  Knowing that a depressed mood will not persist forever can make it possible to better tolerate these lows.

Keeping these dynamics of our emotions in mind can aid us in weathering the storms that difficult emotions represent.


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