We know an emotion when we see or feel one. Or do we? We fool ourselves into feeling we know them with the little we do understand about our emotions, when by far the greatest part we don’t know? Are they hiding their secrets from us? For many, the little they do know about their emotions is lulling them into a false sense of satisfaction with how they handle their emotions. A false understanding of emotion is the result for some. However, to those who don’t struggle to understand more of their emotions’ mysteries, their emotions become a closed book, rusted by familiarity and ignorance.
A Picture of a False Understanding of Emotion
With each day, April was becoming more bitter. The harshness and (in her opinion) unfairness of her father’s actions hurt her. He seemed remote from her, stiff and prickly. And he treated her mother to angry outbursts that shattered the delicate peace of the home. Richly endowed with feelings, the pain and hurt of witnessing these outbursts and the ice of rejection that hung in the air forced her to make a choice.
Confronting her father had proved futile. Consoling her mother’s hurt only fueled the hurt inside of April. Withdrawing into her room or running through the neighborhood to escape the agony only seemed to cause her to focus on the pain even more. And she noticed that she was tense even before she got out of bed in the morning.
Missteps Due to a False Understanding of Emotion
April succumbed to what she saw as her only alternative. Perhaps she could become like a lobster with a hard, abrasive shell on the outside, protecting the soft delicious flesh on the inside from harm. As a human, she was soft on the outside, with a backbone hidden under her welcoming flesh — a flesh that was invitingly exposed to damage and hurt. This comparison became an analogy for the way she would protect her emotions. And it seemed rational.
She hardened her external responses and transformed herself into a thorny creature she hoped her father would see was the result of his actions and non-actions. You know, don’t you. It had the opposite affect. More fighting broke out and the skirmishes were to her further loss. Suppressed emotions became stronger. Soon she became violent around the home. And yes, soon reports of her angry behavior at school found their way home. When her confused mother approached her about the reports, April flew into a rage. Her emotions were now demanding they find some solution.
Rehabilitating from a False Understanding of Emotion
It was a hard road back to being the tender, loving girl she too loved best. It was a road strewn with the rocks of angry emotions that demanded they be felt and negotiated before they would calm or allow successful circumvention by focusing on who she was made to be. The road back led her also from ignorance of her emotions to a knowledge and understanding that gave her a new confidence to manage them intelligently in the future.
We Can’t Learn to Understand What We Don’t Even Notice
It’s also our experience that we don’t even notice all of our emotions because some are so dominant that they overpower others. Also, we focus so on the details of our lives that many emotions pass by without us giving them a thought. They capture us without our awareness of them. Or if we notice, we react without concern. We all focus on life most of the time, not the feelings and responses we make to life’s experiences. That is, unless they bring sufficient pleasure or pain to get our attention.
We Don’t Notice Because We Are Accustomed to Them
Another reason why we don’t notice our feelings is that we have become accustomed to them. Pleasure, unless it is dramatic, is just another internal surge of emotion that we expect. These reasons can create a familiarity with our emotions that causes us to be nonchalant about the static on our mind’s communication lines. This is sometimes so much so that we can’t read our emotions correctly. Or, as we have noted, we don’t recognize them at all.
Our Emotions Are a Backdrop to Our Consciousness
However, we notice and can report most of our emotions. Even if we don’t stop to think about them or identify them, we are aware of them as a backdrop to our consciousness. They are our lives and fill our senses. They are what we feel and experience. We just know they “are us.”
The Danger in Allowing a False Understanding of Emotion
Some emotions we experience even become learned behavior and, as a result, form our character. Emotions seem to have a desire to stay and become us, particularly the ones whose design is to damage us. Even unwelcome emotions persist and tempt us to allow them to occupy our minds. They want us to allow them to relax and make themselves comfortable while they absorb precious territory we need for more important use. And they attempt to become permanent residents. The proverb, “As a man thinketh, so is he,” impressed James Allen to such an extent that he wrote the classic of the same name. Our mind is indeed the gymnasium where we are developed. Or, the lounge where we apathetically waste away our mental muscle.
The Importance of a Right Understanding of Emotion
Emotions invade our conscious minds and shape our experiences. Therefore, teaching emotional intelligence to ourselves or to our children will have a lot to do with making wise decisions. It will also have a great part in cultivating a mental discipline without which we will become mental putty. Some parents, for example, have not seen this connection. Their children grow up with undesirable beliefs and practices that spring from a lack of emotional backbone and from undisciplined self-management.
“I think I have ruined my children,” said a 62-year-old mother. “I should have known these things. I feel so bad.”
“No parent is perfect,” I replied, “and it’s not a matter of looking back, but looking forward. What we do today will cast its influence on tomorrow. So don’t be depressed about what has happened. There is always today and a new day ahead.”
Must We Just “Experience” Emotion? Can’t We “Select” Them?
Another thought hits us. Why do we feel and experience emotions whether we want them or not? Can’t we select what emotions we have? Later, we will deal with this in more detail, but here’s a quick summary:
- We can select emotions and cultivate them, if we want to. It’s the skill of the actor to cry when the script calls for it.
- Most everyday emotions come unbidden. We can’t stop their initial surge. Our part is to decide on the best action, which may be opposite of our initial emotion: love instead of hate, for example.
- Emotions serve needed purposes, not the least of which is the mental and emotional exercise that builds the muscle of self-mastery. If we don’t feel these unbidden emotions, we have no awareness of them and no ability to change them.
We should be thankful for our ability to feel our emotions. We are happy when we feel love, satisfaction, pleasure, and all the other beneficial emotions. If we could not feel our emotions life would have no pleasure.
My hope is that this book will lead you, as its content has led many others, to be intelligently emotional. If it helps you to develop the intelligent use of your emotions and a rewarding lifestyle, my labor will not have been in vain. You can access it HERE. If you are subscribed to our weekly updates, our next issue will provide a link to purchase it with a 15% discount and free shipping.
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